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Big Bend '17: No. 10 - South Rim Sunrise

I love a good sunrise no matter where I am, but in a place as expansive and beautiful as the South Rim of Big Bend National Park, the sunrise can reach a truly spectacular level.

As the sun crested the distant mountains, the thick atmosphere bent the incoming light into a deep shade of orange. The remaining clouds above the horizon began to glow a vibrant red that resembled the color of hot steel out of a forge, and the wispy clouds in the upper atmosphere shifted to a light pink. The detail of the Chihuahuan Desert slowly became visible again, and a new day was upon us.

Twilight filled the desert floor with ever-increasing warmth, and overpowered the stars of the once glistening sky, but some of the terrestrial lights were still visible as vehicles traversed the winding roads heading North.

The towering cliffs of the South Rim glowed in the brilliant orange light. The muted contrast of the ambient light provided a glimpse of the unique texture in the desert floor that had previously been overpowered by the direct rays of the sun.

There is an incredible calm that can be felt at twilight just before the dawn. We quietly watched the colors around us shift from the cold blues of the night to rich, warm hues of the day. The birds chirped gleefully as they shook off the chill of the night. Our morning meal of hot oatmeal was a welcome infusion of warmth and calories that helped us combat the cold wind that would occasionally blow across the ridge.

As the sun neared the crest of the distant, mountainous horizon, we stood on the edge of the rim and soaked up the amazing view while sipping on hot earl grey tea. I set my camera down for a moment so I would have two hands to grab some more food, only to see a shot that I had little choice but to take with my phone. The addition of decent cameras to cell phones has really distorted my methods. Back when I had a Blackberry, the thought of ever using my cell phone instead of my 35mm film camera was just crazy, but I find myself being lazy and doing it more now than ever (especially with my son). I almost always regret when I choose convenience over quality as the color and image detail are always vastly inferior. However, for those rare moments when I don't have my SLR in hand, it's better than missing the shot entirely.

A gnarled, seemingly petrified juniper held vigil on the ragged edge of the rim. The tree's long, starved branches reached perilously over the edge as if they yearned to tumble over into the jagged rocks below. It was a poignant reminder that the desert can be a harsh and unforgiving environment to even the hardiest lifeforms.

Our patient diligence on the rim was soon rewarded as the sun finally broke through a small saddle on the mountainous horizon. Streaks of brilliant light glared across the valley and kissed the tops of just a few mountaintops with the warm glimmer of the impending daylight.

In a matter of only a few seconds, the terrestrial monolith of the distant mountain range was overpowered by the sun's light. The rays of the sun flooded into the Chihuahuan desert and filled the once clear air with a haze of scattering light. The glare of the sun bounced repeatedly throughout the lens on my camera, creating a familiar and largely unavoidable lens flare. The near horizontal rays of orange light backlit the patches of grass on the edge of the rim and gave the area the ethereal glow of a true, backcountry morning.

As the sun breached the horizon entirely, the desert was flooded with a blinding light that cascaded from the mountain tops and hid the desert in a golden, brilliant fog of scattering photons. With the end of the sunrise, it was time to pack up our breakfast, and head back to the campsite to break down camp. Our plan was to complete the last 6.5 miles of the South Rim Trail and return to the Chisos basin where we had started two days earlier. Over the previous day's meals and general rehydration, we had dropped 16 lb of water and a few pounds of food. This weight reduction was greatly appreciated as we headed Northwest again.

While my iPhone 7 has far less flaring, it tends to cast a green hue in bright light.

© 2017-2019 Shaun C Tarpley

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