Friday, April 24, 2015

Big Bend -- Santa Elena Canyon

Today, we were going to be exploring the Santa Elena Canyon part of Big Bend.  As we headed across the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, we noticed these rock-wall like formations that looked like big stone fences on various parts of the mountains.

What appeared to be the Great Wall of Big Bend were dikes that had been created naturally from the volcanic period years ago.

Ken said he wanted to get a picture of a rattlesnake and a road runner while we were at Big Bend.  We thought he had gotten his wish when we saw this huge snake on the side of the road...

...but we later found out from a ranger that it was a big bull (sometimes called gopher) snake.  I think he had eaten a lot of gophers and maybe even a bull!  We're just glad he wasn't interested in any Hoslers or Gregorys!  :)

Next, we came to the Homer Wilson Ranch which had been an active ranch until the camp was abandoned in 1945.

Can you imagine living and working in such a beautiful but remote area as this?

We next came to the Sotol Vista named for the Sotol plant (the tall stem in the picture to the right below) that grows in the desert.

Thanks for the pic, Ken & Bonnie!
Out in front of us is the Mexico, the Rio Grande, and our destination for the day:  the Santa Elena Canyon.

We also stopped to look at Mule Ears Peaks.

We were reminded today again of how glad we are to be here in the spring.  Below are some of the many gorgeous flowers we saw throughout the day in all areas of where we traveled:

Blooms from a Prickly Pear Cactus
Strawberry Pitaya Cactus
I think this is a echinocactus horizonthalonius.
I can't pronounce it but it sure is pretty. :)
One of the most unusual cacti we see almost in "groves" in some areas of the park is the ocotillo.  This spindly-looking cactus...

...produces the prettiest red blooms.

The park rangers told us that the Big Bend Bluebonnets had already bloomed, but these bluebonnets blooming along the edges of the road were spectacular too!

Next, we saw Tuff Canyon named for the material that lines its walls.  Tuff is volcanic ash that has hardened into rock-like forms.  That tuff must be some tuff stuff!  :)

On beyond Tuff Canyon were these unusual black and white rock formations that were formed from hardened molten lava (black) and hardened volcanic ash or tuff (white).

We noticed what looked like a petrified tree on the side of the rock...

...but it is actually a intrusive plug formed by rhyolite magma pushing up through white air-fall tuff (from Texas Bureau of Economic Geology).

When we reached the Castolon Visitor Center at the end of the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, we ate our picnic lunches.  The Visitor Center was a former army barracks for the U. S. Cavalry Post that was built just as the Mexican Revolution was ending in 1920.  However, no troops ever lived in the barracks because the base was soon disbanded.

After finishing our picnic lunches, we drove over to the trailhead for the Santa Elena Canyon.

We put on our hiking boots and walked to the edge of the Rio Grande River.

That remote areas on the other side of the Rio Grande is Mexico.  The river is very shallow here and there were some people wading across and then back I guess so they could say they had been to Mexico for the day.

After crossing across a small inlet creek emptying into the Rio Grande, we began walking a series of paved then gravel switchbacks at the entrance of the canyon.

The views looking out from the front of the canyon were amazing!  Mexico is to the right of the river in the picture and the U.S. to the left.

After climbing the switchbacks, the trail continued into the canyon.

There was this HUGE boulder we walked around.

We tried to determine from what part of the canyon walls the boulder had fallen.

Ken happened to look down to the river below and noticed these big footprints in the mud.

We were wondering if they were the footprints of a black bear or a mountain lion.

After looking up images of bear footprints on the internet, I think it looks a bear footprint because a mountain lion's footprint is more rounded like a cat's.

Although black bears were common in the Chisos Mountains in the early 1900's, they were completely gone by the time Big Bend became a national park in 1944.  However, sometime in the 1980s, the bears were spotted once again in Big Bend.  What was so remarkable is that it happened naturally -- no human intervention.  According to the NPS website, it is rare for a large animal like a bear to return to its natural range once it has been eliminated from that range.

We walked as far as we could go into the canyon on the trail and rested for a few minutes enjoying the views of the massive canyon walls and listening to the sounds of our voices echoing off the canyon walls.

It's hard to imagine the amount of water and the force of the water from the Rio Grande that it took to carve these 1,500' high walls.

We began hiking back out of the canyon...

spotting this colorful lizard in the grass,

this camouflaged lizard on a big rock that was missing part of his tail,

and a turtle out on a rock in the river.

There was also this big rock in the river...

...that looked like a dinosaur with big teeth!

As we headed out of the canyon,

we said good-bye to the Santa Elena Canyon behind us... the vastness of Big Bend welcomed us back.

Bonnie made a cairn with the creek rocks when we got back.  She's the only one of the four of us who can get down on her knees.  :)

Bonnie had found a "short-cut" on the map back to the entrance of the park on the Old Maverick Road.  The park ranger told us at the Castolon Visitor Center that the distance is shorter but with it being a gravel road it would probably take you about as long.  But we were hoping to see some more wildlife with dusk approaching, so off we went on the Old Maverick Road.

We rode through some wide dry creek beds.  I wouldn't want to be here during a flash flood!

We came to Luna's Jacal.

Gilberto Luna raised a large family in this small house called a jacal built with rock, earth, and plant fiber.

Mr. Luna, a well-known and respected resident of Big Bend, lived here until 1947 when he died at the ripe old age of 108!

We saw a few roadrunners but they were so fast, we were not able to get any pictures of them.  We did not see any rattlesnakes or scorpions, but we did see this big jack rabbit.

With dusk approaching, we did have some awesome views of the Chisos Mountains.

Another great day of hiking and exploring at Big Bend.  All we left behind, was Bonnie's cairn...

...and a lot of good memories!  :)