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Big Bend '17: No. 4 - Boot Canyon Window

Updated: Dec 1, 2018

The varied and undulating topography of the Chisos Basin allows for an incredible variety of environments and views. One of the biggest reasons why we put ourselves through the torture of hiking up the Pinnacles was so that we could face South while hiking through Boot Canyon. When hiking South, the window at the end of the canyon stays in view during the hike, and it was our first real glimpse of the incredible scenery beyond the South Rim. It was the perfect start to our second day in Big Bend's backcountry.

After a quick breakfast, we packed up our campsite at TM1 and began the 4.5 mile hike South along Boot Canyon Trail. The golden leaves of a long past Autumn chill still hung on a few of the trees in the canyon due to an unseasonably warm November and early December. It was the first of December, but I was completely comfortable in a short-sleeved hiking shirt.

We hiked for about a quarter mile with the steep sides of the canyon filling our view on all sides. The narrow, rocky path could be treacherous at times if you caught a pile of rocks at an inopportune moment, so I had my head down momentarily analyzing the trail when Travis brought my attention to the sudden appearance of a distant, blue horizon framed by the sheer South edge of Toll Mountain on the left, and the North side of Boot Rock on the right. This part of the hike, while short, was so much more enjoyable with the ever-expanding view of the desert building on my left as I hiked Southward down the path. Had we hiked the South Rim Loop in the less strenuous direction, the view would have quickly been at our back as we hiked North. In hiking, the easiest path is often not the best path.

Just before the trail turned Southwest down Boot Spring Trail, I took a final look across Boot Canyon. The crumbling peak of Crown Mountain crested on the left with a long, steep slope cascading down to the convergence of Boot and Juniper Canyons below. On the horizon, the long ridge of the Sierra Del Caballo Muerto (Dead Horse Range) stood above the desert haze as a rough marker of the Western edge of Texas. Just on the other side of those mountains, the Rio Grande cuts through the desert as a winding boundary between the United States and Mexico. The horizon seemed so distant and unreachable from our current location, but we would make the long drive out to that Western edge of the park later on in our trip.

Staring down on the desert landscape, I couldn't avoid the inescapable feeling of being in an old western film. The color was so vivid, and the environment so expansive, that I contemplated what an incredible discovery this must have been for the first person that traversed this rich, mountain oasis trapped in an endless and often hostile desert.

While hiking the exposed mile of the Boot Canyon trail, I heard the familiar rapping of a woodpecker, but with thousands of trees around us, it eluded me for most of the hike. Fortunately, I finally caught a glimpse of the brilliant, red crest of an Acorn Woodpecker as it used its beak to chip into a Mexican Pinyon Pine just off the trail.

As we turned to our right and entered the Boot Canyon Spring trail, we began to lose elevation and dipped down into a mostly dry and heavily wooded ravine. The change in environment was rapid, but well received as the hot Texas sun had already begun to cook us out on the exposed trail.

© 2017-2018 Shaun C Tarpley

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