Posted by: kerryl29 | June 22, 2020

Big Bend Day 3: Further Explorations

The goal on the second full day at Big Bend National Park was to cover the major areas of the park yet to be explored, and fit in some hiking along the way.  The plan was to photograph sunrise somewhere along one of the main park roads–perhaps in the Dug Out Wells area which had been visited the previous day.  So I dutifully got up good and early and made my way into the park long before daybreak.  But as I was driving along, looking for a possible sunrise location, a key problem became obvious as it got lighter: it was cloudy.  With no sunrise likely, I changed gears and made my way to the major spot along the road to Rio Grande Village that I hadn’t checked out on Day 2:  the Hot Springs area.

The light was still coming up when I pulled off the paved road and onto the maintained but unpaved access road to Hot Springs.  This area of the park is a former resort spot–it predates the creation of the park–with the remains of some of the original buildings (a post office, motel and general store) still intact.  There’s a trailhead here, which leads down to the Rio Grande where the remains of the hot springs pool that was originally constructed in the first decade of the 20th Century (still used by many park visitors) is accessible.  I was the day’s first visitor to this spot and quickly checked out the buildings.  The old post office, with it’s accompanying (and very healthy looking) date palm tree immediately caught my attention in the early morning overcast.

Hot Springs Post Office, Big Bend National Park, Texas

I wandered down the trail, in the direction of the river, but before I got very far I reached the motel remains and another huge date palm tree, both of which made for interesting photographic subjects.

Hot Springs Motel Intimate Black & White, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Hot Springs Motel Intimate, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Date Palm Black & White, Hot Springs, Big Bend National Park, Texas

The light was even and the wind was virtually nonexistent.

Before I got much further I reached a rocky cliff side with a smattering of pictographs.  They were too far away for me to do much with them photographically, but they were quite interesting to look at.  I made my way down to the riverside amid signs of some clearing in the sky.  I wandered past the hot springs spot, which didn’t make much of a photograph, but not much farther along, still astride the river, I found a spot I found intriguing.

Rio Grande Black & White, Hot Springs Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

The trail wound along for another quarter mile or so along the river and then gradually began to snake up the adjacent hillside.

Hot Springs Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Eventually it reached a series of overlooks of the Rio Grande Valley.

Rio Grande Valley Black & White, Hot Springs Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Rio Grande Valley, Hot Springs Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Rio Grande Valley, Hot Springs Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

By the time I’d taken the loop back to its point of origin, the area around the post office had taken on an entirely different look compared to my first photographic effort, so I set up again.

Hot Springs Post Office Black & White, Big Bend National Park, Texas

It was still fairly early in the morning when I wrapped up at Hot Springs and took the park road all the way to its end, back at Boquillas Canyon.  My scouting session the previous day paid off as I knew exactly where I wanted to go.

Boquillas Canyon, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Rio Grande, Boquillas Canyon, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Boquillas Canyon, Big Bend National Park, Texas

From here, I headed back to The Basin, site of the previous day’s relatively short hike.  I decided to spend the bulk of the rest of this morning and early afternoon taking a longer, more strenuous hike on the Pinnacles Trail.  It was about three miles one way (six miles round trip) with an elevation gain of better than 1000 feet.  The locations of interest along the way would be a couple of grassy meadows in the high country, beginning with Juniper Flat, about 1.5 miles up the trail.

Casa Grande from Juniper Flat, Pinnacles Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

The meadow was interesting, with a mix of plant life, from cactus to evergreen trees to tall grasses.  The views of Casa Grande from this spot were excellent.

Casa Grande from Juniper Flat, Pinnacles Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Juniper Flat was interesting but the next meadow–Boulder Meadow, another mile or so up the trail–was even more intriguing, mostly because it’s larger with more and better access points.  I spent a fair amount of time here.

Casa Grande from Boulder Meadow, Pinnacles Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Casa Grande from Boulder Meadow, Pinnacles Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Casa Grande from Boulder Meadow, Pinnacles Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

I went another half mile or so up the Pinnacles Trail, to a junction with another trail which led to other high country locations, but I didn’t feel that I had enough time–given the other things I still wanted to do this day–to explore any further on this trip, so I turned around and then spent even more time in Boulder Meadow on the return.  The below image of the Pinnacles Trail (the Pinnacles themselves are visible on the cliff in the background) was made at the spot where I turned around to head back down in the direction of the trailhead.

Pinnacles Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

The images below were made on my second visit to Boulder Meadow.

Casa Grande from Boulder Meadow, Pinnacles Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Boulder Meadow, Pinnacles Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Boulder Meadow, Pinnacles Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Boulder Meadow Black & White, Pinnacles Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

As I descended closer to the trailhead more views of The Window–first seen the previous day–were revealed.

The Window, Pinnacles Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

The Window Black & White, Pinnacles Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

When I returned to the trailhead I made a quick detour on the nearby paved Window View Trail and produced one head-on image of The Window.

The Window, Window View Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

As had been the case the following day, it started to cloud up significantly late in the afternoon.  I decided to make a run down the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, all the way to the end:  Santa Elena Canyon, the other canyon access point to the Rio Grande, all the way on the opposite side of the park from Boquillas.

I took note of the many attractive features on the more than 30-mile long Scenic Drive, but didn’t stop as I wanted to reach Santa Elena before it got dark.  I did so, just as the only other people in the parking area were leaving, and raced down the short trail to the river.  It was at that point that I realized that further exploration of the canyon would be next to impossible.  Going beyond the first quarter mile or so of the trail requires crossing Terlingua Creek, which spills into the Rio Grande at this point.  While the creek was just a trickle, the area around the water was extremely muddy and, while I had my rubber boots with me, I’d left them in the car.  I took quick stock of the situation…if I ran back to the car and changed shoes, by the time I got into the canyon I’d have to come almost straight back as it would be very close to sunset time.  It didn’t appear that there would actually be a sunset for the second straight day, but the point was that it would be very dark inside the canyon and any real exploration would be next to impossible.  I’d have to come back on another day.

I started back along the scenic drive, caught sight of a location that I thought was intriguing and stopped.  I wandered out into the desert and found a composition, featuring an ocotillo in the foreground and set up.  To my surprise, as I was fine tuning the composition, some color appeared in the sky, even though I was facing northeast.  Pleased, I produced a couple of images.

Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive at Dusk, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive at Dusk, Big Bend National Park, Texas

I got back in the car and headed north on the Scenic Drive, figuring that the day’s photography was over.  But then I caught a snatch of open sky to the west, in between some mountainous formations, and realized that there was a crack in the clouds near the horizon.  The sky was lighting up and here I was in the car with almost no western vantage point.  I drove on, hoping something would emerge and, sure enough, after about two minutes, it did.  I pulled off the road and raced to set up, glancing all the while for some sort of foreground.  There was just enough breeze at this spot to be annoying, but I waited it out.

Desert Sunset, Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Realizing that the best of the sunset sky was never going to reach particularly high above the horizon on this evening, I pulled out the telephoto rig and focused on the intriguing pyramid-like shape of a distant formation.  It was extremely difficult to focus in the dim light, but I zipped into Live View mode and did what I could.  The below image was made at greater than 300 mm.

Desert Sunset, Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, Big Bend National Park, Texas

After a few moments the color began to fade and within a minute’s time, it was gone.  Another day of exploration and photography had come to an end.


Responses

  1. What an adventure! Big Bend looks amazing and your images are terrific, Kerry.

    • Thanks, Jane. Big Bend is a tremendous place to visit and photograph.

  2. We never made it to the Hot Springs area, but will definitely have to put it on the list for next time. The photos from Boulder Meadow remind me of Kootenay Plains with the foreground grasses with fallen trees and the deciduous trees behind.

    • I highly recommend taking the Hot Springs Loop Trail–not many people go beyond the remnants of the Hot Springs tub, and they’re missing probably the best view of the Rio Grande Valley in the entire park.

  3. Is it my imagination that the post office reminds me of the Alamo? Gorgeous scenery, well captured.

    • Thanks, Jane! I haven’t seen the Alamo in person, but I think there are some vague similarities in terms of the construction materials. The Alamo is a much larger building than the Hot Springs Post Office ruin, of course.

  4. I want to visit Big Bend! And your pictures are stunning. You’ve captured the scenery so beautifully. What a wonderful visit and hike.

    • Thanks very much! I hope you get the chance to visit Big Bend; it’s well worth the trouble.

  5. I lived for 7 years in Houston and, while I traveled around the state quite a bit, I sadly never made it to Big Bend. Your photos are lovely and I definitely regret missing out.

    • Thanks!

      Houston’s not the greatest jumping off point for Big Bend–it’s a solid 600 mile drive to get there…but then, the park really isn’t particularly close to anything of any size….which, in many ways, is a big part of its appeal.


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