Back from Big Bend
Went out to Big Bend National Park this past Sunday, and got back last night. Nothing like four, quiet-filled nights of complete solitude in the desert to get a man back on his feet and ready to return to the city! Returned from my third yearly exodus to the Chihuahan Desert un-harmed, save a few cactus spines and some bug bites here and there.
My original plan had been to shoot lots of photos and time-lapse, spending two nights in the Telephone Canyon area along the Old Ore Rd, and then moving onto one night at the base of Juniper Canyon, then a solo overnight trip up the canyon to the South Rim, to shoot sunrise/sunset with a great view, then back down and one night at the Fresno site near Mariscal Mine, to shoot some time-lapse of the mine there. However, by Tuesday, my plans had changed due to the complete lack of any clouds in the sky (I’m obsessed with good clouds when shooting landscape =), and the disturbingly thick haze. Visibility was limited to a few miles, and photography a much more difficult task. With a thick haze and no clouds, my plans to shoot time-lapse from the South Rim were largely dashed, so I changed my plans to spend half a day going out to Terlingua, then day-hike Juniper Canyon, and then skipping out on the mine (which I’ve been to every time I’ve been there), to spend some time nearer the basin at Croton Springs.
On my first day-hike, I had intended to leave at sunrise and hike up the Telephone Canyon trail to either the Strawhouse trailhead or the canyon its self by lunch time, and then turn back. Expecting to make good timing, I took a liter and a half of water, and set out. Of course, the morning is always beautiful on the TC trail, but like last year, my plans were quickly dashed. Last year, my best friend and I tried the same hike, but got distracted before we’d even made it a quarter of a mile down the trail — we set off down a gully on an attempt to climb Alto Relex, which of course we succeeded in – eating our lunch on the mountain top. This year though, I was first slowed down a bit by the difficulty in following the rarely-hiked trail through the rocks and thick brush – trying to squint into the rising sun to find the cairns. As soon as the terrain got easier, and the trail less difficult to follow, I moved into a brisk 4 1/2mph walk – expecting to make up my lost time this way. Given that it’s still morning, I’m of course looking at any rocks in the sun in my path for sunning snakes. I’m not, however, looking down in the shady spots like the little gully crossings, and this almost proved to be the trip’s undoing. Moving a little less carefully than I should, down into a gully I get one of those “internal danger” alerts. You know, that feeling you get right before you do something incredibly silly that results in broken bones or your girlfriend scowling at you for a week… I stop my step, and pull back, to see that I had come within six inches of stepping right on a black-tail rattlesnake. Too cold and too reliant on his camouflage to even rattle, I would’ve certainly had an issue had I stepped on him. Realizing that I should slow down, I brought the pace back to just below 2mph, and there went all of my plans for the hike. By 11am, I had just made it to the first trail intersection, barely even halfway to the Strawhouse Trail, with almost 4 miles to go to the canyon. Without a cloud in the sky at the moment, and already sweating and having drunk a half-liter of water, I sat down, ate a snack, and then turned my happy butt back around. The TC trail is not one to push yourself on, given that it may be a week or more before anyone else tries it this time of year – and they’ll likely stop in the first couple of miles and turn back, as I just did.
That afternoon, I would head back up to Roy’s place ruins, and shoot some time-lapse there, while the last clouds I’d see for the week passed over, and then explored to creek bed to the north of the Telephone Canyon 2 site. (Just follow the old, blocked off road north for a few hundred yards, and then a wonderful creek bed can be hiked east quite a ways.) The last night at Telephone Canyon would be spent shooting some sunset time-lapses and drinking beer.
Tuesday morning, I made a quick drive out of the rest of the Old Ore Rd, southbound, not spending much time to explore, as last year we had done plenty of that here. Of course, you should spend time to check out the large creek bed with lots of Tinaja’s about halfway down the rd. Just notice when you head down into a tiny valley, and then see a large gravel wash to your left. Park in this wash, and then head down the creekbed, a few spots require careful footing to continue down, but reaching the bottom is well worth it, with every other rock having a fossil in it.
Made it back to panther junction and informed them of my plan changes (they were warning me against taking the juniper canyon trail to the south rim, they seem overly cautious, but they’re probably used to less well-prepared travelers. Their warnings of “oh, that’s a 4×4 only road” [of course, I have a great 4×4, and there’s nothing out there that actually requires me to put it in 4-wheel-drive.] were usually found to be a wide, beautiful, fast-driving gravel road.), and then headed on to Juniper Canyon, and made a quick 2-hour hike of the first half of the trail. Almost regretted ditching my plans to backpack up it, but not having to assemble my pack seemed like a good compromise. =) Twisted Shoe is a great campsite well away from all of the others – the kind that can offer peace and quiet even during the crowded winter season. The road leading there, again, rough riding but easy enough for almost any vehicle to make it.
The next day took me to Terlingua Ranch and Terlingua. Neither feeling worth the drive, but the drive through the Terlingua Ranch Road, and the Christmas Mountains worth the let-down. Terlingua can barely lay claim to being a ghost-town as the do, but the cemetery offered some great photo opportunities. It was hot on the Old Maverick road that afternoon, reading 91F ambient (feels like 120 in the sun), but the ability to hold a high speed on this easy road kept the roof temperature pretty low… The Jeep JK is well-known to become a bit of an oven with the black, uninsulated fiberglass freedom top. Out here, it’s better to just roll the windows down than run the A/C – the moving air will do a better job to clear the heat out of the upper reaches than the A/C will.
Finally, camping nearer to civilization at Croton Springs, I took an easy evening hike up the creek beds until some water made it impassible, then hiked the nearby rises until I had just enough light to make it back. A nice dinner and some decent sunset time-lapse rounded out the trip.
Can’t wait to go back! Just wish it wasn’t 600 miles away =(
Here’re a few snapshots, I didn’t take many of these, but I did shoot over 40 gigs of time-lapse and landscape shots. Anything worth keeping will find its way to my photo blog.