Saturday, November 28, 2009

Terlingua/Big Bend, Day 3

Thursday, November 5, 2009

We awoke to a slightly deflated air mattress this morning. It must have a pin hole leak in it somewhere. Oh, well, no time to search for a leak now. I just pumped it up again, and hoped for the best.

We had breakfast with our fellow Margarita Hill campers. Steve and Christie had showed up from Dallas this morning, which brought our number up to seven. They were not camping on the hill with us, but had secured a hotel room at the Big Bend Motor Inn. We were expecting one more couple, Mike and Maria. They would not make it 'till Friday afternoon.

Ok Hwa and I had planned another day of exploring in the park, and the rest of the group were planning a hike to the top of Casa Grande Mountain. Ambitious indeed!

After breakfast, Ok Hwa and I set off in the Bronco with no real plan in mind. I asked her where she wanted to go today, and she said to the Hot Spring. The Hot Spring is in the east end of the park, near Rio Grande Village. This area is also where the old river crossing into Boquillas, Mexico is located. In earlier years, it was almost a rite of passage for Big Bend visitors to cross over to Boquillas, for and afternoon of drinking in the cantinas there. After September 11, 2001, the U.S. authorities closed the crossing until further notice. It remains closed to this day.

Last summer, there was a tremendous amount of rain in northern Mexico, which caused a breach in a dam on the Rio Conchos, a tributary of the Rio Grande on the Mexican side. Water from the lake there poured out over the dam, and down the Conchos, and Rio Grande for weeks, causing much flooding in the Presidio, Texas area, and downstream along the river in the Big Bend area. When we were there last year, the Santa Elena Canyon area was closed to the public while crews cleaned up, and rebuilt the facilities there. I made a solo hike down there to view the destruction, and it was bad. The river had deposited about six to eight feet of silt over the entire area. The clean up crew had a motor grader scraping it up, and a front end loader scooping it into a line of dump trucks. They worked for weeks there to get the area back to it's former self. They had to rebuilt the restroom building from scratch. Across Terlingua Creek, I saw a crew of volunteers cleaning up and rebuilding the lower portion of the Santa Elena Canyon Trail. I took some pictures, then hiked back out to the Castolon Road to join up with Ok Hwa.

So, that was the river last year. This year we had just seen the Santa Elena Canyon area the day before, on Wednesday, November 4, and it looked good, all cleaned up. Now we wanted to see if there was any lingering damage over on the other side of the park, at Hot Springs.

The drive over to Rio Grande Village from Terlingua is fifty miles. It's a beautiful and interesting drive, skirting along the northern flank of the Chisos Mountains. The highest point along this drive is at the Chisos Mountains Basin Junction, at about 3800 feet, then it's a twenty mile gradual descent to 1850 feet at Rio Grande Village. A few miles before arriving at Rio Grande Village, the road takes a broad, sweeping turn over a long curved bridge at Tornillo Creek. Looking north from the bridge you can see for miles up the wide Tornillo Flat. Ahead of you in the distance for the last twenty miles, has been the massive geologic formation called Sierra del Carmen, looming ever larger in your windshield as each mile passes. The first time we saw it, years ago, we were amazed by it's sheer size. The Sierra is not in the park, or even in Texas, but, across the river in Mexico. The high point there is at 8921 feet, more than a thousand feet higher than the highest mountain in the Chisos, Emory Peak, at 7825 feet. Sierra del Carmen is part of the Maderas del Carmen Flora and Fauna Protection Area, and it, along with the Canyon de Santa Elena Flora and Fauna Protection Area in Mexico, and Big Bend Ranch State Park, Big Bend National Park, Black Gap Wildlife Management Area, and the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River in the U.S. make up the largest protected area of the Chihuahuan Desert.

We went on down to Rio Grande Village to have an ice cream at the campground store there. Rio Grande Village consists of the store and gas station, an RV park with full hook-ups, another campground without hook-ups, and a visitor center. There is a trail from here to the Hot Spring, three miles upstream to the west. A few miles to the east, the Boquillas Canyon overlook and a couple of trails up into Boquillas Canyon offer some interesting diversion.

We headed back up the road, and a couple miles before the Tornillo Creek bridge is the turn off to the Hot Spring. Many years ago the Hot Spring was a resort, with a small stone hotel building to house the visitors. The building is still there, protected and maintained by the park service. The store here also held the area's first post office. This stone building is also still here, and also protected and maintained by the park service. Pictures of the old stone store and post office, with it's iconic palm tree are a Big Bend post card favorite. We made sure to get a picture of it for ourselves (pictured above). We went down to the banks of Tornillo Creek which joins the Rio Grande here, and followed it downstream to the confluence, taking pictures along the way.

Next was the short hike over to the Hot Spring. The clean up from last year's flood was almost complete here. The crew was putting the finishing touches on the area around the old hotel and pathway. The path follows close by the the river, under an overhanging cliff. Along this cliff are some ancient Native American pictographs, clearly visible. We also came upon a display of Mexican handicrafts for sale. The folks in Boquillas del Carmen, on the Mexican side, who used to depend on the American tourist trade for their livelihood, now sneak across the river and leave these things for sale. They leave an old coffee can to put your money in, next to some very nice little hand crafted pieces of art, bracelets, walking sticks, and rocks painted by their kids. We left a five in the can, but took no merchandise. The park service discourages this unofficial trade, but sells the same Mexican hand made merchandise in the park store at Rio Grande Village.

The Hot Spring bubbles up out of the ground about three feet from the fast flowing Rio Grande. The water is about 110 degrees. Back in the thirties, the resort built a square pool of rock walls around the spring, and upon this foundation there was a building of some kind. All that's left now is the pool foundation. It is directly adjacent to the flowing water of the Rio Grande, and when the river is swollen after a rain, it spills over into the pool of hot water.

I took off my boots and socks for a short wade in the pool. I wish I'd brought my swim suit so I could get all the way in. Next time for sure.

Back in the Bronco, we headed up the two miles of dirt road to the main park road. I took a short video of this drive which I present for you here:

The fifty miles back to Terlingua was broken only by our usual stop at the Big Bend Motor Inn and the coin-op showers.

Back at the Chili Cook-Off, the evening's entertainment was Terlingua's own Pinche Gringos. What a great band. I was able to capture them in a video of a great song, "El Gallo Prieto". Here's the video, which closes another great day in Terlingua:

A short slide show of photos from this day:

Official Website of Big Bend National Park:

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