2017: Big Bend

A Long, Long Drive

February 21-27

The traffic above San Bernadino. The hills above San Bernadino.

Time to get Behemoth, our 40-foot motor home, out of mothballs and head into The Great Unknown. I decided we should bypass the Southwest, which we'd already covered thoroughly. Of course, when coming from California, that's a lot of bypassing.

Big Momma behind the wheel. TENSE?!? WHO'S TENSE?!?!. The road the way I like it - mostly empty.

It took five hard days on the road to get to our first destination, Big Bend National Park in Texas. I even contributed to the driving for, oh, maybe fifty of the fifteen hundred miles. Sorry, Mikey, but Behemoth is a hard bronco to ride. And anyway, just between you and me, he doesn't really like to give up the wheel.

Nice view! Is this my new yard? Mikey cleans up.

But finally we settled into the lovely Maverick Ranch RV Park, a beautiful campground on the outskirts of Big Bend in the hamlet of Lajitas, Texas. The cats were grateful that the rock-n-roll finally ended and they could get access to their outdoor privy.

Big Bend is immense and it takes a lot of time to get anywhere. On our first day of exploration, we drove over sixty miles to get to our first destination. Along the way, we admired some of the stark beauty of this harsh desert.

How far is this again? Yucca, yucca. Beautiful butte. A lonely bluebonnet.
Prickly pear. Purple prickly pear. Other prickly stuff. Cactus bud.

Mouth of Santa Elena. Mikey meets river.

Santa Elena Canyon on the Rio Grande is one of the park's most popular spots. It's one of the few places with easy river access and is used by rafters and kayakers as the beginning or end of a river trip. It was a bit weird to realize that only yards away is a completely different country. Currently the river is very low on water and in places you could easily walk across into Mexico. Of course, there's a hefty fine if you get caught.

There's a short trail which climbs up and gives a nice view of both the river and the canyon wall across the water. First, though, unless you want to wade through a side channel of the river, you must brave a formidable and sinister thicket.

Thicket, anyone? Into the woods. Where's my ax?

Finally we clambered our way out of the bramble and ascended the short climb to overlook the Rio-Not-So-Grande.

Out of the thicket. Up we go! Pyramid power?  .

The first part of the trail was a switchback of staircases. At each level, we got a new look at the scenery spread out under an impossibly blue sky. Even though the river water was an unappetizing grayish-green color, somehow it harmonized with the desert colors and the overall effect was lovely.

We also got a good view of LOTS of cacti.

After all that climbing, the trail gradually sloped down until we were back at the river's level, walking through a forest of tall plants on the banks.

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We enjoyed spending a little time at the water's edge, and then returned the way we came, snapping a few more photos of the views along the way.

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As we retraced our route to camp, we were able to look back at where we'd just been: the mouth of Santa Elena Canyon, a distant crack in a gigantic mesa. Like its big sister the Grand Canyon, it's an illustration of the awesome power flowing water can wield -- as long as you have millions of years to wait for the result.

On our way out of the park, we stopped for a short hike into Tuff Canyon, whose walls are composed of a light, porous rock formed by consolidation of volcanic ash.