MilesOfTexas News

April 2010 Big Bend National Park Trip Report

Photos are now posted in the April-2010 gallery located at

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I left Austin at 4am for Big Bend National Park.  I wasn't feeling well, with a clogged head and tight chest, so I stopped at a Walgreens to pick up some Mucinex, hoping it was just allergies and that the desert would cure it in a hurry.  Despite taking the Mucinex, it just contfinued to get worse, but I had been planning this for too long to turn back.  I thought to myself, well, if I am going to be sick and get stuck doing nothing, it would be nicer at Big Bend National Park than at home.

Around noon, I arrived in Marathon and looked around some, not expecting to meet up with Don until around 5pm.  I then headed on to Big Bend National Park.  I noticed smoke billowing for some time while I was on Hwy 385, and not long after passing the Border Patrol station, I was able to see the fire pretty clearly from the highway.  I stopped and shot a couple of photos of it.  I thought at first that it might be a controlled burnoff, but I didn't see anyone out there.  But, I also didn't see or hear any emergency vehicles.  I thought about turning around and reporting it to the Border Patrol station, but then remembered that the smoke was very visible from there, so there wasn't any way that they wouldn't have seen it.

I arrived at Big Bend National Park and reached the Basin around 2pm.  Just as I was about to start unloading my car, Don pulled up and we finally meet.  Don gave me a hand unloading and setting up my new tent.

I intentionally bought a two man tent, a Marmot Limelight 2, but after it was up, it wasn't what I would call a two man tent.  There was barely enough room for me and a very small duffel bag.  I love the tent though, as far as it's stability and ventilation, so I think I am going to take it back to REI and get a Limelight 3.  I didn't have enough room for my camera gear, and there is no way I am sticking that outside in the vestible.

Another note about the tent that I really like is that it didn't budge an inch during the night gusts, some which I think easily hit 30-40mph.  If REI won't let me trade up, then I will keep this one for backbacking and get the 3 man for a base tent.  The tent is extremely light.  I think the fly is the heaviest part of it, so in clear weather without a fly, I would say it would only weigh around 2lbs.

After setting up camp, Don and I decide to head down the road towards Rio Grande Village looking for a sunrise location.  We found a place that we liked, then headed down to the Desert Mountain Overlook to shoot the sunset.  Don hadn't seen it before, and I think he liked it as much as I did.

The Ocotillo was in bloom, which I hadn't ever seen before:


Big Bend National Park - Ocotillo in Bloom

I tried using some ocotillo as a foreground anchor with the sun lighting up the mountains, but I wasn't happy with the results, so the above photo is the only one I kept.  I don't know why, but for some reason, Cerro Castellan in the above photo has become 'my rock', and Don and I referred to it as such the entire trip, haha.  It isn't the largest or most prominent, but I like it!

After sunset, I was originally planning on meeting some 'benders' at La Kiva, but I was too exhausted, so we headed back to camp.  As were were headed back to the Basin from Castalon, I noticed how dark it was and the stars were just beautiful.  We stopped at the pulloff just after turning onto the Basin road where I know I get cell reception so we could 'phone home', then took some star photos.

Because of the great noise handling of the 5D Mk II, I shot the following using ISO-3200, f/2.8, at 24mm for 13 seconds.  I used live view zoomed in to 10X to manually focus.


Big Bend National Park - Stars


Thursday, April 1, 2010

Don and I got up at 5:30am for the sunrise.  I slept maybe a total of four hours because I felt really crappy.  Despite that, I pushed on for the day, not wanting to miss any of the fun.  We shot the sunrise, and I tried something new to me, which was using a flash for fill light with a green gel to bring out the cactus that I used as a foreground anchor.


Big Bend National Park - Chisos Mountains Sunrise

I figured out quickly that I really need a wider lens.  My widest lens is the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L.  On my Canon 5D Mk II with a full frame sensor, 24mm is defintely wide, equal to 15mm on an APS-C size sensor, but BIBE has such large landscapes that I really need about a 14mm lens (about 22mm on an APS-C size sensor).  So, the Canon 14mm f/2.8L lens will be my next lens purchase.

Don and I orginally were going to head back to camp after the sunrise shoot, but decided to head to Ernst Tinaja instead while it was still cool.

We stopped briefly to take a photo of the gravesite along Old Ore Road:


Big Bend National Park - Old Ore Road Gravesite

It seemed to take forever to get to the end of Old Ore Road, and it had heated up quite a bit by the time we got there.  Because we had originally planned on returning to camp after the sunrise, I hadn't changed out of my black colored jeans, and I really cooked in them.  Thankfully the trail to the tinaja wasn't long, and there was shade.

I'm not thrilled with these photos, but here are a few I took out there (I made the horrible mistake of not lugging my tripod out there with me):


Big Bend National Park - Ernst Tinaja


Big Bend National Park - Ernst Tinaja Rock Formations

Big Bend National Park - Flower Growing In Rocks


Big Bend National Park - Ernst Tinaja Rock Formations


Big Bend National Park - Ernst Tinaja Rock Formations 

At this point, I am feeling really crappy and we went down to the Rio Grande Village store to see if they had any over the counter medication that would help me.  They only had one dose packages, so I picked up a package of Dayquill.  I told Don that I needed to go into Study Butte to get something more substantial, so we ate lunch at Rio Grande Village then went into Study Butte.

At the General Store, I picked up some Sudafed PE, but the largest box only had two days worth of medication.  I opted to only get one box and see if the desert would take care of the rest.  I took the first dose, then we headed off to Terlingua to look around.

In Terlingua, we stopped at the store next to the Starlight and looked around.  We then walked about looking at some of the ruins.  Because it was midday light, I opted to not take any photos and added it to my 'come back in better light' list.

We then headed back to Big Bend National Park and took Old Maverick Road, because neither of us had been down it before.  We stopped at some ruins and I took a couple of photos.


Big Bend National Park - Old Maverick Road Ruins

At this point, the sky was completely overcase with really thick clouds, and we figured there wouldn't be a sunset to shoot, so we started back to the Basin.  About halfway between Coloston and Sotol Vista Overlook, the clouds started to break.  We made a beeline for Sotol Vista Overlook and witnessed a fantastic sunset.


Big Bend National Park - Sotol Vista Overlook Sunset

We then headed back to the Basin, stopping briefly for a phone call home.  Because I was so beat from not feeling well and lack of sleep, we agreed on not getting up early for a sunrise shoot the next morning.


Friday, April 2, 2010

We got up around 8am, and after seeing the sky I really regretted not getting up for the sunrise.  There were beautiful clouds that would have made for a fantastic sunrise.  However, the extra sleep plus the medication really helped me a ton, and I felt a lot better.  I wasn't near 100%, but it was a huge imporvement.

We decided to head out to the Mariscal Mines.  This time I was dressed appropriately, and it made a huge difference.  The drive out to the mines along River Road East seemed to take absolutely forever.  We saw a fantastic vantage point for a photo and stopped briefly.  I noted the location to come back to during better light on another trip.

Big Bend National Park - View From River Road East

As we pulled up to the mines, I noticed that the old workers' houses would make for nice photos shooting through the windows.  I took some compass bearings and decided that the best time to shoot the window shots would be at sunrise, when the sun would be lighting up the mountains.  We decided we would come back for a sunrise shoot.

We then went up the the mine ruins, and I carefully headed the warning to not touch any of the bricks, because they still contained high amounts of mercury.


Big Bend National Park - Mariscal Mine

As Don and I were climbing up, we stopped briefly and Don noticed that somehow his camera setting changed from shooting in RAW to tiny jpeg's.  Very unstandably, he was pretty upset and decided to go back to his truck and fingure out how long it had been that way.  While he did that, I continued to explore the rest of the mines.

After I returned to the truck, Don informed me that it had been in jpeg mode since the night of the 31st, when we were shooting the stars.  Our best guess is that he accidently changed it when navigating his menu trying to enable ISO -3200 on his camera.  I felt really bad for him, knowing that there is a huge difference between shooting RAW and JPEG.

We then headed to Rio Grande Village to eat a really late lunch and shoot the sunset from the top of the hill on the Rio Grande Village Nature Trail.  Don hadn't been up there before, but I had, and I think he really liked the view.  I found my location to shoot the sun setting over the Chisos, then headed over to another hill to shoot the setting sun's light against the Carmens.

I shot the Carmens ...


Big Bend National Park - Sierra del Carmen Mountains Sunset

Then ran back over to the other hill for the post sunset shots of the Chisos.  Unfortunately, there were no real clouds to speak of.


Big Bend National Park - Rio Grande Village Nature Trail Chisos Mountains Sunset

We originally planned on returning to the Mariscal Mine's ruins to shoot the sunrise the next morning, but decided to postpone it and stay late to try some star shots over the Chisos:

Big Bend National Park - Rio Grande Village Nature Trail Stars Over the Chisos Mountains

We got back to camp really late, so we opted for not shooting the sunrise the next morning and sleep in a bit.


Saturday, April 3, 2010

We woke a bit later as expected.  I suggested getting some breakfast up at the Basin restaraunt and Don agreed.  We opted for the buffet, and in the end I wish I hadn't.  I don't know if my taste buds were off due to whatever made me not feel well, but nothing tasted good at all except the grits.

We then went back to our campsite, got our backpacks and water ready to go, then went out to Homer Wilson's ranch to hike the trail out to the red rocks.

I was amazed at the condition of the ranch house!  I could easily see that place still in use.

We didn't get started on the hike until noon, so the lighting really couldn't have been any worse for photography, but I really enjoying getting out there.  The rock formations, known as hoodoos, were awesome!!!  I was really upset that I accidently left my polarizer in the truck.  I took some photos while out there, but due to the lighting and because I forgot my polarizer, I just ended up taking them, as Don put it, 'for the record'.  I took some compass bearings and decided that the best light for the rock formation photographing would be at sunset, so I decided I would come back later in the week for that.


Big Bend National Park - Homer Wilson Ranch Trail Hoodoos


Big Bend National Park - Homer Wilson Ranch Trail Hoodoos

Big Bend National Park - Homer Wilson Ranch Trail Hoodoos


Big Bend National Park - Homer Wilson Ranch Trail Hoodoos


Big Bend National Park - Homer Wilson Ranch Trail Lonesome Tree

We finished the hike at 4pm and decided to call it an early day because we would be going back out to the Mariscal Mine ruins the next morning for a sunrise shoot, which meant getting up at 4:30am.


Sunday, April 4, 2010

As planned, we got up at 4:30am and headed out to the Mariscal Mine ruins.  On the way out of the Basin, I saw what I thought was a Mountain Lion cub, but Don tried to make fun and say I was seeing things.  Remembering his RAW situation that happened to him, I told him, "Don't be a JPEG!".  Naturally, he is now going to have a t-shirt made that says that, haha.

Somehow, we managed to miss the ruins in the dark and overshot our destination by several miles before we realized it.  We turned around and managed to make it back to the ruins just as the sun was cresting the horizon.  My window shots failed miserably because of late timing on the lighting.  But I did manage another shot that worked out ok.

Big Bend National Park - Mariscal Mine Morning Light

On our way back, we stopped and took some photos of the cacti that were beginning to bloom.  They were on the verge of bursting with flowers, and I suspected that in another day or two they would be in full bloom.  Don's last full day would be Monday, and I planned on being there until Friday, so I figured I would get a chance to shoot the cacti at full bloom, and was really looking forward to it.

Big Bend National Park - Cactus Bloom

Big Bend National Park - Wildflower Bloom

Big Bend National Park - Wildflower Bloom


Big Bend National Park - Cactus Bloom

Big Bend National Park - Cactus Bloom

Big Bend National Park - Bluebonnet

We decided to call it a day to rest up for the day hike to the South Rim the next day, so we headed back to the Basin to get our gear ready.

Don and I had brought goods to have chili dogs while there, but decided chili dogs might not settle well in our bowels the next day while on the South Rim hike, so we went up the the resturaunt and had a chicken fried steak dinner instead, then called it an early night.


Monday, April 5, 2010

Don had a rough night, not feeling well, and when I woke and got up, I found him sleeping in his truck.  I told Don that if he wasn't up to the hike, that I understood and I wouldn't mind making the hike solo.  Don said no, that he was up to the hike, so we hit the trailhead at 8am.

We took the Laguna Meadows trail and at first I thought it would be a simple hike.  It didn't take long to figure out otherwise!  The trail itself wasn't hard, but up and up and switchback after switchback started to take its toll.  After a while, I got my second wind and my legs settled in, and I found the trail a lot easier.  My pack felt heavy at first with my 3 liter platypus full, plus two additional liters of water in 1 liter bottles and my tripod, but after a little while I hardly noticed my pack anymore.

We stopped in Laguna Meadows and cached some water, and I ate MetRX meal bar, which really helped.  I found the MetRX meal bar to be an invalueable source of fuel, which really got me going again.  I learned first hand the difference that having calories to burn can make!!!  Because we had been in shade up until this part, I hadn't hardly put a dent in my water.

Don and I contiued on, but his stopping to hack and cough continued to get worse.  I offered to continue on by myself, but Don was persistent and continued on.  By this time, I was crusing along pretty good, and felt good, stopping occassionally to make sure I didn't lose sight of Don.

Five hours after we started, we reached the SW3 campsite on the Rim.  I was estatic!!!  We continued on until we reached the intersection where we could turn right and go up to the edge of the South Rim.  Once we got there, we shed our packs and started taking some photos.  After about 15 minutes or so, Don told me that he wasn't feeling well and was going to start down ahead of me.  I had managed a few shots, and really didn't want to leave Don alone on the trail with him being sick, so I packed up as quickly as I could and raced down to catch up with him.


Big Bend National Park - South Rim

Big Bend National Park - View From the South Rim

Big Bend National Park - View From the South Rim

Going back down was a ton more tiring that it was going up.  I think I would have been less tiring had the trail back been uphill instead of downhill, haha.

At one point on the way down, Don stumbled and fell head first.  Thankfully he only suffered a gouge type cut on a finger, so I broke open my first aid kit and got him taken care of with a band aid.

Frankly, I don't know how he only had one fall seeing he only had one pole to stabilize himself.  I found my pair of trekking poles to be absolutely invaluable, especially on the way down when my legs and feet were getting outright unusuable.

We made the trip down in four hours and completed the day hike at 6pm.

After getting back to our campsite, Don decided to pack up and head for a hotel instead of spending the last night in his tent.  Given how bad he had felt the night before and throughout the day, I could hardly blame him.

I decided that I would be leaving the next day.  I really wanted to stay the entirety of the time that I had planned, but after being sick and not getting a whole lot of rest, the Rim hike just took what I had left out of me.

I decided what I needed most at the time was a shower and started to head off to the RV site in Study Butte for a shower.  After about 5 minutes into the drive, I reconsidered and decided I would just head back to Austin instead.  I went back to my campsite, packed everything up, stopped at PJ to do a quick washcloth cleanup and change clothes, then hit the road.

On Hwy 385, halfway to Marathon, a huge deer ran out in front of me. Thankfully I only clipped it, which didn't damage my car, but I have no idea of the condition of the deer.  I drove on until I reached a rest area just outside of Sonora, then took about a 4 hour nap, and arrived home around 10am.


Trip Summary:

In summary, I truly enjoyed being back at Big Bend National Park.  It was a pleasure to meet and get to know Don while we traveled, explored, and took photographs.  I also owe Don my gratitude for showing me things that I would have not otherwise been able to see because he has a truck and was willing to take the risk of driving the unpaved roads.

I am, however, very disappointed in the results of my photos this time.  I don't know if it was because I was sick and as a result very tired, or if I just had 'one of those weeks', but for some reason I was just unable to compositionally get in sync with the landscapes, which is very unusual.

I am not disappointed that I got to make the trip.  I absolutely love it out there!!!  So while the photos didn't work this time, everything else did, and the experience outweighs the photos.

I will return soon!!!


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