The most difficult hike I undertook was the trail to Balanced Rock; not because it was a difficult terrain, but because I didn’t pace myself as the path curved alongside a small, sandy wash. Follow the wash, climbing ever so slightly until the trail leaves the wash behind and enters the geologic wonder all visitors come to see: the Grapevine Hills.
Formed as the result of rising magma within the earth becoming entrapped by overlying sedimentary rock layers, the Grapevine Hills display fantastically rounded granite-like boulders of all shapes and sizes. In certain circumstances, such as one near the end of the trail, these boulders have oriented themselves such that they are balanced precariously on top of other rocks. Needless to say, they are truly a sight to see!
Near the end of the trail, the terrain to became more rocky underfoot, as well as appreciably more strenuous as I climbed into the rock outcropping. I didn’t have much left in me at this point. Luckily the walk down and back was quite pleasant.
My favorite hike in Big Bend National Park was into the impressive Santa Elena Canyon. The trail begins at the end of the 30 mile Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. The trail climbs several short switchbacks and then gradually descends along the banks of the Rio Grande. I was surrounded by lush riparian vegetation and 1,500-foot towering vertical cliffs of solid limestone. The trail ends where canyon walls meet the river.
The canyon is visible for over 10 miles away, as the Rio Grande River changes direction abruptly after following beneath the straight Sierra Ponce cliffs for several miles and heads due west, cutting through the mountains via a deep, narrow gorge. This sharp bend in the river was formed by movement along the Terlingua fault zone that crosses the park. For many miles upstream the river is trapped beneath the high walls, eventually emerging into a wider valley at the small town of Lajitas.
I spent a lovely day in Boquillas Mexico. I was rowed over the Rio Grande and instead of taking the offered burro ride, I walked 3/4 mile into town. I bought a beaded roadrunner, and had a great lunch on a patio overlooking the Rio Grande.
I found Boquillas history compelling. Around the turn of the 20th century up to 2000 people lived in here. The principal employment was related to the production of lead, silver and fluorite ore from nearby mines. Mining ceased in 1919 and the town’s population rapidly declined.
Efforts began in the 1930s to create a United States-Mexico International Peace Park in the area, joining Big Bend National Park with the Maderas del Carmen in Coahuila. Boquillas del Carmen would have been at the center of this proposed international peace park, but these efforts have not been realized.
The events of September 11, 2001, dramatically affected Boquillas del Carmen’s 20th-century way of life. In May 2002, the border crossing from Big Bend National Park to Boquillas was closed indefinitely. 5 years later only 19 families comprising around 90 to 100 residents remained in Boquillas. Most of the town’s residents had been forced to move away by the closure of the tourist crossing and destruction of the town’s traditional economy.
After multiple delays, the new Boquillas Port of Entry was officially opened on 10 April 2013. Since opening of the border crossing, the town of Boquillas del Carmen has seen substantial growth with the addition of electricity (from solar panels), a new medical care office, and enhancements at the public elementary school. The village’s population is now said to be about 200 persons.
The Hot Springs Historic District preserves a rich history of human occupation from thousands of years ago to the not-so-distant past. Visitors can study rock art left behind on the limestone cliffs, picture farms of corn, squash, and beans along the river’s floodplain, or imagine what it would have been like to meet at the Hot Springs Post Office in the early 1900s to collect your mail each Monday. J.O. Langford’s impressive bathhouse is long gone; today the spring is contained by the foundation remains of the bathhouse, on the north bank of the Rio Grande.
I drove down a very scary narrow road for 2 miles, to get to this amazing place. Then an easy 1/2 mile hike to the hot springs. A hidden roadrunner squawked at me, another scary moment. It was well worth it to soak in the hot water at the end.
Located in Terlingua — just a few exits past the end of the world — Ghost Town is a special place. This primitive Texas landscape and the ruins of the Chisos Mining Company are the setting for exploration. This is not some abandoned movie set or a fabricated tourist trap. This was once a thriving cinnabar mining operation, when the market for mercury crashed the miners walked away, leaving their homes behind.
It was fun walking around and imagining life for the miners. I kept and an eye and ear open for rattlers, but didn’t see any. I stopped by the original Chisos Mine company store now The Terlingua Trading Company and browsed their goods. Unfortunately the old-timey Starlight Theatre was not open for business from what I could tell.
Estero Llano Grande State Park is one of my favorite sites of the Rio Grande World Birding Centers. It’s a pleasant respite from the otherwise harsh landscape of South Texas. The birding was fantastic. The 2 specific birds I remember from my trip 7 years ago, the pauraque (click on the link and check out the cool sound they make at night) and the vermillion flycatcher were both in the same places I remember from last time. The black crowned night herons and yellow crowned night herons were where I expected around the same pond. The bird that made my day was the glossy ibis. It’s nice to see that nature is still thriving here.
7 years ago, during a Wings Birding Tour led by a great tour guide, Gavin Bieber, we made a stop at a strip mall in McAllen, TX at dusk. At that time hundreds of Green Parakeets descended on a huge tree in the parking lot chattering away about their day. This week, I went back to the same spot near Dirty Al’s Bayou Grill (if you are interested in seeing for yourself). The tree lost a limb since I last saw it, and the Great Tailed Grackles now out number the Green Parakeets 10 to 1. The Grackles are just as noisy as the parakeets. I was sad to see the grackles push some of the parakeets out of the trees and onto the electrical wires, some though, stood their ground, or should I say branch as witnessed in the photos below.