Wednesday, November 4, 2009.
After a great night's sleep on the air mattress, we woke up at 06:30, ready for adventure. Since we were invited, we headed back over to the Conejos Cowboy Camp for breakfast. We had another nice visit, and some eggs, sausage, and potatoes on tortillas. Thus fortified, we climbed into the Bronco, and headed for the park.
The western entrance to Big Bend park is a few miles south east of Study Butte. Highway 118, which turns into the main park road, runs down to the south east area of the park, to Rio Grande Village. I asked Ok Hwa where she wanted to go, and she said to Santa Elena Canyon, and the Castolon Store. These are in the south west end of the park. That meant taking Old Maverick road, a dirt road short cut, that turns off the main road just inside the park entrance. It's thirteen miles down this road to the canyon. I shot a couple of videos while driving down Maverick road, and they are here:
Santa Elena Canyon is a very dramatic canyon that the Rio Grande has cut a couple hundred feet into Mesa de Anguila. Since the river is the international boundry, Mexico is one side of the canyon, and Texas is the other. The mouth of the canyon is where Mesa de Anguila ends, giving way to the much lower desert floor to the east. Terlingua creek, flowing down from the north, joins the Rio Grande at this point. There is a parking area there, with pick nick tables, and restrooms, and a short trail up into the canyon. You have to cross Terlingua Creek to get up into the canyon, and the trail heads up the low ground at the base of the cliffs for about three fourths of a mile. There, the low ground and the trail ends, and there is nothing except sheer rock walls and river. It's canoe, raft, or swimming only from this point. Sometimes, from the trail here, you can see people in canoes, or rafts floating down from upstream, to the take out spot by Terlingua Creek. I took a video of the hike up Santa Elena Canyon Trail, and present it for you here:
After soaking up the view of The Rio Grande, Santa Elena, and Terlingua Creek, we headed the eight miles over to Castolon Historic site. We always go to the store there for an afternoon ice cream in the shade of the front porch. Castolon is the site of an old trading post. The Mexicans would come across to buy things from the store there, and there were food crops being grown in the lower Terlingua Creek valley. The wagon loads of wood to fire the mercury smelters in Terlingua came across from Mexico here, also. The store here was operated by the original owners for several years after the National Park Service bought up all the land around it for the park in the early nineteen-forties. Those folks eventually gave up their rights to the property, and the Park Service now runs the store here, in the very same building.
We wandered about here for a while, taking more pictures, then it was back into the Bronc, and on up the road. We were headed back to Terlingua now, but, by a different route. This time we went up Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. This is one of the best roads in West Texas. It runs from Castolon twenty-two miles to the junction at the main park road, and passes by the western base of the Chisos Mountains, the heart of Big Bend Park. From the junction, it's thirteen miles west to Study Butte. I took a short video of part of the drive up Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive to the Sotol Vista Overlook. Here it is:
Back in Study Butte, we hit the coin-op showers at the Big Bend Motor Inn, our daily stop on the way back to the campsite. Mark, Barbara, and Scott were due to arrive at the camp around five p.m., so we went on back over there to wait for them.
They arrived as the sun was going down, and we all pitched in helping them get their stuff set up. Barbara had pre-cooked a great evening meal for us, and we had that after warming it up on the campfire. We settled in for drinks and conversation, watching the stars come out. About an hour later the moon came up over the mountains, to bathe us all in her glow. The full moon was two days prior, so it was still very large and bright. It was a great evening spent around the campfire, with that big ol' moon shining down from above. Terlingua time at it's best!
Here's a short slide show of images from Santa Elena and Casotlon:
Official website of Big Bend National Park: