Wednesday, November 10, 2010
I had one more trail that I wanted to explore on this trip, so this day we headed down to the south-east corner of the park, to Boquillas Canyon.
This is one of the three canyons in Big Bend Park that the Rio Grande carves between the US side and the Mexican side. They are, in upstream to downstream order, Santa Elena Canyon, Mariscal Canyon, and Boquillas Canyon. Santa Elena and Boquillas are easily accessible via well maintained paved roads. Mariscal, on the other hand, is very remote.
We entered the park at the Maverick Entrance Station, near Terlingua and Study Butte, then headed on over towards Rio Grande Village on the main park road, Texas 118. It's about forty-three miles from the entrance station on down to the Rio Grande Village area. What a beautiful drive, though. The middle section of the drive, near the park headquarters at Panther Junction, travels along the north side of the majestic Chisos Mountains. The views along through here are spectacular.
Continuing on past Panther Junction, the road descends for twenty miles down to the river at Rio Grande Village, and Boquillas Canyon just to the east. The closer you get to the river, the larger the amazing Sierra del Carmen looms in your windshield. It is on the Mexican side of the river, though, and is very difficult to get to.
About a mile before you get to Rio Grande Village, the road to Boquillas Canyon cuts off to the left. It is four miles over to the parking area at the end of this road, and the trailhead. About half way there, you will pass the old river crossing into Mexico. This informal crossing allowed park visitors to cross into Mexico for a visit to the cantinas and restaurants there in the village of Boquillas. It was closed in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. There is a plan, which has been granted final approval, to re-open the crossing in 2012.
We came upon a coyote walking down the road. He was unfazed by our vehicle approaching, even when I slowed down to make a short video. He simply moved over to one side of the road, allowing us to pass, and never slowed down. I guess he sees a lot of tourists.
Also along this short road, we came upon a display that I've never noticed before, even though we've been down this road about five times. It was a sign and some artifacts relating the story of the old Aerial Tramway from Mexico to Texas. Evidently zinc, silver and lead ore from mines in Mexico were brought over the river to be processed in Texas. An interesting chapter of Big Bend history that I was unaware of.
At the parking lot and trailhead, I got my cameras ready, and started out on the hike up into Boquillas Canyon. Ok Hwa decided to linger on the hilltop there by the beginning of the trail. There is a beautiful view into Mexico from the bluff there by the bend in the the river.
From the Hiker's Guide to the Trails of Big Bend National Park: "Boquillas Canyon Trail - Medium difficulty. 1.4 miles round trip. Starting from a parking area at the end of the Boquillas Canyon spur road, the trail climbs over a low hill and drops down to the river near a group of Indian bedrock mortar holes. Further down the trail is a huge sand slide formed by down-canyon winds that pile loose sand against the canyon wall on the Texas side below a shallow cave."
The Mexicans in Boquillas Village used to live off the tourist trade coming over from the park, until the border crossing was closed. Now they have fallen on hard times. Some of them try to make a little money by sneaking across the river and leaving trinkets and handicrafts for sale to the American tourists in the park. These things for sale are strictly on the honor system, as it would be dangerous for the Mexicans to be caught on the American side. If caught, they would be deported through Del Rio, Texas, about 150 miles downstream, or Presidio, Texas, about 75 miles up stream, and then would have to make their own way home from there. A few bold ones venture across regularly, and brazenly, though. Most notable is Victor the Singing Mexican. I've seen him several times before, always on the Mexican side. He waits in the shade of some low trees by the river until he sees someone come out onto the bluff on the American side. Then he emerges from his cool sanctuary, and begins singing old Mexican songs in a very loud voice. The effect of the canyon walls seems to project his voice directly to the listener on the American side. He's trying to elicit tips into the coffee cans he has left on the bluff there.
On this day, there were several other small groups of tourists there. From the bluff by the bend in the river, I could see a bunch of people moving around on the Mexican side. Looking closer, I noticed several men on horseback, and what looked like Mexican soldiers on foot. Also, a couple of Mexican men on horseback had crossed the river and were checking on their handicraft sales. I could hear Victor singing, and when I looked for him, he was also on the American side, standing next to his canoe. I never figured out why they were so bold in coming across in broad daylight on this day. Maybe they knew something we didn't. Probably so, since they live there and we were only tourists.
I hiked on down to the river bank, taking short video segments along the way. When I got down to where Victor was, there were a couple of other tourists there enjoying his song and having a beer. I gave Victor a dollar, got a picture of him by his canoe, and kept on hiking. I wanted to get to the end of the trail to see how far down the canyon it went.
As in Santa Elena Canyon, the trail here only goes as far into the canyon as the sandy river bank holds out. That was not very far. Reaching the end of the trail, I took a picture, then turned around and headed back.
When I got back to Ok Hwa waiting for me on the bluff, she told me that one of the Mexican horsemen rode up and started talking to her. She is deaf, and really only knows Korean and a little bit of English, so their conversation must have been short. He was probably only trying to sell her something, but, she said that she was afraid he would grab her, pull her onto the horse behind him, and gallop off into Mexico! She doesn't trust strangers too much.
Well, we had a good time there by the river, and got a lot of good pictures. After we got back to the Bronco and put our things away, we drove over to the store in Rio Grande Village. There, we continued our tradition of an afternoon ice cream on the porch of the store, and visiting a little with the other tourists who were there. Then it was back into the Bronc for the long, but beautiful drive back to Terlingua.
This was our last full day in Terlingua and Big Bend. The next morning we packed up and headed back home, wishing all the way that we could've stayed a little longer.
The photos above are not in any particular order. They are, from top to bottom:
1. Victor the Singing Mexican, standing with his canoe on the American side.
2. Pebble Beach at the Mouth of Boquillas Canyon.
3. Old Ore Bucket left over from the Aerial Tramway from Mexico to Texas.
4. Boquillas Canyon Trail sign.
5. Wire Scorpions, illegal Mexican Handicrafts left for sale on the American Side.
6. Ocotillo plant, with the majestic Sierra del Carmen in the far distance.