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Big Bend '17: No. 11 - Laguna Meadows

Before we knew it, three days and two nights in the backcountry of Big Bend National park were already over, and it was time to leave the grandeur of the South Rim, and return to the confines of the Chisos Basin. I lamented leaving what I would describe as the most scenic view in all of Texas, so I stubbornly took photos for as long as I could down the trail until we lost site of the South Chihuahuan Desert altogether.

The Southwest Rim with "Sunset Ridge" on the Right.

After a beautiful sunrise on the rim, we hiked back to our campsite and began packing up our gear for the hike back down to the Chisos Basin via the Laguna Meadows Trail. I wasn't looking forward to putting my heavy pack on my injured back again, and I began to contemplate how I could have done better this trip to limit weight.

In hindsight, the mild weather on the rim meant that I could have dropped down to my much lighter 45 degree bag that is easily half the weight and size of the 0 degree. I have a liner that can make the 45 closer to a 35, and then lining my torso with my down jacket can usually get me another 10 degrees or so just in case the weather dropped into the 30s. In the winter, you can lose a lot of heat to the ground where your insulation is the lowest (due to compressed down which does not insulate as well as lofted down). I use a Thermarest Z lite Sol because it has a radiant lining which helps to reradiate my body heat, and it is very light (though not very compressible).

The majority of the other items we took were needed in the backcountry, but we didn’t consume anywhere near the 1 gallon a day that we were told to hike in, so I kept 3 liters with me for the hike out, and left the remaining water for anyone who made the hike and either forgot, or failed to bring enough water. We saw many people starting the hike mid-day without any water at all, so I’m sure someone put it to good use. I can only hope they were nice enough to pack out the container as it certainly wasn't our intent to litter. We marked the water as free using sticks so people would know that it wasn’t a water cache (a common method of leaving water in the backcountry on day hikes prior to spending multiple days camping).

One of these years I will need to hike Big Bend when the Agave bloom in the spring. While the silhouette of the bare stalk is intriguing with the valley backdrop, I can’t help but imagine that it would be more interesting with some vibrant blooms.

It was hard to leave the expansive view of the rim, especially as it remained on our left for a good portion of the hike. At least for the time that we were there, it never failed to draw my attention and engender an inescapable sense of awe. It was an experience that will stay with me for as long as I live.

As we left the South Rim and headed North, we looked Southwest towards Mexico and noticed the marked cut into a desert ridge near the horizon where the Rio Grande split the desert and created Santa Elena Canyon. This canyon defines a portion of the border between Texas and Mexico and was already on our list to visit this trip, but it was interesting to get a birds-eye view of the canyon from a considerable distance.

(Click on the white arrow on the right to view additional images)

The atmosphere is a peculiar thing, especially in regard to the affect it has on light. Far off in the distance, seemingly endless waves of mountains peaked through a hazy horizon. As the sun rose higher in the sky, the haze thickened and the mountains faded into a strange, almost two-dimensional abstractions of the mountains that actually existed in that three-dimensional space. It was another one of those times when I couldn't believe my eyes because the information that was reaching my brain was not what really existed, but a distortion of light, heat, water, and air creating an image that was just short of a mirage.

Even as I looked closer at the range, it did little more than intensify the abstraction. The mountains appeared to be painted upon a vertical canvas. The simple lines and virtually monochromatic tone made me feel as if I was looking at a finely detailed Japanese woodblock print through the lens of my camera.

We followed the Southwest Rim Trail until it met up with the Laguna Meadows Trail for the last 6.5 miles of the hike. Nearly three days and roughly 20 miles after we started off from the Chisos Basin Trailhead, we arrived back to a familiar view of The Window from the Laguna Meadows Trail. I still enjoyed the view, but I already missed the incredible scenery from the rim.

As we unpacked our gear, I removed my boots and enjoyed some time walking around in my sandals to let me feet dry out. My boots were coated in a thick film of fine desert sand that seemed almost painted on. In my book, the amount of dirt on your boots is generally a good indicator of how good the hike was.

We made good time on the hike back to the Chisos Basin, so there were still a few hours to drive out to Santa Elena Canyon before night fell. We grabbed a bite to eat, packed up the truck, and promptly headed out.

© 2017-2018 Shaun C Tarpley

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