Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Big Bend National Park

Feb. 19, 2019  Tuesday

The ranger at the Visitor Center suggests that, for one day in Big Bend National Park,  we should drive to Canyon Santa Elena and visit all the view points or trails that stem from the road. Though we entered the park last night, and slept at the Chisos Mountain Lodge, we received our map and visitor guide, The Paisano, this morning, after buying our National Park Pass. To get to the Canyon we have to climb out of the Chisos Basin and then take the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive (named after the first superintendent,  who, knowing the area so well, laid down the route to connect the most spectacular geological features of the west side of the park). 

Our trip is highlighted in blue.

The National Park Service was established in 1916 “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife…and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations”. The park was authorized by Congress in 1935 and established in 1944. The name comes from Rio Grande, who, though cutting in time through timeless rocks, followed the path of the least resistance, and makes a big bend in its course.

We stop at the Tuff Canyon, which is a deeper than the average dry wash, the bed of an intermitent river. Its walls are made of gray volcanic ash and its bottom by cooled lava. In a cranny, we see the green eye of water, a sign that from time to time it rains in the Chihuahuan Desert. And if we don’t believe that one, the multitude of flowers is another one. The roads are rimmed in bluebonnet or the Big Bend Lupine. The cacti are ready to bloom. The creosote bushes are awashed in yellow. 

Detail of a lupin


The creosote flowers smell nice, but the cream made from the plant smells like tarr.

We pass Cerro Castellan, or the Castolon Peak. Highlighted through the errosion of its surroundings, the peak reveals millions of years of volcanic activity. Stacked in its height are several layers of lava flows, volcanic tuffs and gravel and clay from the periods of erosion between erruptions. And nature continues to shape it and showcases it in its ephemeral flower fabric.

Secret. (Detail of the above picture)

We arrive at the Canyon, two walls of red rock, separated by a greenish, cloudy water. Men decided that it should also separate two countries. 

The Canyon seen from the vista point.

We cross the Terlingua creek, now a trickling stream (but after distant rainfall, can flash flood the area and block people in the canyon) and take the uphill trail into the canyon, marveling at the vistas, plants and birds. 

It was cold inside the canyon, the butterfly could not fly.

After the initial climb, the trail peters slowly to the water level, from cacti and sotol, to cattails and grasses. We’re towered by 1500 ft of limestone on both sides. From here we could walk through water (if it would be a low level) or take a canoe, but not today. Upstream there was a rock slide that made some rapids. In 1852, the white men of the Boundary Survey were trying to put the place on a topographical map, and so they pushed an unmaned boat through the canyon only to see broken planks and splinters at the canyon mouth. The first to go through the canyon, to live and tell, and their deed to be entrusted to the printed memory of their peers, were a team of surveyors and Texas Rangers in 1882. They portaged their boat around the slide, but once in the gorge, there was no escape, but forward. Nowadays with modern equipment and techniques river runners can negotiate the rapids.

On our way back we stop in Castolon Historic District, where there is a store “La Harmonia”. Until 1959 part of the building used to be a post office. Outside of it are big machines that tell a story of fickle fortune. In 1922 a businessman started planting high-dollar comercial crop on these river-bottom fields, cotton. To boost his harvest he brought steam and gasoline irrigation pumps. In 1923 to increase the value of his cotton, he started “ginning” it, that is to separate the seed from the fiber. The machine occupied a two story building. By 1942 the mounting costs and falling prices put an end to the “La Harmonia” cotton venture.

We also stop at the Mule Ears View Point. There is a spring down a 2 mile trail, but we choose not to go.

To see the Lower Burro Mesa Pouroff we take a 3 mile side road and then a 0.5 mile flat trail, between flowering bushes and spectacular geology to get to a box canyon with a high, dry waterfall. I can’t imagine how it would look with a thundering torrent, but what is left after countless ones, is beautiful. 

Yucca flowers

In the eye of the rock, a human's hand set these stones...

Sotol Vista overlooks in a distance Mexico, Rio Grande and Santa Elena Canyon, which looks like a small gap. There are many white flowers, probably a wild flax, and sotol, a spear-like plant, a member of the lily family, that likes the cooler, northern terrain, midway between desert and mountain. For thousands of years people who lived in the area would roast its heart for food, and use the leaf fibers for ropes and sandals.

The Canyon is seen on the horizon line, ⅔ left with ⅓ right, as a small dip.

Sotol leaves, but around the lodge.

We stop again in the middle of nowhere to photograph the flowers and the Chisos mountains. The whole mountain range is included in the park, and is the only one in USA to be contained in the boundary of a national park. But what makes them special is that being mountains, they are islands of long gone times, when the world was not so warm, and not so dry, and birds, insects and plants, living relics of the last ice age, used to live on a wider range. 

Though we’ve seen plenty of different birds, only a few were still enough to be captured in a picture. The place is a heaven for bird watching and for myrmecologists (I love this word, I had to put it here!, ), for people who study ants. For each of them, they have 81 choices.

Pyrrhuloxia, or the desert cardinal

Blue bird

I've included the picture of the peregrine falcon statue, because in this park is protected during nesting time through closing trails.

Same subject, but in the afternoon.

The mountains are volcanic in origin. If you look at the shapes of the peaks you can imagine how they were formed. The flat, angular blocks like Casa Grande, are stratified layers of lava and ash — remnants of flows from nearby volcanoes. Rounded ones, like Ward Mountain, were subterranean domes of magma, that became prominent as erosion exposed them. 

Casa Grande is above "Ileana" in the signature and Ward Mts. on the right, with the red leaves bush.

Chisos…why are they called Chisos? The TSHA (Texas State Historical Association) presents several possibilities, each fancier than the other: one says that “chisos” means ghost, the ghost of the Apache chief Alstate, who hid in the mountains for some time; another says that “chisos” is the plural of “chis”, coming from the Castilian word “chischás”, “clash of arms”, because some reported hearing battle sounds at night, and they presumed the ghosts of Spanish soldiers returned to fight again; a third story says that it is a corruption of the Spanish hechizos, “bewitchments, enchantments”. In a way they are related. But the Association concludes in a prozaic way: they were named after the Chisos Indians, that used to live around here! Ok, ok, and they? Why they were called like this? Maybe that was their own name, or the others gave them that name, but for sure this is how the Spanish conserved it.

Back to the lodge we enjoy a ribeye steak and the views from the Window in the sunset color. Later on, before the moonrise we take some more pictures of Orion.


Orion was above, but I thought you would like better this picture...

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