Posted by: kerryl29 | July 27, 2020

Big Bend Day 5 (Part II): The Leitmotif of Light

I’ll pick up the Part II narrative of Day 5 where Part I left off.  It was still fairly early in the afternoon and I decided to spend the bulk of the rest of the day checking out the Grapevine Hills Trail.  The trailhead is located roughly 6.5 miles down the Grapevine Hills Road, which is described in park literature as an “improved unpaved road.”  And the first…maybe two miles or so…are in excellent shape–or were, in any event, when I was there in the first half of February this year.  This stretch is extremely well-graded, unquestionably easily passable by any sort of vehicle, and at relatively high speeds at that.  After the first couple of miles, however, the road deteriorates gradually.  At first it’s just a little bit rough, but still easily traversable with any ordinary passenger vehicle.  But after four miles or so, it’s starts to get a bit iffy.  At no point–as long as it hasn’t rained recently–is a four-wheel drive vehicle necessary, but one with relatively high clearance is advisable for the last mile or so, as there are some dips and rocky stretches that would, I fear, cause a regular passenger vehicle to bottom out, and it’s recommended that you greatly reduce your speed for the back 2/3 or so of the journey.

I stopped once, very near the beginning of the road, to photograph a scene that intrigued me.

Remnants Black & White, Grapevine Hills Road, Big Bend National Park, Texas

The main attraction to this trail is what comes at the end–Balanced Rock, a truly remarkable rock formation.  In truth, the entire trail is filled with some noteworthy photo opportunities.  The hiking experience is quite easy for most of the way; the trail up to the rocky cluster that includes Balanced Rock has a slight incline, but only slight, and the one-way hike is only 1.1 miles.  But the last quarter mile or so requires climbing up the rock formation itself, which obviously involves some exertion.  The trail is marked, so there’s a “right way” to climb up the hundred feet or so on the rocks at the end.  I was really taken with the valley leading up to Balanced Rock, but decided to defer any photography of this area until the return, on the theory that the light would only get better…and that the extremely strong wind that was flying down the valley might slacken with time.

So I made my way directly up to Balanced Rock–where there wasn’t much wind at all, interestingly–and sized the formation up.  I present the below image mostly so you can get a sense of what it looks like.  As you can see, there’s a massive boulder jammed in between–on top of, really–a pair of adjacent rock fins.

Balanced Rock, Grapevine Hills Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

It’s possible to fairly easily walk through the “tunnel” that the formation creates; in fact, the above image was made after doing just that.  But it’s relatively difficult, I think, to produce anything really all that compelling photographically, beyond the “wow, look at that” nature of Balanced Rock itself.  That didn’t keep me from trying, however.

Balanced Rock, Grapevine Hills Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Balanced Rock, Grapevine Hills Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

It should be noted that, despite the questionable nature of the Grapevine Hills Road, this is a very popular hike, so if you’re going to be here at anything other than the margins of the day, be prepared to put up with a fair amount of traffic up at Balanced Rock.

During one period while I was waiting for people to leave, I decided to check out some of the spots on the rock pile and came across a small window cut into a rock face.  The below is a monochrome version of a six-image focus stack.

Window on the World Black & White, Grapevine Hills Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

I was up on the rock face for about an hour.  (A good part of that time was spent answering questions from another would-be photographer who didn’t know how to use her camera, but was highly motivated to learn.)  On the way back to the trailhead I engaged in the photography that I had deferred on the hike in, beginning as I descended the rock pile to the valley floor.

Grapevine Hills Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

As you can see, the rock formations in this part of Big Bend have a lot of character.

Grapevine Hills Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

I was fortunate, as I discussed in a previous entry on this blog, to have interesting sky conditions.  This had not been the forecast, but I was extremely pleased nonetheless.

Grapevine Hills Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

The last two images in this sequence were made just steps from the trailhead.

Grapevine Hills Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Grapevine Hills Trail Black & White, Big Bend National Park, Texas

By the time I made my way back to the main park road after finishing at Grapevine Hills it was only about an hour until sunset.  Unfortunately, the clouds–as had been the case that morning–had drifted off to the east and were replaced with nothing other than bald sky to the west.  I decided to head back up to Sotol Vista and see what might catch my eye.  Along the way I stopped to photograph at one spot in the steadily improving light–east facing, as you can see.  (Note the few remaining clouds.)

Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Sunlit Sotol, Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Sotol Isolate, Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, Big Bend National Park, Texas

I made my way up to Sotol Vista less than 30 minutes before sunset.  The western sky was almost completely clear and not a lot was happening elsewhere, either.  Still, the end-of-day Chihuahuan Desert light was exquisite.

Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive at Sunset, Sotol Vista, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Sotol Vista, Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Sundown Rock Face, Sotol Vista, Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Western Glow, Sotol Vista, Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Last Light, Sotol Vista, Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Earthshadow, Sotol Vista, Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Earthshadow, Sotol Vista, Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, Big Bend National Park, Texas

The last full day at Big Bend was coming up and it would be another long one.


Responses

  1. It’s hard for someone interested in words and photography to resist playing around with light and Leitmotif. The first part of the German term shares the same linguistic root as the English verb to lead.

    • I believe the literal interpretation is “lead motive,” correct?

      • As I understand it, a leitmotif in music is a motif or theme that metaphorically leads a listener through a work. People have generalized the term to more than just music.

  2. The Grapevine Hills area is a beautiful part of the park…a definite “must” for our next trip there. And even without clouds, the sunset is beautiful.

  3. Beautiful – love the balanced rock photos and that little window 🙂 Very nice shots.

  4. That is some really rugged-looking country. Are visitors free to explore on foot? I looks like it would require some serious footwear and youthful vigor and coordination.

    • Yes. though there are numerous marked trails in the park, for the most part you can wander where you like.

  5. Stunning photos. What an amazing National Park.

    • Thanks very much!

      Big Bend is a much underappreciated park, IMO.

  6. Wonderful variety of light and colour throughout this series and I see how the clouds did cooperate. Those sunset shots are so beautiful. The balancing rock is very interesting. I find myself thinking it must have fallen from somewhere to be wedged between the two rocks. But from where? One truly needs to have good hiking boots and watch where they step in this country. Thanks for taking us there.


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