Big Bend National Park, Tuesday April 18
The Rio Grande River is the 4th or 5th longest river (depending on how some rivers are measured) in the U.S. at 1,896 miles, about 1,200 of which form the border between Mexico and the U.S. The river is also heavily drawn down for irrigation and at its location here in Big Bend National Park, it is currently flowing between 2.5 and 5 feet deep. The river here is wadeable, we observed a man riding across the river on a mule followed by his dog.
For those of you worried about illegal border crossings, recognize that crossing the river is probably the easiest portion of the journey. The terrain here is hot, rocky, dry, and terribly inhospitable. The river is brown and you would not want to slip and ingest any of the water. We have observed airplanes overhead and we passed through a checkpoint with cameras recording us and our vehicle as we drove here.
The U.S. and Mexico have had rocky relations for much of our history. Remember Texas, New Mexico, Colorado and California were once part of Mexico. We have normally treated Mexico with disrespect when we deigned to consider them at all. So today’s bombast is nothing new, even if unnecessary and counter-productive.
So much for the politics. We spent most of the day’s hiking time going to the river or along the river. Now, I will admit once again that we no longer are interested in hiking 12-15 miles a day with great changes in elevation. Shorter hikes at a slower pace are just fine. Our goal normally is to see specific, varied sections of the area we are visiting. Enjoying the view, listening to birds, viewing wildlife are all primary goals.
For instance today we saw: a road runner, minnows in a backwater of the Rio Grande, small blossoms of red, yellow, blue, and white on varied plants, bird nests stuck in crevices high up in rock walls, three desert bighorn sheep (or auodad, a non-native species introduced by accident), a man on horseback with his dog plus the guy on a mule crossing the river, rabbits, multiple lizards and slithering creatures, prickly pear plants trying to bloom, and tons of birds we don’t even try to identify. Big Bend is supposedly a birder’s paradise; the diversity of birds and plants is huge based on its varied topography. We did not see Mexican black bear or mountain lions, both of which are plentiful in the park.
This national park is ranked 45 out of 59 in attendance. The walks are not crowded, but there are enough people to meet and talk to on each walk. It seems like there is always some connection; they lived where we used to live, or a relative does; we traveled to the same park or location; or we share tips on various trails in the park.
We traveled to Hot Springs, a small pool framed by rocks next to the Rio Grande. One couple was in the pool, it did not look that inviting although there is probably some bragging rights to say you did it. The walk to the pool passes by the old general store and post office. This area has been inhabited by Indians years ago, there are pictographs on the rock walls. We had our first glance of the Rio Grande River as a border river, noting that it is not very wide, was flowing fast, and was a yucky brown color. Oh, right, we are going on a raft trip in this river Thursday. Great.
After lunch of a granola bar and warm water, we hiked to the river again, walking through a back water area. The path crossed flood plains heavy with deposited rock and sand. (Forgive me while I swear. The Internet system here did not successfully save about 30 minutes of writing which would have taken us up to the end of the day. Of course, that version was much more interesting than the re-creation I will now attempt.)
Along the path we observed the man on horseback, with a dog trailing behind him. He was carrying some colorful sticks which from a distance we could not clearly make out. Later on we figured what it was. In several locations, there is a homemade stand of animal figurines and carved walking sticks. Next to them is a small can for honor system payment for the items. There is a note on the can indicating that your payments will go to assist the schoolchildren at an elementary school in Mexico. Nice touch, we thought, although we did not make a purchase. However, reading park material when we returned to our room we discovered that this process is illegal. Anything which we purchase is considered contraband and could be seized from us.
Our next hike to the Rio Grande took us to Boquillas Canyon. The river takes another bend here before it enters into the canyon. The canyon walls are 1200 feet high but we did not wade into the water to observe them closely. This hike involved more elevation gain and loss than the other two and occurred during the early afternoon when the temperatures were approaching 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The path was primarily in the sun so we were pleased to return to our car.
Back at Chisos Lodge, we rested up before taking another short hike close to our room. Dinner was in the Lodge restaurant, the food has been surprisingly good and affordable. There is no TV, radio,or phones; so hiking and enjoying the outdoors is pretty much it. We plan to view the sunset once again and check out the stars to determine if they are as bright tonight as they were last night.
Tomorrow we check out but spend three more days in the park. We are just moving our lodging to the small town of Terlingua on the west side of the park.
April 19, 3:30 PM Hallelujah. New lodging internet service is great!
Ed and Chris for April 18