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Big Bend National Park, TX - Part 2
October 31st-November 3rd, 1998

October 31st - I was up early, packing my backpack for 3 days/2 nights in the Chisos mountains.  Thanks to Ray Jardine and his book, Pacific Crest Trail Hiker's Handbook, I have been trying to experiment with the "Ray way" of ultra-light backpacking.  His backpack weighed in at 8.5 pounds, dry weight, no food/water.  I weigh in around 15 pounds.  The "Ray way" involves ditching your tent for a tarp (and some mosquito netting), ditching the heavy "suspended" packs for a homemade super-light pack, donning tennis/running shoes instead of hiking boots... etc.  And it all works together.  For example, you don't want to be wearing tennis shoes with a 80 pound pack on your back... not enough ankle support.  Striving for the lightest pack possible, I pulled out my knife and did some surgery on my store-bought backpack.  I probably lost about a half pound to a pound by pulling out the back padding.  (My tarp is my back pad.)  I've managed to triple up use of my poncho as a ground cloth and as a pack cover and use a wood burning stove (Sierra Wood-burning Stove from ZZ Corp, no need to carry fuel). I still carry a normal sleeping bag (Ray carries a home-made quilt), a closed cell foam pad (though I am oh so tempted to go back to a air mattress), and a single pot for cooking.   I thought of Ray's 8.5 pound pack as I filled my dromedary to capacity (2 gallons!) and filled my water bottles (totaling 2 quarts) for a total of 3 gallons.   Well, one thing was for sure.  I'd be a heck of a lot lighter on the way back!

The drive into the Chisos mountains was breath taking to say the least.  Here I had just spent 4 days in the desert and all of a sudden, here is this incredible mountain habitat, dry, but with lots of trees and towering rugged mountains.  Stark contrast to the desert below.  Base to summit, these suckers are about 3000-4000 feet tall.  The highest point is Emory Peak at 7800 ft above sea level or so.  The Basin is where the park's main lodging, concessions, restaurant, etc...  It is also where I began my hike.  I probably hit the trail around 10-11am.  The Pinnacles trail was beautiful, but steep.  Climbing out of the basin, I hit some nice grassy areas with beautiful mountain vistas.  The forest was a very dry, but definitely a nice change from the desert.  Apparently, these mountains get a little more rain than the desert below and the increase in altitude resulting in a lower average temperature allows the pines, junipers, and cedars to thrive. 

I arrived at the Emory Peak trail sometime after noon and plopped my pack into one of the bear boxes.  During the last 10 years or so, during a drought, some black bears from Mexico crossed the Rio Grande (they didn't even go though customs!)  They made home in the Chisos mountains and now a small population of black bears exists.   The park has an aggressive program to educate all visitors about how to handle your food in bear country as well as how to handle a bear or mountain lion encounter.   This park continues to impress me with such programs.  If a bear learns that humans have food, you have a massive problem such as the one that exists in Yosemite.   During certain times of the year, food is not even safe in your car in Yosemite!   The Yosemite bears know what a cooler looks like and will cause tremendous damage to your car.  The education program at Big Bend has worked really well so far... Bears continue thrive, people continue to be safe.  Fortunately, for me, I didn't have to carry a bear proof container (very heavy).  Bear boxes are in every campsite.   I saw numerous signs that they were around (scat), but unfortunately didn't see any bears themselves on my hike.

Emory peak is the highest point in Big Bend.  The park service has a solar powered 2-way radio relay station on top.  The views are spectacular, but the climb up was pretty darn scary.  The trail peters out about maybe 20 feet from the top.   I hunted around a for a while before I saw that you actually had to climb nearly sheer rock to get up to the top... and I'm afraid of heights!  I did make it up and met some folks up there (one of them from Paris, France!).  They were kind enough to snap my photo and I was off to my campsite at Colima #1.  I snagged my pack at the Emory Peak trailhead bear box and headed off to camp. 

I was alone now, no more day hikers and I had yet to see any backpackers.   I pitched my tarp and cooked dinner in silence and tried to enjoy the quiet of the forest.  I have camped out alone before, but I don't think I had ever been this far out before by myself.  Fears of black bears and mountain lions started creeping in.   A thunderstorm approached on the horizon and I hit the sack.  Some misty rain came in, but it wasn't enough to cause a problem.  The winds kicked up a good bit, and unfortunately, I did not pitch my tarp properly to handle high winds.  The temperature dropped after the storm blew over, but the winds remained constant.  I slept a little cold that night, manage to sleep fairly well.   

November 1st - The next morning, I re-pitched my tarp (see photo) and headed off on a day hike to the rim trails.  Thoughts of mountain lions and bears sat in my head as I hiked up to the rim.  But once again, upon reaching the rim, I was awestruck.  Incredible views...  While sitting eating a snack on one of the North Rim view points, two hikers came by, both park employees (on an off day).  It was nice to talk to them and it relieved my loneliness a bit.  They also quelled my fears about mountain lions and bears.  Apparently, the only people who have been attacked my mountain lions up here are those that ran from them.  Running from a mountain lion triggers their attack instinct.  As a matter of fact, those that did get attacked my mountain lions, weren't fatally injured.  The lion, after attacking, realized that the human wasn't its prey.  And as for the bears, they didn't want to have anything to do with us humans unless we enter their territory.  I felt more at ease after realizing this.  The two hikers were out for the day... that is a really long day hike of 15 miles or so..  They headed on and soon after, I headed out to South Rim.  Again incredible views, awe inspiring...   I did not see another person that day.  Apparently, not many people make it past the Colima Trail where I was camped.  Again, I was greeted with silence the rest of the day.   Good contemplative meditative time... I came back into camp well before sundown, cooked dinner, and had good nights sleep.  Much warmer (but of course the wind wasn't blowing and it wasn't raining!!!)

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A View from the North Rim

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A View from the Northeast Rim

November 2nd - The next morning, I dried out my stuff (wet from the dew), cooked breakfast, dumped the extra water, and was on the trail.  I had I headed out down the Laguna Meadow trail and met some day hikers along the way.  We talked probably the majority of the hike down.  They helped me further relieve my loneliness.   They were in a rush to check out of the lodge so we parted ways and I wandered off to my car to down a soda and cook lunch.  (There is nothing like a soda after a few days in the backcountry!).  I did a quick hike on the Window View trail.  I decided to take it easy that day and I wandered into the visitor's center to check out the exhibit.  I got into a lengthy discussion with Ranger Gus Sanchez.  I'm not sure how it came up, but we basically wandered into a deep conversation about the state of our society, and even touched on metaphysical/new age topics.  We didn't go too deep, but it was good to talk about this stuff with someone.  Usually, the only people I can discuss this stuff with are my friends back home, and those friends that I have back home weren't easily found.  Anyhow, we realized that we shared a lot in common.  It would have been nice to talk longer, but being constantly interrupted by visitors, I decided to let Gus do his job and get out of his way.  I told him I would visit his program on November 3rd.

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The Window from the Window View Trail

Then I decided to check out the Balanced Rock off of Grapevine hills trail.   On the way out, to the rock, I saw about 6 deer.  I decided to stalk them, just to see how close I could get.  I got within about 20 feet before on of them snorted and the rest took off.  Although I couldn't get a good picture of them up close(they were too well camouflaged),  I was able to get a nice sillouhette off of the horizon as one of them walked accross the desert mountain.

I headed out to my campsite at Croton Springs #2 to find someone else there, or so I thought.  I didn't want to disturb their privacy so I decided to go back to my Paint Gap #4 site that I liked to much.  Funny thing happened.  I got a flat on Paint Gap Road.  I had the windows down and heard that dreadful hissing sound.   While I was attempting to jack up my car, a "protection" ranger pulled up and helped me out.  I guess what comes around goes around, as I has just helped someone with a flat a couple of days ago near Hot Springs.  I had the spare on fairly quickly while the sunset.  I explained my situation with Croton Springs and he said that Croton Springs #1 and #2 were right next to each other.  That cleared things up and I headed back to Croton Springs for the night.  Dinner, solar (cold) shower, and I was off to bed in the rig.

November 3rd - After breakfast, I was off to Panther Junction to get my tire repaired.  They have a gas/service station in the park thank goodness.  It was at least 45 minutes to the closest one outside of the park.  They fixed the tire, I put it back on, and I was off to Mule Ears to attempt to get even closer... going off trail if necessary.  I parked my car and made a sign:  If not back by 8pm, call ranger!  I brought my GPS, a topo, and headed out on the trail around noon.  I made it to the view where I had been before, about 3 miles out.  I realized that I had passed that trail that seemed to head right for Mule Ears.  I doubled back, found the trail and took it.  It petered out near some cliffs near the ears.   According the GPS, I was still a half mile from them but they looked a lot closer.   After looking at the map, I decided to take the trail beyond the vista and hit the mountain from that direction.  That worked pretty well.  I hit a sign, apparently a trail junction at a dry desert wash.  Up until this point, all trail markings I had ever encountered in the park were very clear.  I hunted and hunted, but lost the trail.  After working with the GPS and the map, I realize that the trail on the map didn't coincide with the trail I was on.  (USGS Topo maps are often outdated).  Time for some bushwhacking!  I made it really close to the ears... they were just amazing.  Dagger sharp peaks, just jutting out of the desert floor.   I climbed up the eroding hillside a bit.  The ground was very unstable (gravel, small rocks) and didn't allow myself to go too far.  I snapped a photo or two (which I knew wouldn't come out very well due to the angle of the sun) and headed down past an old ranching area and back up the dry streambed.

Two interesting things happened at that point.  There is a metaphysical concept that you create your own reality..  At this point, it was about 3:30 pm and I was getting tired.  My hip joints started aching and my knees felt weak.  I sat down and drank half of one of my two water bottles.  I didn't feel much better as I continued, but I remembered this metaphysical concept.  I noticed my feelings.   Here I was in the middle of the desert hiking during the worst heat of the day.   I was thinking:  "I'm thirsty; I've hiked now for 3 days in a row; my body is tiring; my hips hurt; my muscles ache; blah blah blah"  Thought is energy.  With these thoughts running around in my head, I was bound for trouble.   Possibly worse trouble than a tired body.  I decided to not allow the situation to take control over me.  What I ended up doing was controlling myself, but this had incredible results.  I figured if thought is energy, and you can create your own reality, and if you can control your thoughts, anything is possible.  I concentrated on positives.  I envisioned myself as being strong and healthy.   After concentrating on this for 5 minutes while hiking in the desert heat, all pain was gone.  Just like that...  and I enjoyed the rest of the hike!

A little while later, the second interesting thing occurred.  I looked back at Mule ears when I was about 1 mile away from my car.  I saw a cloud of white smoke rising from the North side of the mountain.  At first, I thought "fire!"  But as I watched the white cloud, it dissipated and was gone after about a minute.  And there was no black smoke.  Then I thought geyser, but after talking with Gus (later that day), it couldn't have been a geyser either.  My last thought turned out to be the most probable.  A rock slide.  This kinda scared me.  I had been hiking up the East side of the ears.  What if some of those rocks I had dislodged had caused a rock slide?  Next time, I'll have to be a little more careful about where I hike.

I headed into the Basin to cook dinner at catch a program on the Ecological History of Settlement of Big Bend.  This was led by ranger Gus Sanchez who I had met earlier in the week.  Really, it was about the impact that man has had on the Big Bend environment.  I was horrified to learn that Big Bend, as of 100 years ago, was a rich grassland habitat with flowing springs and bountiful wildlife.  The buffalo even thrived here prior to the coming of European ranchers and miners.  They truly destroyed the habitat.  One person's journal from the early 1900's said that the grasses were waist high as far as the eye could see.  This was nearly 100 years ago and although there is evidence of a comeback, it is very slow... especially compared to the bounce-back of the clear-cuts in the Eastern forests that I'm used to seeing.  He made a good point, however... that the ranchers didn't mean to destroy the habitat... they were simply trying to survive.  I counter, however, that had the natives and ranchers bothered to communicate instead of go to war, a greater understanding of this land could have been had, and some balance could have been achieved.  In any case, Big Bend is still beautiful.  And as I type these last few sentences from my campsite at the Northern tip of the park (Nine Point Draw #1), I see I am definitely going to have to come back here and visit again.  It is beautiful country out here.

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The Pinnacles Trail

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Near Emory Peak

(Emory is the rock on the right)

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Emory Peak

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Colima #1 Campsite

(Tarp pitched to handle high wind)

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The Boot Canyon Trial

(on the way to the rim)

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The South Rim

(As seen from the Northeast Rim)

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Ever get the feeling you are not alone?

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View from the South Rim

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A Deer (on the left) enjoying the view

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Balanced Rock

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Flowering Cactus

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Mule Ears

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The Window at Sunset


 

 

AppetiteMountain.jpg (10351 bytes) Appetite Mountain - I thought this story was kind of humorous.  While building up the Basin camp in the early 1900s, the CCC men were told to climb that mountain if they complained about the food

Technology Update

I am updating my web pages in a Cyber-cafe:  overland.net in Alpine Texas.   Really nice folks, good coffee... mmmm.

Once again, if you know of anyone in Southwestern Texas (or around Carlsbad New Mexico) who might let me use their landline for updating my web pages, please let me know.

Coming Next...

In Texas... Guadelupe Mountains, and in New Mexico... Carlsbad Caverns.

More Information on Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park has nearly unlimited opportunies for hiking, backpacking, and camping.  Cycling is allowed on all of the roads, but not on the trails (no single track).  The place is absolutely huge and remote.  The closest "real" town is Alpine, TX about 110 miles away.  There is a gas/service station in the park, and they have limited food supplies... if you want fresh veggies, you've got a 110 mile drive! Lodging is also available in the park.  The park has it's own post office.   Back-country camping is free.  The campgrounds charge a fee, but there are free drive-in backcountry campsites.  The views of the desert and mountains around the park are spectacular... this is simply a place you should visit in your lifetime!  For more information:

Big Bend National Park
PO Box 129
Big Bend National Park, TX  79834-0129
(915)477-2251
http://www.nps.gov/bibe/

My E-Mail address is: andrew(at)koransky.com

Copyright (C) 1996-2008 Andrew Koransky

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