22 May 2013

West Texas, Day Six

After days and days of abundant sunshine, do you think you'd get tired of it? I'm here to tell you.


After the long day yesterday, we stayed the night in the tiny town of Terlingua, near the western side of the park. The next morning, we headed to Santa Elena Canyon.

Here's a brief explanation of how the canyon came to be (for your viewing pleasure). Bottom line - the Rio Grande is full of silt and acts like liquid sandpaper against the desert floor.

The view was staggering. Mexico on the left, United States on the right. Rio Grande in the middle. And although the river was only ankle-deep in many areas, there were multiple signs warning us NOT to cross it without a passport, as well as descriptions of dire consequences for anyone caught doing so - including lengthy jail time.

So we obediently stayed on our side of the river and headed up the hiking path.

Not everyone was as concerned about the rules as we were.

In fact, that group splashed and played in the river (on both sides) all afternoon. Not a park ranger was spotted anywhere.

The walls seemed to close in as we hiked deeper into the canyon.

Finally we came to the end of the line. Only rock walls on either side with no more space for a trail.

We sat and marveled at the majestic beauty. It was humbling and we didn't want to leave.

But leave we finally did, and on our way out, we met this friendly guy who was only making half the hike. He informed us he was in his 80s and had hiked the whole thing many times, but these days, he only does a partial hike. He was from Port Arthur, TX, near Houston, and he told us that Port Arthur is so flat, the locals get nose bleeds if they travel up a freeway overpass.

Next destination - The Chisos Mountains.

The Chisos are the only mountain range that are contained entirely inside a national park. And what's more, the Chisos mountains form a sort of island in the desert. The mountains are set in circular formation, with the highest one reaching an elevation of over 7800 feet. Inside the circle of mountains is an area called The Basin, which houses the Chisos Mountain Lodge and is home to animals found nowhere else in America.

As we started up the mountain road, we were forewarned about the bear population.

There were a plethora of birds outside the cottage we rented at the Chisos Mountain Lodge.

And perhaps the most noteworthy thing about the basin is what's known as "The Window." This is an opening in the circular mountain range that looks out onto the desert beyond.

At about 7:00 that evening, my dad suggested we head a little way down one of the hiking trails toward The Window, so we could watch the sunset. It was cold and windy. Very cold. And very windy.

And as we started down the trail, we saw this...

This was after we'd read all the warnings about mountain lions in the lodge and on a print-out inside our cottage.

I got the message. HE, however, did not. He insisted he wanted to brave the cold, the wind, and the mountain lions so we could have a front row seat at the sunset. Stubbornly, he sat down on a bench and put on his warm knit hat.

I informed him that we were about an hour and a half away from sunset and that it was cold and unsafe out there on that hillside with no one else around. (All the other visitors had taken refuge in the lodge.)

I began to walk away, telling him that we had to go back. Stubbornly, he continued to sit on his bench and wait for the sun to set. Note how HIGH the sun still was - you can barely make it out up among the tree branches, and it was supposed to set right down inside the window.

Begrudgingly, he followed me back up the hill into the warmth of the lodge, where we waited well over an hour for the sunset.

And it WAS worth the wait.

Copyright © 2013 - Paulla Estes

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