2017 Trip Two: Tour of Texas. April 19

Terlingua Texas Wednesday April 19

Santa Elena Canyon

Remember that brown, yucky water I have been writing about? Well, today we got to walk in it. That’s the headline, next comes the story.

Our goal for today was to hike the Santa Elena Canyon Trail. It was on our priority list, it was recommended by one of our Evergreen hosts, and a fellow hiker said it was nice but do it early before it gets too hot. Well, it is 38 miles from Chisos Lodge in the center of the park to Santa Elena Canyon on the southwest side of the park. With speed limits on the straight aways of 35 or 45 mph, it took us 75 minutes to reach the trail head. Did I mention Big Bend is a large park?

Driving along the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive

The drive takes us down out of the mountain area around Chisos Lodge, through desert with varying rocky formations along the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. Generally the rock formations are brown to gray, we saw only one section of rock that had red and white coloring. It reminded us a bit of the Badlands in South Dakota. There was a particularly nice view as we came over a rise and saw the desert in front of us stretching out to the mountain border with Mexico.

Santa Elena Canyon, Mexico wall on left, US wall on right, canyon in middle

Santa Elena Canyon is at least seven miles long with cliffs ranging between 1,000 to 1,500 feet in height. The Rio Grande runs through the canyon, thus separating the cliffs in Mexico from the cliffs in the United States. The hike up Santa Elena Canyon starts where the river flows out of the canyon. To hike it, you cross the bed of the Terlingua Creek, climb up an embankment, walk through a brief shady flat section, and then hike up and down and up and down a rocky path before reaching a flat section that parallels the Rio Grande River.

Starting the hike, through the flat land, on the rocky trail, looking down from the trail back towards where we started with Rio Grande on your right

Rain had fallen farther up the watershed of the Terlingua Creek that raised the water in the creek bed from one inch to almost a foot, necessitating a hike into the water. Luckily a volunteer was on hand to guide us at the start of the trail. One actually had to cross the creek twice as the path had braided into channels before reaching the Rio Grande. We aimed for the shallowest sections to cross, managing to drown our shoes in water but only getting a portion of our pants wet. Glad we were not wearing jeans, the gear we have is quick drying.

At the end of the trail, can you spot Chris at the lower right center?

The round trip took us just under two hours at our slow pace and reflecting the temperature, already into the high 80s. The hike was memorable and delightful, a mild breeze helped to keep us cool. A canoe junket from an outfitter was working its way up the river, I assume they were going to follow the current on the return trip.

Crossing Terlingua Creek coming back from Santa Elena Canyon

On the return trip we passed a couple with two young children who had just crossed Terlingua Creek. They were trying to dry out and commenting that they had not planned on a water crossing. As we reached the area where we would have to cross Terlingua Creek, the volunteer was not there. We advised two people contemplating the hike on how best to cross. As we made our way back, we both slipped on the bank and landed on our butts, half in the water and half in the mud. With dignity, we got up, washed off our hands and pants in the nice, brown creek water and headed back to our car. At the car, we switched shoes, dumping out the accumulated water from the shoes. We changed into shorts and had lunch; granola bars and warm water.

Parked for the oasis walk, can you spot the snake?

Driving through the desert

Our plan for the afternoon did not change. To reach our lodging in Terlingua, we back tracked on the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, stopping at several overlooks to take advantage of photo opportunities we passed by on our drive to Santa Elena. We only walked one short trail out to an old homestead with its derelict windmill and a newer windmill. The water provides for a desert oasis, the greenery could be seen for miles before you reached it.

Our casita at Far Flung Adventures

Terlingua and Study Butte are very small towns, relying on Big Bend visitors to survive. We are only here due to the lodging at the casitas at Far Flung Outdoor Center. Terlingua is classified as a ghost town although there are now 250 some people living here. Most residents ae artists, musicians or work in Big Bend or with various outfitters dependent on Big Bend.

We are taking a canoe trip tomorrow and a jeep trip on Friday. More importantly, the casitas are very nice. Roomy, a small kitchenette, back porch, TV and radio, AND decent Internet. Dinner looks like it will be at one of two halfway decent restaurants in town, the Starlight Theater with live music.

Ed and Chris. Terlingua. April 19

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