Big Bend National Park Trip
Day 1: Chimney’s Trail (5 miles) & Santa Elena Canyon (1.7 miles)
Day 2: Outer Mountain Loop (30 miles)
The tent was still cold and dark when the alarm on my phone rang. I made PB&J’s and debated how many layers to wear while Zach drove to the Home Wilson Ranch trailhead. We reached the parking lot as the sun was coming up and started a clockwise attack on the outer mountain loop. We jogged the flats and walked the hills, gaining elevation. The cold, dark valley became illuminated with the sun’s warmth and color on the high canyon walls. The cacti of the Chihuahuan desert gave way to the pines and deciduous trees of the Chisos Mountains.
We reached the first trail junction in 5.5 miles and decided to take the southeast rim trail. Our maps did not have much detail and we thought this choice would result in an approximately 25-mile day. We stopped frequently during this 3-mile section to photograph the breathtaking views. We looked at the desert below, trying to discern the second half of our loop from the dry streambeds.
The junction with the Juniper Canyon trail was signed “6.4 miles” but we were unsure whether that was to another trail junction or back to our car. We descended switchback after switchback on the Juniper Canyon Trail, until we thought we couldn’t descend any further. After a little over an hour, we reached the Twisted Shoe campsite, which meant our car was another 11 miles away. I had little choice but to celebrate the personal distance record I was going to set that day and push on.
The next eleven miles were strewn with highs and lows. The trail was well marked with cairns and well-lined with stipa, a grass seed sharp as a needle and sticky as velcro which must have been cultivated by previous societies for acupuncture or torture. I slammed into the back of Zach. To my relief, it was just a tarantula, not a rattlesnake. The trail rolled up and over scorched foothills like the rising and falling swells of the ocean.
Our trip could be measured in miles: 30, hours: 10, photos: 320, or memories: infinite. I could count how few people we saw, how many liters of water we drank, the number of grass seeds stuck in my socks, or the number of blisters on my feet.
Day 3: Rest day (2 mile walk around Paint Gap Hills)
Day 4: Marufo Vega (14 miles)
Having spent some time on the message boards in preparation for this trip, I was intrigued by the Marufo Vega. Described as one of the most remote, challenging regions of the park, this 14-mile round-trip was on my must-do list.
My legs were feeling tired during the first mile, but as the trailhead disappeared over my shoulder I felt better with each step. The first four miles were similar to the Juniper Canyon Trail with one major difference: no stipa! The second half was a 6-mile loop that really defines the Marufo Vega. As with yesterday, Zach chose the clockwise direction, so we headed left at the junction. The trail picked its way down a fairly narrow canyon and emerged at the Rio Grande. We had spectacular views as we headed upstream along the cloudy river.
We lost the trail briefly when it turned uphill to head back towards the junction. As we approached the top of the canyon, we were caught off guard by the snort of some wild burros. They kept an eye on us and warned us with an angry snort and huff as we switch backed our way past them and up the canyon. When we rejoined the main trail for the last four miles back to the trailhead, I started to feel my IT band a bit. As we walked in most of the last two miles, I made the decision not to hike Emory Peak the following day and wrestled with it.
Having seen so much of the park, from the east end to the west end, with me being sick and not sleeping well, we decided to head home that night. After another long night of driving, we fell into the comfort of a bed at 4am.
Post by: Apryle Craig