December 29, 2012
Destinations: Chimneys Trail, Big Bend National Park
Camping in winter means fewer people and definitely less noise but it also means crisp (or in this case, down right frigid) mornings. As you can see by my two coats and pair of gloves the temperature gauge is definitely much lower first thing in the morning than during our daily (mid-morning/afternoon/evening) hikes. We embraced the chilly morning with fresh fruit, bacon, eggs, and banana pancakes (Yum! Yum!) and let’s not forget the mandatory hot cup of Java! We decide to make the most of the solitude and the morning together – content with taking things slow. There are very few folks left in the campground this morning. Our neighbors next door, in the green tent, are still pitched but we did not see them last night nor this morning. With so much to experience all around it is very likely that they spent the night in one of the small towns nearby.
Today we are heading back down to the desert floor. While the Window and Lost Mine hikes are wonderful – chances are you are going to run into a steady stream of park visitors. If you’re like us, part of the reason you head to Big Bend is for the solitude, the silence and to get away from the noise and commotion of our daily lives. Sometimes that’s hard to do on the popular Basin hikes (depending on the time of year). Today’s drive will be to a small pull out along the Castolon/Santa Elena Junction followed with a nice, leisurely 5-6 mile hike to the Chimneys.
The trail is relatively flat and the fact that you can always see your destination in the distance makes for a stress free hike (even though sometimes it makes you feel like you are getting nowhere!). The trail is the typical desert-dry, exposed, and free of water. With this in mind make sure you bring adequate head shade, water, and possibly a bite to eat. It is warm in the sun and cool in the shade (especially when the wind blows). We probably wouldn’t attempt this hike in the summer months with the temps rising above 115°F, but today, with a temp of just 65°F it is just right for us.
As hoped, the trail is free of tourists (like us) with plenty of room to park unlike the crowded car park we passed for the Lost Mine trail. There is so much to see and photograph here but it is so hard to capture the emotions this place evokes. While one person may define the desert as a harsh, dry, unforgiving wilderness; with its sun-baked, clay earth and swirling dust rising off of the horizon another person may identify it as a sweet time out from the mundane terrain of urban life; either way, you cannot deny that this is a land of multicolored sunsets, dramatic vistas, and fragile flora (even if it does have some very prickly spines). Whatever camp you fall into – Lovers or Haters – this scenery evokes strong emotions that are some of the most difficult to capture in this area. Maybe the “Ancients” with their primitive writings and drawings captured it best. I guess what I am trying to say is here we are, several hundred years later, still eager to see this place as they recorded it.
Reaching the chimneys, we pause for a bite to eat in the cool shade of the giant rocks. Finding the various petroglyphs is relatively easy and they are quite accessible. This particular image had quite a bit of damage to it (and maybe a little embellishment by the tourists) but what was interesting is the image that is created by the chipped-out area. Perhaps my eyes are playing games, but to me the broken rock resembles a person holding up his axe (or some other tribal object) in triumph.
We spent about an hour climbing all over this rock and never noticed its face-like appearance until later when looking back over our images. Maybe Gutzon Borglum was inspired to rest and eat his lunch after a nice hike to this very spot? Or just maybe, since Murder On Mount Rushmore was deemed a NO NO by the National Park Service, the precariously dangling shots of Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint were filmed here instead! Just a thought.
A small climb, not to mention a couple of slips and slides, and we view our recent scampering from a new perspective.
Heading back to camp, we find long, deep shadows contrasting against the rich palette of the desert floor. As the sun lowers itself into the western expanse, landmarks and flora, unnoticed earlier in the afternoon sunlight, now reveal themselves in an assortment of majestic hues of purple, blue, green, yellow and red. It’s beautiful.
Winding down into the basin, Andrew quickly seizes the opportunity to capture the moment we never seem to get back in time for. Sunset over campground. Never mind that we are blocking traffic on both sides of the road in and out of the basin and are parked on the curve of the winding road. It’s all about the shot and seizing the moment – right, Andrew! From the silvery glimmer coming from the rooftops in the campground, it looks like we have some company tonight.
Back at our casa lejos de casa, we finish the day with a plate of tasty nachos and cup of hot java before saying goodnight.