We awoke this morning to a fully deflated air mattress. All pretense about sleeping on air was over. Lucky for us that we had the forethought to bring a couple of foam eggshell sleeping mats. We had put those under the air mattress, or else we'd be sleeping on the rocks.
After breakfast, Mark, Scott, and I decided we'd hike to the top of Casa Grande Mountain, one of the high mountains surrounding the basin in the Chisos Mountains. Their group had not made that hike the previous day, as they had wanted to. They wisely decided that it was too hard a climb for some in their group, and went on another hike instead. Mark and Scott still wanted to make the hike, though, and I tagged along.
Ok Hwa kindly let me have a day of it with the boys, while she stayed around the camp taking pictures. She ended up spending most of the day over at the Conejos Cowboys Camp. They let her ride one of the horses, and she took many photos of them and their camp.
Mark, Scott and I piled into the Bronco, and headed for the park. We stopped at the Study Butte Store for gas and munchies for the hike. We also had some sandwiches that Barbara had made for us.
We headed up the main park road to the Basin road, turned right, and headed up toward the Basin. The Lost Mine Trail head is up at the pass leading into the Basin, and there's a small parking lot there.
We parked here, changed into our hiking boots, checked our gear, then headed on up the trail. I started making video snippets of the hike from this point, and intended to do it all the way up to the top, however, my video camera battery died about half way up. I'd forgotten to bring a spare. I still had the trusty SLR still camera, though, and finished documenting the trip with it. Back home later, I stitched all the videos and still images together on the computer into one seamless video/slide show presentation which can be seen here:
The Lost Mine Trail is an easy gentle climb for the first mile or so, till it gets to a saddle ridge between Casa Grande Mountain, and Lost Mine Mountain. This is a very beautiful spot, with stunning views all around. To the west and east lie Casa Grande and Lost Mine Mountains. To the north are the Chisos Mountains, with the Rosillos Mountains in the distance. To the south are Pine Canyon, Juniper Canyon, and in the far distance Sierra del Carmen in Mexico. To the southwest you can see the famed South Rim of The Chisos. The hike to this spot gives you the best views for the least amount of hiking of anywhere I've seen in Big Bend.
From this point, the Lost Mine Trail continues on around the flank of Lost Mine Mountain to the south and east, and a branching trail leads off to the west, to the summit of Casa Grande. We started up the Casa Grande branch, but, quickly got off track somehow, just following our noses up the saddle back ridge, enjoying the scenery. After a while we realized we were off the trail, but it was easy enough to see the summit of the mountain, and just keep heading in that direction. The going got steeper, and rougher, and a couple of times we considered turning back.
After a while we could hear voices behind and below us. We spied a small group of hikers making their way up the main trail, and so, we bushwhacked it over to join them.
From this point the way got much steeper, and much rougher. There was an especially brutal section I just called the scree. It was a couple hundred yards of steep slope covered in loose gravel. It was like swimming upstream in a river of rocks. We were on all fours, scrambling up, sliding back, looking for anything solid to get a hold on. Rough on the hands, knees, feet, and dignity. After we finally made it past this section, there were the near vertical rock climbs, over boulders, and up narrow chutes. Through all of this Mark was far out in the lead, leaving Scott and me to play catch up. I'm in pretty good shape for a man of 55, but, I'll admit that this part wore me out. I was not making any pictures during this rough section, as it was all I could do just to keep up with Mark.
When we finally made it to the top, it was worth all the effort. I'd looked longingly on this mountain many times in the past, and now I was there. The top of Casa Grande is not a peak like Emory, or many of the other mountains nearby. Instead, it is rather leveled off, with steep ramparts on three sides, and a sloping drop-off down to the southwest. We rested by the edge of the cliff there on the east side for a while, in awe of the sheer drop below us. We had our sandwiches, and I brought out my flask for my mountaintop ritual. I saluted the four cardinal points, gave the mountain a splash, took a shot for myself, and handed the flask to Scott and Mark.
We walked around up there making pictures and taking in the view for about a half an hour, then started back down. We carefully made our way back down the steep, rocky sections near the top, then it was back down the scree, sliding all the way. Some of those other hikers we were with just sat on their butts and slid the whole way down this section. I tried to do it with a bit more finesse, and surfed down on my feet. It was very rough on my boots and feet.
We came upon the main trail again, which led back pretty much the way we'd come up, and followed it for a very short way when we saw a short cut trail which led strait down the mountain. We followed it, and it was a slightly lesser version of the scree above, but much longer. We slid the whole way down this, and it dropped us into the Lost Mine Trail about two hundred yards above the trail head where we'd parked.
Back at the car, the first thing the three of us did was to take off our hiking boots, and put on our Crocks. What relief! Our feet were beat up. We waisted no time getting back to Study Butte, and the Big Bend Motor Inn for those coin-op showers. That hot water felt great.
Over at the Chili Cook-Off, Mike and Maria had showed up finally, after the long drive from Dallas/Fort Worth. It sure was good to see them. They brought a lot more provisions to make the stay on the hilltop more enjoyable. We had dinner around the campfire up there overlooking the campground, then later listened to the music of Mark David Manders on the stage below. I was so worn out from the day's adventure that I never left the hilltop. Some of the rest of them went down to enjoy the music from up close. I believe there was dancing involved. I'll never know for sure, as I drifted off to sleep to the sound of the festivities below.
Official website of Big Bend National Park: www.nps.gov/bibe
Official website of the Original Terlingua International Championship Chili Cook-Off "Behind The Store": http://www.abowlofred.com/