Up Around the Bend
Aug 12, 2013
|After a couple of quiet days in Temecula in Southern California, we returned to the cauldron of hot weather as we flew from Long Beach, California to Phoenix and on to El Paso in western Texas. There we hired a car and drove about 600 kilometres south east to the Big Bend National Park on the Rio Grande which is the border between the US and Mexico.
The park consists of a large area of semi-desert, the Chisos Mountains which are over 6,000 feet and heavily wooded and the riverine environment of the Rio Grande.
We drove through the park to the Rio Grande Village where the temperature was nearly 100 degrees. At the Rio Grande overlook near the Mexican town of Boquillas, we were very surprised by the high flow in the river - being high summer we had expected it to be empty but apparently the Mexicans had released a lot of water from a dam (those damned Mexicans!!). As a result, we were not able to walk around to the entrance to Boquillas Canyon where the Rio Grande cuts through the spectacular Sierra del Carmen Range.
We were fascinated by the little "stalls" that the Mexicans had set up on the US side of the border to sell small handicrafts or just seeking donations - it is an honour system as the stalls are not manned and it is "illegal" to purchase the handicraft. But still the trade is tolerated despite the saturation coverage by Border Patrol aimed at stopping "illegal immigration" - we were stopped and had our passports checked a couple of times. There is about as much paranoia about "illegal immigration" over here as there is in Australia. But it looked to us that there were plenty of places to cross into the US if someone really wanted.
We stayed in the Chisos Mountain Lodge which has been built in a bowl up in the mountains and so the temperatures were over 20 degrees cooler than on the plain. One of the best walks is the Window Trail which is a seven kilometre round trip from the campground near our lodge. The hike goes out to a "pouroff" where the narrow gorge opens up to the plains 1500 feet below. Water had polished the rocks smooth which make it a little scary and so we weren't silly enough to find out the point of no return.
The Window Walk was attractive through wooded areas with many wildflowers which was a pleasant surprise. Our best wildlife spot was a vinegaroon, a large fierce-looking, scorpion-like arachnid (Spider). But somehow we missed the black bear which was by the trail - a lady and her daughter who were walking a little behind us saw the bear but somehow we missed it. They had also seen a mother bear and three cubs at breakfast in the lodge dining room that morning but we were too late. Of course, the bears did not turn up for breakfast the next morning when we were there. We were not destined to see bears in Big Bend.
We were also out of luck with the other major predator in the mountains - the mountain lion. The best that we could do was take a picture of the stuffed lion in the visitor centre.
One of our original hopes had been to take a float trip along the Rio Grande through the Santa Elena Canyon. But our research had suggested that the water level would be too low so we were reconciled to walking into the canyon. Ultimately we were stymied on both fronts. We did not allow ourselves enough time to organise a full day boat trip through the canyon. And the water level was so high that we could not walk into the canyon. You can't win them all.
On our last day, we headed back to El Paso by the road along the Rio Grande towards Presidio. National Geographic apparently rated this one of the top ten drives in America. There are certainly spectacular views along the river and the drive was thoroughly worthwhile. However the rating may have had something to do with the number of crests and dips which made it very much like a roller coaster ride.
One of our last stops was the Hotel Paisano in Marfa which is on the national register of historial places. Why - because it was used as the base for filming Giant in 1955 (for all the James Dean fans if any are still alive). So much for the power of Hollywood.
We thouroughly enjoyed Big Bend even though we didn't get to do everything and despite the long drive to get there. But we have moved on to the Big Apple and will provide another report from there.