Our Big Bend Adventure
Friday 01/24/97 - Thursday 01/30/97

Anne and Stewart French
Alan and Maria Gant

Friday - January 24, 1997

Stewart and Alan met at the Gant's house at noon and drove the RX7 to "Houn House" to drop off Groucho at jail (puppy camp) then to DFW Airport to rent our trusty steed, the Ford Explorer. The menfolk packed while the womenfolk worked. The four of us departed from the Frenches home about 3:45pm after carefully packing the Explorer with tons of junk.

Our first stop was in Ft. Worth at Tom and Joyce's apartment to borrow their video camera. We left there about 5 and started listening to a book on tape, "Airframe" by Michael Crichton. We stopped for dinner in Abilene at about 8:30. We initially missed the turnoff to 83/84 and ended up leaving Abilene accidentally as we hunted for the Luby's. We had a nice dinner at the Black Eyed Pea, and hit the road again about 9:45. We decided to call it a night at Big Spring about 11 PM - we stayed at the Best Western.

Saturday - January 25, 1997

The motel provided a nice continental breakfast (fruit, cereal, bagels, sweet rolls, toast). We left there Saturday morning about 8:30. We made a brief stop in Fort Stockton to check out the Wal-Mart. About 30 miles down the road to Marathon we stopped for a picnic lunch. The picnic area was up on a hill - the view was delightful, and we found a nice spot to build a house that would look down on the picnic area.

On we drove reaching the part border about 2:00pm. A park ranger name Shane stuck his head out of the small building and greeted us. He was happy to see some smiling folks he said. He said some folks from "Norweiga" had been turned away last year when the park was shut down by the Government. He seemed to expect everyone who lost out last year to be mad at the Rangers. We snapped a good goofy shot of him when he figured out they were from Norway and not "Norweiga". We didn't correct him, just laughed and smiled. We paid our $5.00 and headed on in, up, and over. into the Chisos basis. We drove through where the stone cabins were located and picked out the one or two we would rather get. Well, we got 103 which was one of the two, probably the best! It was about 25'x60' with a small bedroom separated from the main area with a curtain. The main area had 2 full beds and a table with 2 chairs, plus 2 padded chairs. There was a nice covered patio that looked out to the " Window ", a notch between two mountains about 2 miles distant. We settled in then drove to a parking area where we hiked down to the Window. We started about 3:30 and finished up about 5:30 or 6:00. We saw the sun make beautiful shadows on the mountains. behind us as we hiked northwest, then we edged our way out to the overlook at the turnaround point. The two mountains are cut at the window by a spring that runs out of the basin and down to the plains below. The view at the window was spectacular! It was a bit cool on the hike and we took our coats. We ate dinner at the lodge restaurant and conked out early.

Sunday - January 26, 1997

Sunday morning we woke up about 7:30am after about 11 hours of sleep! We had brought a coffee maker and fixins so Stewart made coffee trying not to wake anybody. We all got up and sat on the porch (here's another). to watch the sun come up. We look northwest from the cabin so we can't see the sunrise directly. Instead we watches the sunlight as it struck the mountains to our west and raked its way down and slowly toward us. We saw a few hikers coming and going on the window trail. The temperature was very mild and they were all wearing shorts. This made up our minds to wear shorts today. Good thing too! It was hot on the hikes on Sunday. We ate breakfast at the cabin, got showers, fixed a picnic lunch and headed for the Lost Mine Trail. This was a 5 mile out and back trail that snaked through 2 valleys up and up to a fabulously beautiful overlook. at the top of the mountain. On the way up we passed 32 self guided stops. Each of these are described in a small pamphlet provided by the park service at the bottom of the trail. We also saw a lot of people going and coming on the trail. Alan and Maria said it was the most people they'd ever seen on this trail. The ranger service were doing maintenance on the trail this Sunday morning. We saw maybe 10 people working on the trail. They also had 4-5 burro's loaded with material used to repair the trail. At the top there was a pleasant breeze and we sat on a huge boulder that formed the top. We ate lunch there soaking up the sun and enjoying the view. 2 hawks came to entertain us as we prepared to head back down. They rode the updrafts effortlessly and perched at the top of an enormous rock pillar about 200 ft directly across from us. The trip down was very quick. The park ranger people had left already. Well, it _was_ Sunday and the Super Bowl was that day. It took about 4 hours altogether with a nice lunch at the top. We stopped for gas at the only gas station in the park at Panther Junction. We'll call it _redneck_ junction (you should have seen the guys running that place and their buds that stopped by while we were there!). We drove down to Dugout Wells, a small oasis of trees and bushes fed by a small windmill. Some of the trees were very large! All of the vegetation was white when we drove by. It must have been coated with dust. And there was little or no leaves on the trees. Must have been from winter, even though winter is so mild here. Then southeast from Dugout Wells to the Hot Springs. A very narrow, primitive road led in a one way loop through a wash-out gully back into the desert to a series of small, abandoned buildings near the Rio Grande. We parked and walked to a shell of a building made of stone near the parking lot. Alan and Maria described what we were seeing as Stewart ran the camera. We then walked down to the Hot Springs where about 5-6 people were hanging out. As we took our shoes and socks off and waded around in the hot springs (105 degrees) 3 canoes full of Outward Bound people came down the Rio Grande and pulled to shore . They were on a 7 week trip traveling across the country in primitive conditions. We goofed off there a while then dried off and drove out. From there we went west to the Boquillas Canyon trail. This is a short trail over an overlook then down to the Rio Grande past a lot of bamboo-like reeds along the bank. The water level was very low since we haven't got a lot of rain recently. Back to the car, back to the cabin. A quick dinner at the park service restaurant then Anne and Stewart sat on the porch for a while and Alan and Maria read trail maps planning for Monday. A recurring theme for dinner was a no-meat choice that _always_ consisted of a luke warm baked potato, some mixed vegetables, a salad and rolls. We were all hoping for pasta after the 2nd night, but no luck. Back to the cabin and in bed. Another recurring theme was the Book-On-Tape. Every chance we got we played the tape and tried to figure out the story. We slowly worked our way through the tapes over the course of the days.

Monday - January 27, 1997

Once again we woke to a completely calm cool day so we drank our coffee and tea on the porch enjoying the view of the Window. We tried to lure the gray breasted joys with bits of bagel and, although the birds were too timid, two deer came walking up the trail right to our porch. We caught them on videotape as Stewart fed them figs and they hung around for quite a while. After breakfast, we headed out toward Dugout Wells, then turned right onto the primitive Pine Canyon Trail. We averaged about 10-20 mph for the 6 mile trip on the Pine Canyon Trail, bouncing around with our 4 wheel drive kicked in. The hiking trail itself was a study in contrasts - the first mile or so was out in the desert very sunny and only a mild incline. Then we entered a very wooded area, surrounded by large Madrone and huge fallen rocks. It was cool and comfortable for the remaining mile hike which gained a lot more elevation until it opened out onto a nice open picnic spot beneath the towering but dry waterfall. We had a small snack before heading back to the truck, opting to put off eating lunch until after we got off the primitive road. Stewart had us pull over to check out the primitive campsite and shocked everyone when he announced that he could stand camping here! Evidently its the humidity that bothers him. We lunched at Dugout Wells verifying that the windmill was in fact pumping water. The picnic table had fine wings that gave us plenty of room for the cooler and food box. We opted to skip the desert hike around Dugout Wells since we needed to get back after the afternoon hike on the west side of the park in time for a star gazing talk at 7:30pm. The afternoon hike was in Santa Elena Canyon, and took about an hour so we made some headway on our Book-On-Tape. The guide book warned about mud crossing Terlingua Creek, and said we shouldn't cross if the water was high. We had a hard time telling when we were actually in the creek, it was so dry. At the canyon, a flight of stairs built into the rock took us up the US side and gave us an excellent view of the Rio Grande down below and the Mexican canyon wall across the river. The view down the canyon was breathtaking, although not in the Seinfeld sense. We hiked along the US canyon wall past "Common Reed" (which we all agreed was really bamboo) and blind prickly pear cactus. As the trail ended at the narrowest point of the canyon, we got some very precarious poses for picture, and tested the echo ability of the canyon. A flock of birds suddenly swooped up as if from the water, their wings creating a beating sound echoing down the canyon.

On the trip back to the cabin we saw several ruins, impressive rock formations and plenty of desert flora. The purple prickly pear, sometimes even bright pink, stands out against the sand and cactus. Back at the cabin we hated to leave the truck since our tape was getting so good, but we needed to get through dinner (once again crowned with their wonderful hot homemade cobbler), and over to the Chisos Basin Amphitheater parking lot for "An Evening With the Stars" guided by Ranger Mary Kay. We (Stewart) managed to squeeze two of the non-foldable porch chairs into the truck so Stewart and Maria sat on them with Anne and Alan respectively (not respectfully) at their feet, wrapped up in blankets and perched on bed pillows. Mary Kay used a large flashlight to direct our gaze to a particular spot in the sky as she pointed out the major stars, constellations, and colors. It was absolutely incredible how many stars could be seen. Milky swooshes highlighted the black backdrops where galaxies could be seen. Even in a short time we could detect some star movement, and several shooting stars were spotted. We opted to pass on the post-talk telescope viewing due to the chill and the long lines and headed to the store to pick up some film, etc. Stepping back outside, our night vision gone, we looked up to the sky and saw mostly black where minutes earlier there had been millions of stars. What an odd feeling. Back at the cabin we sorted through hiking options for Tues. Stewart suggested Pinnacles Trail which the Ranger had told us had several recent sightings of a mountain lion and her 3 cubs. We'll have to see about that!

Tuesday - January 28, 1997

Maria's alarm went off about 7:20am. I think we were all awake anyway. Anne got up and made some coffee We had discussed Anne and Stewart hiking up Pinnacles Trail while Alan and Maria went down to the desert to hike some trails they had not done before. This worked out good. After showers A&M packed a lunch and headed out.

Stewart and Anne's Tuesday

Anne and Stewart got ready ands started up Pinnacles Trail. The trail was marked with Ranger signs about recent mountain lion sightings. Anne and I discussed what we'd do if we sighted a lion and had it all figured out (right!). Alan had brought a small thermometer that we sat out on the porch every morning. The last two mornings the thermometer had read 55 degrees or so. This morning it was 40 and went down to 38 after a bit. It was real windy too with a low cloud bank obscuring the peaks. _Very_cold_ for hiking. Anne and I wrapped up warmly, Anne borrowing Maria's gloves and silk hat, I was wearing a field jacket and a Texas Bandanna. We both packed lighter gear into a back pack that I carried up the mountain. We headed up and up and up. It was very cold for about 10 minutes then we got warmed up due to the exercise. We both switched to lighter jackets and continued up. After about an hour we noticed white stuff drifting down from the sky carried by the wind. I first thought it was ash but Anne picked up some it melted! It was snow. We couldn't figure out where it was coming from. Maybe it was blown by the wind over great distance. It was beautiful blowing in the sunlight. As we approached a ridge going up the sun finally came out enough to warm us up and we stopped and ate lunch. That was about 12 noon. We finished up just when some campers came down from a primitive camping area. They stopped and talked for a few minutes. They said they had camped above the cloud layer and the frost line. They were really dressed warm too carry a lot of stuff on the backs (2 men, one woman). We decided to turn around there (about the 2.8 mile point) and head back. The trip down was _much_ easier and we switched back to our heavier gear. At exactly the same place on the way down we noticed the snow again! Then Anne put all the pieces together and figured out that it wasn't snow but instead was blowing frost coming off the trees that were in the cloud layer earlier in the morning. We could still see heavy frost on the trees at this level (not above and not below!). As we proceeded down we came upon 2 deer standing and feeding near the trail. We stopped and watched them for a bit (and vice versa) then they wandered off slowly and we continued on down. Due to LB disease (Lazy Butt) we opted out of the 2pm Ranger guided walk in the basin. Instead, we made a pot of coffee, bundled up and took our books and this log out into a sunny spot on the porch, enjoying the cool crisp day with its now clear blue sky, and 100-200 miles of visibility through the Window.

Alan and Maria's Tuesday

Alan and I left about a 9 and stopped by the Ranger's station. We spent about a half hour talking with Ranger Rachel about Dugout Wells (trees are all alive) Hot Springs (tub repair was done when the river was low, 1-2 years ago) the mountain lion sightings (she was the 1st person to spot them - they've not been seen in over a week now) and river trips (info for my brother John). We also discussed the hike from Blue Creek Ranch, which she recommended, so off we went. It was cold this morning, about 40 degrees, and we noticed frost all over the trees as we drove out of the basin. We headed west, then back south, past Sam Nails ranch to our trailhead at the Blue Creek Ranch overlook. We hiked about 1/2 mile down to the ranch and looked at the remaining buildings. These stone buildings really keep well in the desert! Inside the ranch house were two stashes of water, apparently for long-range backpackers to reload from. The trail left the buildings and followed in the "wash" of blue creek. The shifty rock soil was hard to walk on ,and we appreciated the rare trail that left the wash. Maria excelled at finding the rock cairns that marked the trail, so she did most of the leading. After about 1/2 and hour, the terrain shifted from dry desert grasslands to include a fair amount of green, deciduous trees. We then entered the "red rocks" area, passing lots of interesting formations of tall red rock pushing up out of the grasslands. These lasted for about another 1/2 hour. After a total of 1 and 1/2 hours we decided to turn back. If we had continued on that trail, we would eventually climb to the South Rim. The return was easier, being generally downhill.

Driving back toward Panther Junction (park HQ), we pulled off to Croton Springs and had a picnic lunch in the truck facing the Chisos Mountains. For the afternoon we decided to drive the 4WD "River Road" to see the ruins of the Mariscal Mine. We were a little leery of 18 miles of back-country road but it turned out to be less challenging than the road to Pine Canyon the day before. In fact the only tough part of the road was an impassable Jeep about 5 minutes into the drive. A couple had stopped in the middle of the road to fix a flat tire. We were the only people they had seen on the road, and I guess it's good we stopped by. The didn't' have a tool to get the hubcap off! Well' we found the appropriate tool in our rental Explorer and were back on our respective ways in a 1/2 hour. The Mariscal Mine was fascinating - we could see the mine, tailings and lots of ruins (up to 2000 people worked there at its peak). We took some pictures, and retraced our route back to the cabin, met Stewart and Anne, and headed to dinner. As usual, our appetites ensured that we would enjoy dinner at the lodge.

Wednesday - January 29, 1997

Up early, showers, and breakfast at the lodge started the first day the trip home. We detoured 8 miles total to see Terlingua, its ruins and tourist motels. It looks like a community is trying to form there. Stewart even found an offer for condos in Lajitas close by. In Alpine, we stopped at the Amtrak station. It looks like about 24 hours Dallas to Alpine - Stewart is going to check further.

In the Fort Davis area, we failed to find lunch at the Prude Guest Ranch, and wound up at the Indian Lodge at Ft. Davis State Park. Our meal ranged from soup and salad, to Enchiladas Mole to Grilled Trout to Burgers and Fries. I think everyone enjoyed the meal. We split up again, with Stewart and Anne going to McDonald Observatory and Maria and Alan hiking in Ft Davis State Park. The Observatory tour was fantastic, while the hiking trail was OK, not comparing to the splendor of Big Bend. We then headed off to Midland for the night at the Hampton Inn. Black-Eyed Pea once again won the dinner compromise.

Thursday - January 30, 1997

After another early departure, we got all the way to Ft. Worth for lunch. Stewart finally got his Luby's fix, before we fought Metroplex traffic home. I think 2 days each way is definitely the right approach. Once last comment: Books-On-Tape really helped the travel time pass. "Airframe" my Michael Crichton was fabulous - we spent much debating what would happen next. We didn't bother to finish "The Burning Man". No one liked the reader, and the main character was termed a "prick" more than once by everybody!

Here's a little tune we made up sitting on the porch. Sing to the tune of "Thumbelina".

(alternate words)



Hairy little pig

Javelina two-step

Javelina squeal

Javelina jig

Javelina beg


makes no difference

if you're not a pig

for if your chest is full of pork

for when we're running out of words

we'll BBQ those ribs!

we'll take another swig