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May 2010 (Memorial Day Weekend) Big Bend National Park Trip Report

 

Day One, Thursday, May 27th:

 

I worked a full day at work, getting off at 5pm, and then headed straight to Big Bend National Park from Austin.  I'm not too sure that I would do that again.  I think if I did, I would stop in Ft. Stockton then get up early to get to Big Bend National Park around 7am.

 

Once I got about twenty or so miles south of Ft. Stockton, the moonlight was so bright that it was actually bothering my eyes.  I was amazed at the detail in the mountains that I could see.  I decided I would try shooting some moonlight lit landscape shots while I was at Big Bend National Park, seeing the moon was up all night.

 

I arrived at the entrance to Big Bend National Park at 12:30am, which isn't too bad considering I got stuck in Austin's rush hour traffic.  Of course, it took me another 45 minutes to get to the Basin campground.  I was expecting an almost empty campground, but it was darn near full.  I finally located one that I could live with, number 26, but I didn't want to wake anyone setting up camp so I crashed in the back seat of my car for a few hours.

 

 

Day Two, Friday, May 28th:

 

I woke at 7am and proceeded to unpack my car and get my tent set up.  After doing that, I saw that the folks in spot number 25 were leaving, and since they had really nice, soft, plush grass, I decided to wait until they left and take that spot instead.

 

After they left, I moved my stuff over to the new campsite.  At this point it was nearly noon, so it was almost a mute point in trying to shoot any photos or hike and trails.  I decided I would try to find a starting point for the next day and headed towards Rio Grande Village.

 

I didn't have a set itinerary this trip because I wanted to decide based on the weather and any interesting atmospheric phenomenon, e.g. clouds, rain, etc.

 

On the way to Rio Grande Village, I stopped for a quick shot of the green Ocotillo.  In this shot I went against the 'rule of thirds' intentionally, because the Ocotillo was doing a nice job of framing one of the peaks:

 

Big Bend National Park - Chisos Mountains Framed By Ocotillo

 

I then went down and spied me a place to shoot that day's sunset before continuing on down to Rio Grande Village.  Just before I reached Rio Grande Village, I saw the sign to Boquillas Canyon and took the short drive down there.  After I got out of the car and was blasted by the heat, I decided that I would try to make it back one of the mornings.

 

I then finished the drive to Rio Grande Village.  I decided I would hang out for a couple of hours and see how well I adjusted to the furnace level of heat.  I broke out the cooler and had some lunch.  When I went to throw away some trash, I burned my hand on the bear-proof trash can.  The dark green color in the open sun made that thing unbelievably hot.  Wasn't anything serious though, and was not noticeable after a few minutes.

 

After sitting out there for a couple of hours and sweating something bad, I decided I would grab a shower and head back to camp for a couple of hours.

 

On the way back, when I went through the tunnel, I noticed that the sky was looking really great over the Sierra del Carmen Mountains and the tunnel would make a great frame, so I stopped to take a quick photo:

 

Big Bend National Park - Sierra Del Carmen Mountains Framed By Tunnel

 

After getting back to the Basin, I broke my 'eat what I brought' rule and had a quick dinner at the lodge restaurant.  It was only eighty degrees in the Basin, so I went back to my campsite and just hung out there until 7pm, at which time I then headed to my sunset spot.

 

After getting to my sunset spot, the wind kicked up something fierce!  I knew there was no way I was going to get sunset shots without vegetation blur, but that's how it goes.  It was windy enough that even the cactus was swaying!

 

I had wanted to shoot the part of the mountains that has this interesting formation, known as El Pico, which you can see in the photo below.  There was enough haze and dust in the air to give a nice purple hue to the mountains, and the lighting was so nice that I didn't even bother with a graduated ND filter:

 

Big Bend National Park - Sierra Del Carmen Mountains Sunset

 

After the sun set, I changed locations and took a shot of the Chisos Mountains with the Elephant Tusk in view:

 

Big Bend National Park - Chisos Mountains At Sunset

 

After the sunset shots I headed back to my campsite to get some much needed rest.  I was exhausted from the trip and was only running on about four hours of sleep.

 

 

Day Three, Saturday, May 29th:

 

I woke at 4am hoping to take some moonlight landscape shots, but dense clouds had rolled in overnight.  I went back to sleep for another hour, waking at 5am then headed out for the sunrise.

 

I liked the location from which I shot the previous night's sunset, so I decided to give that a try.  In addition, I wanted to compare the sunrise against the sunset, to add to my notes of places for each depending on sky conditions.

 

Big Bend National Park - Chisos Mountains At Sunrise

 

Big Bend National Park - Chisos Mountains At Early Morning Light

 

After the sunrise, I hurried back to my campsite, grabbed my backpack, and then headed off for the Lost Mine Trail.  For one reason or another, I had still never made it to this trail and I was really looking forward to it.

 

At 8:30am, I grabbed nearly the last parking spot available, so I knew the trail was already busy.  How busy I didn't know until I got started.  I can't remember ever seeing so many people on one trail.  It became evident that I am not as young as I used to be.  I thought I was moving along pretty nicely, but the young college kids just kept blowing past me like I was standing still.  I was starting to feel pretty darn embarrassed by it, ha-ha.

 

Hrmm, yep, this is where I decided I would hit the gym when I get home so I can show those young college kids that I can keep up!.

 

When I reached the point overlooking Juniper Canyon, I was astonished.  That wonderful WOW factor kicked in.  My photos don't do it any justice, but here they are:

 

Big Bend National Park - Juniper Canyon From Lost Mine Trail

 

Big Bend National Park - Juniper Canyon From Lost Mine Trail

 

Big Bend National Park - Juniper Canyon From Lost Mine Trail

 

With the trail only being 4.8 miles round trip (yeah, right, they need to re-measure that!), I figured I was only another mile or so from the top and thought I would be there in no time.  I was very wrong in that assumption.

 

When I reached the top, it was absolutely beautiful.  I took a few photos then settled under a Juniper tree and had a couple of Cliff Bars as a snack.  I met some nice folks up there, and one group of college kids decided that a guy with a nice camera would be good candidate to take a photo of their group with their camera.  I laughed when I couldn't figure out how to use their point and shoot camera.  Not to mention, it didn't have a viewfinder!  Nevertheless, the picture looked good to me, ha-ha.

 

Here are the photos I took from the top of the Lost Mine Trail:

 

Big Bend National Park - View From Lost Mine Peak

 

Big Bend National Park - View From Lost Mine Peak

 

As I started back down, I could see the tell-tale signs that a thunderstorm was rolling in.  I could see the upper level spreading of a cumulonimbus cloud that makes up the anvil head starting to approach the Basin area.  I really wanted to get a shot of the whole cloud as it came in, but I knew it would take me too long to get down from the top.  I decided I would at least try to get down while there was still lightning, so I rushed down as quick as I could.  And yeah, I was still getting passed up.

 

I finally reached the bottom and headed back to my campsite for a quick replenishment of my Endurox R4.  Yes, I had water with me the whole way, but the Endurox helps a ton if taken within an hour of exercise.

 

I was then hearing thunder just on the other side of the Window, so I took off to see if I could get a shot.  Only then did I realize I was nearly out of fuel, so I had to hit the gas station first, ugh.  Good thing I did.  If the pump was right, I only had 2/10 of a gallon left in my tank!

 

I then rushed, at the snail pace of a speed limit, to the Maxwell Scenic Drive to get a photo of the thunderstorm, and it was already at the base of the Chisos near the Window.  I knew my time was very limited so I found the first pull-off and just started snapping away. 

 

Big Bend National Park - Thunderstorm and Lightning At Chisos Mountains Window

 

After taking that photo, I decided I was in need of a shower, so I went back to Rio Grande Village for a quick shower.  After my shower, I headed back for the campsite, but decided to go sit outside at the lodge resturant and send off a quick email because after the storm, cell service wasn't working anymore at the turnoff to the Basin coming from Panther Junction.

 

While sending an email, a group of folks that I met at the top of the Lost Mine Peak came in, and we just sat there until nearly dark talking about some of the other places they have been to, mostly in New Mexico, which is where they are from.  Around 9pm, I headed back to my campsite and called it a night.

 

 

Day Four, Sunday, May 30th:

 

I was disappointed that my alarm clock battery died, so I didn't wake up until 7am.  Being that this was the day I was leaving, I really wanted to get in a last sunrise and hike the Boquillas Trail, but I guess that wasn't in the cards per se.

 

I then went ahead and started packing up camp.  It took a little while longer than normal because I had to dry off my tent from the rain.  There was still standing water everywhere from the night before.

 

I left the campsite around 10am, and the rain really cleared up a lot of the haze.  I stopped for a cup of coffee to go at the lodge restaurant, and I could see through the Window with no haze to be seen at all.  It was a beautiful site.

 

I then started my way out of the park, and I noticed that I could see Santiago Peak a lot clearer than normal.  There was still some haze, but near as bad.  I stopped and took a quick photo on the way out:

 

View of Santiago Peak From Big Bend National Park

 

After that, it was an uneventful drive home where I was greeted by my cats.



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