Friday, February 03, 2012

The Big, Big Bend

Big Bend.  Permian Basin Outing Club trip for January 2012.  I took Friday off work and spent the morning packing up and running some errands.  Then off to Big Bend via Fort Stockton and Marathon in the blue Tacoma.  

I was driving a bit fast, wanting to beat the setting sun to the trailhead.  Radar detector on, but I came up over a rise and - bam - my detector lit up and screeched.  I slowed down but it was too late.  Saw the cop far ahead by the side of the road.  Thankfully I didn't get a ticket...

Driving through the park at 45 mph (the speed limit), I enjoyed the wonderful harsh-yet-soft contrast of the late winter afternoon light.  Hard to imagine I've gotten "sick of" this park before.  Here I was again and everything looked new and wonderful.  For a long time I just enjoyed the view, cruising along with the windows down (72 degrees!).  Finally I stopped to snap some photos.  Looking all around, thinking how great it would be to be in the sky.  Soon!

Tac with Chisos Mts

Nice light

We were to park at the Chimneys trailhead and hike in and meet... somewhere.  I turned toward the south and was greeted with a wall of spectacular, nuanced rock.  The sinking sun made everything pop with contrast and detail.

A little farther and I passed a group of deer lounging near the road.

Arrived at trailhead and packed up my new Gossamer Gear backpack for the daunting three-mile hike to the Chimneys.  Ironically, this was my very first (or second?) backpacking trip ever.  I was here back in 1998 (?) on my first packing trip with friend Steve B. and two other students from GVSU.  We drove to Big Bend straight from Holland, MI, stopping only for fuel and bathroom breaks.  Arriving in Big Bend was like arriving on Mars -- an experience that led to me returning to the desert for grad school a few years later (the Sonoran desert that time).  In my wildest dreams I never imagined I'd be living in west Texas over a decade later.  

Starting off down the trail.  Sun slipping away.

The sun sets behind the Chimneys.  Where's the camping group?

Just after dark I crossed between the Chimneys on the trail and spotted headlights bobbing around in the desert.  I'd found the group.  I cut across the desert and found a flat-ish spot to pitch my tiny North Face tent, which I bought in Minnesota just before riding RAGBRAI in ~2003.  After making some tea I wandered over to a little group of PBOC-ers who were huddled around a tiny gas-powered lantern.  It served the same purpose as a campfire, giving the group a focal point and something to gaze at.  Several familiar faces and a few new ones; PBOC is growing a little bit.

It wasn't long before everyone turned in for the night.  Winter nights tend to be early ones when camping out.  I slept like a rock.

Morning view from tent

Looking WSW toward the Rio Grande

Chimney - actually appear to be a tilted sill

Looking W along the chimneys

Home.  Santa Elena Canyon visible in background.

In the morning after a certain amount of milling about, most of the group set off cross-country to the NW to find some springs.  We located them and found running water, lots of salt and alkali deposits, several deer carcasses and some large trees.  Also remnants of cowboy occupation.

An extra-pink cactus

Corral at the Old Wet Spring


Meandering down along the canyon, I finally decided to strike off on my own, west, to intersect a road.  I never saw it and eventually gave up, turning 180 degrees and going east.  Rounding a hilltop I suddenly came upon the rest of the group.  One intrepid hiker went off on her own and the rest of the group headed east in the general direction I was going.  We found the Chimney trail and followed it back to camp, which we could see from several miles off.  Back in camp, we saw some campers hanging out on one of the chimneys.  I was a bit wiped out from the 8-mile cross-country hike so I hit the tent to get out of the (hot) sun and nap.  

After a nap I went and explored the main Chimney, which houses several interesting paleo sites.


Stick-sharpening marks


Saturday evening was coming on and I was hungry.  Several campers floated the idea of hiking out to the vehicles and driving into Terlingua for a meal.  My plan was to work on my land north of Terlingua on Sunday.  So I quickly packed up camp and hiked out with the group.  We hit Long Draw pizza west of Terlingua -- I've never been here, it's always closed when I drive past.  After dinner I said good-bye to the PBOC-ers and ended up heading west into the state park to camp at Upper Madera.  I just slept in the truck bed.  Sunday morning I had a lazy breakfast in Terlingua and then drove the 30 minutes to "Andy's Ranch" in the Solitario part of Terlingua Ranch.  Mission for the day: clear a drive-able path to the cabin site I'd selected in December while visiting the land with Debi and Mary.  

I worked almost non-stop for nearly five hours moving rocks, chopping down plants (as few as possible) and picking up pokey bits from the "road".  In the end, I cleared a pretty good 4x4 "road" about 75% of the way to the building site.  The remaining obstacle is a small wash cutting down the hillside.  Crossing this wash is going to require the construction of a culvert, which I will build of piled local stone.  That is probably going to be a two-day job.  Then I will be able to drive up to the building site, and I can begin the rather large job of ferrying various supplies to the location: cement mixer, generator, tools, water tanks, water, fuel, etc.

Impressive, eh?  No?  Hey, this was a lot of work!!

It felt good to work moving rocks on my own property.  It's like my childhood dream of building a "fort" is finally being fully realized.  All the raw materials are there; it's just up to me to move them around, assembling them in the correct configuration to create what I want.  There is something very empowering about that, and the empowerment is very addictive.  The following few days at work all I could think of was getting back down to Big Bend and working more on the road project, specifically the culvert.

The intensity of the sun faded and I looked up, realizing it was late afternoon.  I tossed the pickaxe and shovel in the truck and hopped in for the four-hour drive back to Midland. 



Plants Amaze Me said...

I want to go to Andy's Ranch! I know get some tickets. Maybe soon you can fly to Michigan and pick us up?

I'm sure it was a hard 5 hours but it sounds fun. Making a "fort" in Big Bend, who would have guessed that 20 years ago. Could you make the fort from the rocks on the property?

I didn't know what a metate was so I looked it up. I guess everyone near the mountains/desert would know what it is. I'd like to visit this place when we visit next time, how far from your ranch is it?

Cool buck, he looks huge. I'd like picture 10 framed and on my wall, I know it isn't as pretty as picture 8 but I like it. No no don't go framing that, you have too much to do.

What fun you have! :)

Tonia said...

Beautiful pics! If you need more helps with rocksthen ask my kids, they love building forts!