HAPPY VALENTINES DAY at Big Bend National Park

2/14/13 Thursday at Marathon, TX (Marathon Motel and RV Park-weekly rate)

Once again we got on the road by 8 am. We planned to go a circle route on the West side, but in the end a ranger talked us out of going on Old Maverick Road – way too rough with rocks and gravel. We’d have to go about 10 miles per hour, fighting the dust and rocks for 10 miles. In the end, John clocked about 230 miles today. It was worth it, though.

IMG_6718Big Bend is large and wild, it’s one of the very few places with such a dark night sky.

In short, the East side is formed primarily through sedimentary rock and the erosion that naturally occurs. The West side had a rougher history from 2 tectonic faults: the Appalachian and Rocky Mountain faults both crashed in this place. There has also been volcanic activity here. A ranger noted that this side is a treasure for geologists. I wish I had a better understanding of rocks, I’m sure I’d have enjoyed it all the more.

IMG_6820Los Caballos – Deformed rocks uplifted when a fold occurred as the Appalachian  Mountains were formed.

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Rock formation that reminded us of a lion. John’s favorite part of this one is the hole in it.

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So, geologists, what in the heck is this?

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Typical of the Chihuahuan Desert: prickly pear, yucca, creosote and uniquely, agave cacti.

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Original windmill (yes, they are used to bring up water). Early on homesteaders farmed this land. They were bought out by the State of Texas (actually the state couldn’t afford to at the time, during the Depression, so private parties managed to donate enough) for the National Park to begin. Two whose places remain are Sam Nail and Homer Wilson. We stopped at the Sam Nail place when a ranger stopped right after us. She was giving a talk there soon. Wow, how lucky could we get? Both Sam and Homer found land near streams (no longer flowing in this current decade long drought). Sam planted pecan and fig trees and kept some horses, cows and chickens. Homer raised sheep and goats.

IMG_6835A more recent, metal, windmill at the Nail property. It’s working but not bringing up water any more. Our ranger doesn’t know why. She did say that “windmills won the Southwest”.

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Nail’s adobe home – what’s left of it. The back half seems to have been swept away by flood waters. John figures it’s square footage is similar to that of our RV.

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The dark jutting rocks are igneous (“fins of fire”), sent up via a volcano.

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On the way to the Burro Mesa Pour Off

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Looking up that Pour Off. We are at the bottom, where the water drops after cascading down that chute of granite.

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The rocks are encased in what seems like concrete – a natural sort. Maybe the sort of soil that was at Casa Grande – just below the surface. Here the heavy flow of water must form these concrete masses.

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Signs of early spring.

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Tuff Canyon, created by flooding water. The top of it is ground level, where we are standing and the road runs. A the bottom you can see a small puddle.  Actual water.

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We made a picnic lunch stop at Castolon, treating ourselves to the best chocolate ice cream sandwiches. This used to be an army post, then a trading post where the owner also grew acres of cotton. At the right is an old gasoline pump.

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These are the steam engines he used to process and gin (take the seeds out of) the cotton.

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Good photo to click on and enlarge: Here is the Alvino House (built by a Mexican who farmed here as well). The cottonfields grew where you see shrub and trees. Notice the cliff in the background? That is in Mexico. The opening in that cliff is where the Rio Grande River eroded that cliff and created the Santa Elena Canyon.

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Early on the pathway to Santa Elena Canyon. So often, a trail starts out easily, then develops into more of a challenge. This time, we were wearing our hiking boots, because sure enough, later it got pretty rocky.

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Nearing the Canyon. Enlarge to see the people and get some perspective. Beautiful place.

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My footprint in the softer clay.

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Beaver sign, according to John – see the teeth marks at the top of this small trunk?

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Fossil Seashells, visible in the rock as we climb further into the Canyon.

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These are called Blind Prickly Pear, I think because it doesn’t have the long spines. We thought this was pretty special, to be treated to valentines (do you see 2?) on Valentine’s Day!

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A view of the Canyon looking back to where we came from. If you enlarge this photo you’ll see the people there.

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Candelilia – a plant the early settlers used to make wax.

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Hechtia – this is a member of the pineapple family and grows only in the Big Bend country.

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More views, the last is one where I heard the couple coming, so I waited so I could include a person in the picture, for perspective. The moment he turned the corner and saw me he apologized and rushed to the other side. I told him I was waiting for him. They kindly offered to take our photo.

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Again, we headed home around 4 pm and got to our rig by 6 pm. Lovely chili supper (thank you John and crock pot!), laundry and bed.

Although this park is huge, it sure has a lot to offer.  My favorite at this point is the Santa Elena Canyon.  It was so silent there, yet your voice made a sweet echo.  This is a special place.  There is still more to see, but we probably won’t manage it this trip.

About Patricia Elser

I've always loved the loose, flowing, transparent look of watercolors, of Chinese paintings and their calligraphy, but alas, no watercolor classes were available when I was in school, so that interest remained buried until my children were grown. Even then, I was afraid that I couldn't really paint, so upon my sister's advice, I actually started to take classes. I signed up for every class available, determined to learn no matter how afraid I was. I came upon a teacher, Stan Miller, who inspired me, who opened the door to success in watercolor. I love to look at beautiful images. I want to capture them forever. All my life, photography was how I gathered images of the beauty I saw. Thanks to all that photography, I enjoy composing pictures, especially up close. Watercolors allow me to add more of me in their translation of that beauty. My paintings reflect my love for music and dance, with their rhythm and flow. I am fascinated by the play of light, so it appears in my pictures as drama for they are filled with darks and lights. Maybe it's the challenge, maybe it's the beauty, but now, when a work comes together, it fills my soul.
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