We decide to spend couple of nights in the Chisos Basin in the Big Bend National Park. It takes us almost 2 days to get here and we are not leaving without having a closer look. The park stretches from Rio Grande north. There is a desert here, but there are also very picturesque mountains. Chisos Range is the highest and the most beautiful. And since the park was created by the CCC it’s all about public access: there is a road leading to the basin, a hotel and some cabins. The lack of the Internet is more than made up by the sunsets views and night sky full of blinking stars. We try to sleep with our windows open but unfortunately some people insist on using AC despite the fact that we are over 5500 feet above the sea level and temperature drops comfortably at night. I suspect many guests have absolutely no idea that one can open a window.
After trying some easy hikes we decide to climb the highest point in the park: Emory Peak. It’s a 4.5 miles hike from where we are staying. And about 2500 feet elevation gain. One of the longest hike during this trip.
The hike is quite strange. Normally we expect that the higher you go the less vegetation and wildlife you encounter. Tatras in Poland are classic example. Hiking there you pass all the zones from farms through mixed forest, to evergreens, to grasses and barren rock. Chisos are very different. You start from the desert floor with nothing much but creosotes and cacti. Then the higher you go the more plants you see. At some point trees start. And even higher you have trees that shed leaves during winter. They end once you get to the rocks. Park literature explains that at one point, several thousand years ago, the desert was actually a forest. Once it started to get hotter and drier forest retreated to higher altitudes.
It does start feeling cooler as we gain altitude. My watch shows 30 degrees Celsius at the top and nearly 40 at the desert floor. And it’s probably not even the hottest day here. To escape the heat we start early and shortly after entering the tree zone we see a deer right in the middle of the trail. He seems to be as interested in us as we are in him. Natalia takes what must be 50 pictures. Only when we decide to hike past him the deer retreats into the forest.
We don’t meet many hikers. Most people at the basin manage to transfer directly from airconditioned hotel rooms to airconditioned cars and drive off to admire views from the roads. For which we are very grateful. At some point when we stop to take in a vista 2 young guys catch up with us. I have no use for baseball, but after all those years in Boston I’ll recognize Red Sox cap in my sleep. I ask and it turns out they are from Maine.And yes they are also in the middle of the road trip. The difference is they are going counter-clockwise: first West and then the South. I am thinking it has some advantages. You stay in cool climate a bit longer. But they tell us some National Parks do not open until well into the summer. So maybe we are doing it right after all. In any case we are strangely assured. Not only there are other people doing the same stupid thing we are doing but we are also practically neighbors. On the other hand maybe only New Englanders are afflicted in this way.
We continue up and just before reaching the summit the trail kind of dissipates. No signs, no end of trail warnings, simply piles of rocks. Not sure what to do next we just start climbing. There are two peaks to choose from, we go with the one that seems higher. The caving experience helps a bit. It feels slightly out of our comfort zone. The good thing is there is little choice at this point. Going up seems to be the only option. Natalia suggests that we missed the easy ascent path so we decide to go all the way up and look for an easier descent.
I reach the summit at the exact moment when the sunscreen mixed with my sweat decides to finally get into my eyes. Squinting and crying a bit I see our friends from Maine there. The good news is that we found the right place. The bad news: there is no easier path down. But at least we are at the top. We savor the view trying not to think about what we’ll have to do next. You can see really far away from here. On a good day even 100 miles. Deep into Mexico. Deep into Texas. Today is much worse. Park pamphlet blames pollution. We are as far away as one can get from civilization in Texas. And we just climbed over the industrial smog. Hard to believe.
We trade some more stories with the Maine guys. They are way cooler than we are. No motels. Camping and sleeping in the truck. Which we’ve never tried so far (we do have a mattress and a tent somewhere but getting to it would take a good part of the night). We get some tips on how to get free drinks in Las Vegas. We trade recommendations: Mammoth Cave for Carlsbad Caverns.
As we expected climbing down is more difficult. But we somehow manage to end up in the right spot, where the real trail begins or ends - depending on your perspective. I do get stuck at the very end, Natalia has to go around and tell me where to put my feet. Would it be easier if one climbed down head first? Any experts out there?