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Published: November 14th 2011
Warm and fuzzy
Michael gets up-close and personal with a local cactus.
When we arrived at the park office in Big Bend, the ranger was taking a visitor's report of a bear sighting. Stickers were posted on a wall map showing the locations of recent sightings of bears and mountain lions. We never saw a bear, but the lid of one of the bear-proofed trash bins in our campground had some deep gouges left by a bear that had tried to use power instead of finesse.
And as we were preparing our first camp supper, a very healthy looking skunk trotted into our campsite. Just as the ranger had instructed us, we turned a flashlight on it and kept it in the glare until it ambled along to the next campsite to raise the alarm there. And we heeded the ranger's advice to clip together the zipper tabs on the front door of our tent, to keep the skunk from slipping in.
We camped under a full moon, which forced us to put the rain cover over our mesh tent, just to make it dark enough for sleeping. The moon dimmed the surrounding constellations, but in the part of the sky that was away from the moon, the stars had the
And on your left...
Michael's well-informed after picking up the little guide pamphlet at the trail head. They charge a dollar but the honor-system drop box doesn't take credit cards.
rich luster that they only have in the wilderness. They truly looked like they were on fire.
The sun came up just a little to the left of Casa Grande, the huge butte that dominates the Chisos Basin. And, at least when we were there, the sun slipped behind Casa Grande about five minutes after it appeared, only to emerge above the butte ten minutes later, in a second sunrise.
Our first morning we walked up the Lost Mine Trail. The mine can't be found because it never existed, but the legend gives the trail a picturesque name. The trail goes straight up the side of a mountain, and if you pick up the $1 guidesheet from the box at the trailhead, you can learn as you go up about the plants that populate the dry hills of the Southwest -- the sotol, the nolina, the lechugilla. Even though we didn't get a terribly early start, we were the first ones to the top of the mountain that day. We were high enough to look Casa Grande in the eye, and we had a long view down Juniper Canyon into the desert below.
The next morning we
Casa Grande peak
On our way up the Lost Mine Trail.
took a hike down the Window Trail. Whereas the Lost Mine Trail takes you up onto a mesa, the Window Trail takes you down into a canyon. The scenery builds like a symphony -- it starts out rather ordinary, quickly becomes charming, then turns dramatic, and finally erupts in hallucinatory splendor during the last quarter-mile. If you killed someone in order to walk the Window Trail, by the time you got to the end you would say, It was worth it. That's how jaw-dropping the final view is.
Just west of Big Bend National Park is Big Bend Ranch State Park. The national park is a dry, rocky landscape, but it looks like the Garden of Eden compared to the state park, which resembles all the scraps and tailings left over by God after he was done carving out the more prepossessing places. Everything looks misshapen, barren, and otherworldly. It looks like nothing was meant to live here, and everything that does stings. And somewhere beneath all the sinister crags and ashen mounds, the Rio Grande is thinking to itself, I knew I should have turned right at Las Cruces.
On our last morning at the national park,
Look past the nolina plant
and you can see well into Mexico.
we woke up before dawn, and decided to drive down to the valley to watch the sunrise. Just past the Lost Mine trailhead, the road crests and then starts winding downward, and as we came around one of the curves, two mountain lions loped across the road ahead and slipped into the brush. It's such a thrill when you see something you've never actually seen before, but you know immediately what it is.
We continued down into the valley, but it was too cloudy to see the sun rise, so we drove back up to the ranger station excited to report our find. The intern at the desk was actually kind of blase about it, we had to persuade her to give us one of the sighting report forms -- I mean, come on, we thought we were the hottest thing since Lewis and Clark. Luckily, there were a couple of other visitors in the office who were suitably impressed by our exploits. Next time, we are going to drag those two lions into the office and say, Whumpf -- how you like me now?
Leslie's Top 10 List:
Camping is like so many other
things in life - you're not good at it right away, it takes some time to learn the "ins and outs". But once you have some familiarity, it's a heck of a lot easier and a ton more fun. So here's a list of the 10 most important things I've learned so far in my very few times roughing it:
1. The prospect of running into bears and mountain lions sounds scary until you meet some old grizzled hiker on a trail who says "These bears here are like kitty cats". And, of course, lions actually ARE cats. So there. Really puts it into perspective.
2. A little information goes a long way. Like when the Campground Volunteer comes by to warn you of skunks and explains that a a flashlight in their face will send them on their way. And then a few hours later, there you are fighting off skunks with your Mag-Lite and it really works! So empowering.
3. Showering is overrated. You really only need about one shower a week, especially when your sweat suddenly freezes against your skin when the sun goes down. Just make sure your camping trip is not, say,
A little higher up
along the Lost Mine Trail.
a first date.
4. The liberal use of sunscreen is NOT overrated. As much as I used, I still managed to get a burn on the side of my neck. Who gets burned there?!? Sheesh.
5. After a dozen or so times packing and unpacking the Bear Box, you get pretty good at it. Because it sucks to have the whole thing packed up and then realize that your toothbrush is way down in the back somewhere. At this point, you may consider skipping brushing that night altogether (see #3).
6. That $3.00 bottle of wine that you just paid $8.00 for tastes surprisingly good after a long day of tough hiking. Be sure to ask the Camp Store clerk which variety of St. Genevieve he recommends to complement dehydrated camp food.
7. Don't even pretend you can try to keep your fingernails nice. You just can't.
8. Reconsider your choice to pack raw meat along. The idea of grilling burgers at the end of the day seems attractive but is that camping cooler REALLY going to keep the meat as fresh as it needs to be? And even if you roll the dice, do
I'm king of the world!
Michael's the first to make it to the peak of the Lost Mine Trail. Now go treat yourself to a Clif Bar.
you REALLY want to be up all night worrying if you just made your whole camp sick? So not worth it.
9. Camping right next to one of the trail heads is convenient but prepare to act as a taxi service for disoriented hikers who took a wrong turn and were supposed to finish their trip at the Lodge.
10. Bring along a machete. Even if you never use it, it makes you feel like you're ready for anything. And you probably are.
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