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Big Bend '17: No. 5 - Fall and Fauna in Boot Canyon Springs

Updated: Dec 1, 2018

Most of Big Bend has the raw, exposed feeling of a desert, but in the wrinkled and winding heart of the Chisos Mountains, eons of intermittent rainwater erosion has slowly carved out narrow ravines where life thrives with a relative abundance of water. The thick canopy of trees protected hikers and wildlife alike from the punishing heat of the afternoon sun, so it was a welcome change of pace.

As our path turned Southwest from the Boot Canyon Trail, we quickly lost elevation and dipped down into the lush forest of Boot Canyon Springs. Suddenly the view of the desert scrub and the Pinyon-Juniper shrubland of the high-country were gone, and I could have sworn I was transported to a hike in the woodlands of the Edwards Plateau (Texas Hill Country). The variety of ecological regions in Big Bend is incredible, and it makes a long hike through the Chisos Mountains truly unique.

During a rainier part of the year, we likely would have tested the water resistance of our boots crossing the rocky center of the ravine, but in the dry winter months, there was very little water to be found other than small pools of green, stagnant water. The Park Rangers had been very accurate in their assessment of the water in the backcountry, so we were thankful that we had plenty of water on our backs.

It was the first of December, so one would have expected the chill of winter to loom over a barren landscape of leafless trees, but due to a warm September and November, the golden glow of Autumn still hung in the canopy and carpeted the sides of the dirt trail.

In a National Park as large and frequently visited as Big Bend, many of the wild animals can lose their primal distrust of humans. Such was the case in the wooded ravine of Boot Canyon Springs as a familial group of Mule Deer watched us cautiously, but generally allowed us to stay close by and observe their morning rituals. The two older deer kept a close watch on the two younger, adolescent fawns, while sneaking short glances over at us as they foraged for food. In time they crossed the road in front of us and made their way up the side of the hill to our left. As they moved into the shade above us, we figured it was time to leave them to their foraging and continue onward towards the South Rim.

(Use the arrow on the right to scroll through photos)

We had only lost a few pounds of food and water weight from our first day, so our packs were still very full. We decided it would be best if we stopped for lunch in the shade of the ravine before we hit the much more exposed rim. We found a small, rocky recess along the side of a mossy, bug-filled pool of stagnant water, and reflected on how happy we were that we had packed in fresh water instead of relying on such questionable sources. On trips in wetter environments, we can save a lot of weight by using a light, ceramic water filtration kit and a UV sterilizer, but that system would have certainly led to some pretty terrible dehydration in this environment.

One older couple hiked through as we ate, but otherwise we had the ravine to ourselves. The solitude of the hike allowed us to soak in the sights and sounds of the forest, without being distracted by anyone else.

(Use the arrow on the right to scroll through photos)

We continued down the Boot Canyon Trail as it passed the Colima Trail shortcut which split off to the right and headed back towards the Laguna Meadows trail (back to the Chisos Basin). The Trail would split again for the Juniper Canyon Trail (a very long trail that heads out of the Chisos Mountains and deep into the desert to the Southeast), and the Northwest Rim Trail which headed out East to the Northeast corner of the Rim. We had reserved the campsite SE1 that was nearer to the junction of Boot Canyon Trail and the South Rim Trail, so it was easier for us to get to our campsite first, drop our heaviest gear, and then set out for additional hiking with just the essentials.

The ravine began to fade into wooded groves as the trail headed upward again. In time, the sun dappled trail began to open up, and the fall colors began to fade as juniper trees and rolling hills of golden grasslands emerged. We kept a close eye out in the tall grass for wild animals and snakes. The sky opened wide in front of us, and while it was hard to tell which crested hill would provide our first view of the South Rim, we finally neared the top of a long, steep hill where the lack of visible trees or rocky features along the crest was a good sign that we were very close to the rim, and I couldn't wait to see it for the first time.

© 2017-2018 Shaun C Tarpley

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