A lone pine stands watch
On the summit of the trail
Guarding time, and place.
My final post reflecting our time in Big Bend has arrived! I want to share a quote from the author of a book I have on Big Bend: He describes his first trip up the Chisos Basin road: “I drove the car onto the Chisos Basin Road, winding up into what looked like the ancient kingdom of a long-lost civilization, with a naturally carved castle at the top – Casa Grande.” (from Enjoying Big Bend National Park by Gary Clark) I could not have improved on that first impression he shares. It is indeed a magical place.
We did not spend as much time in the Chisos Mountains area of the park this time around, so I included here a couple of our hikes from January 2017, as well as some hikes and photos from our March 2014 vacation here.
LOST MINE TRAIL
The picture above was taken three years ago, along the Lost Mine Trail in the Chisos Mountains. That day, it was foggy at the summit creating a surreal atmosphere that was mystical and enchanting. I’m sure this contributed to my fondness for the trail. Hiking the trail this winter for a second time, the skies were clear, and while the aura was different, I was still enthralled with the hike and the vistas offered up along the way.
The trail is accessed via a small parking lot on the road to the Chisos Basin at about the 5.0-mile marker. I would advise getting to the trailhead early since this is a popular hike, and parking is limited. The 4.8-mile roundtrip hike is classified as moderate and a great half-day trek. It is your normal mountain hike – ascending fairly steadily to the summit with a few switchbacks along the steepest section of the trail.
The flora is typical of the Chisos Mountains – a mixture of oak, pine and juniper forest with common desert and understory plants interspersed. The views along the way toward both the Juniper and Pine Canyons, and the distant Sierra del Carmen Mountains in Mexico, define this trail. When we reached the summit, I realized that the meandering path I could see down in the valley towards the south was the Juniper Canyon Trail – which we had hiked several days before. This discovery made my day. I love it when I have the opportunity to view a landscape as magnificent as this from multiple vantage points! The simplest things make me happy 😊
The Window Trail is the quintessential hike in the basin area. The trail can be accessed from the campground or the lodge area where the Chisos Basin trailhead is located. The trail from the campground is a tad shorter – a 4.5-mile roundtrip with less elevation gain on the way back. Hiking from the basin trailhead adds a mile and additional elevation gain if you want to extend the walk and get your heart a-pumping!
The trail descends steadily to the Windows pour-off – an impressive slick-rock drop-off with awe-inspiring views to the Chihuahuan Desert floor below. The walk traverses through a variety of plant habitats – from desert scrub to oak/pine forest along a seasonal creek bed. On the day we hiked, there was a wind advisory. At one point on the trail, the wind was sweeping up the canyon so hard, we had to find shelter from the dust. And even in January, I managed to find some plants blooming!
We met several different hiking parties along the trail – passing each other at various times, and chatting. It’s always fun to meet our fellow hikers! Such a congenial group! On our return trip up the trail from the Window, one hiking group we had previously talked with relayed to us that they had just spotted a mama bear with cubs heading up the hillside. We hurried along to see if they were still in view, but unfortunately the bear family had dropped out of sight behind some cliffs. Darn! We must have just missed them on our hike down to the Window.
When we hiked this trail three years ago, we took a side trail – the Oak Springs trail – that led up onto a cliff overlooking the desert. I highly recommend diverting onto this trail if you have the time. The views are amazing from the top of this ridge.
As I was reviewing my photos from our March 2014 trip here, I just could not resist adding more of those shots!
We hiked to the summit of Emory Peak (7832 ft.) in March 2014. This is a strenuous, 9-mile roundtrip climb via the Pinnacles Trail from the Chisos Basin Trailhead with leg-aching, steep elevation gain of 2,425 feet. It is also one of the prettiest mountain hikes, especially when the Texas Madrone is in bloom during March and April. I am a sucker for exfoliating bark! Go figure, but I am attracted to trees with interesting and varied bark patterns!
I had broken my wrist playing pond hockey just prior to our 2-week vacation here in 2014, so I could not partake of the very short 100-foot rock scramble to reach the *true* summit of Emory Peak. But, that’s okay – another time perhaps. We did not spend as much time in the Chisos Mountains on this trip, so I have a reason to go back!
The hike takes you through a varied plant ecosystem providing a comprehensive introduction to the oak, juniper, pine and maple forests of the Chisos Mountains. With majestic views of the surrounding desert below at various bends in the trail, there is ample opportunity to rest, reflect and relish this unique habitat.
OTHER TRAILS IN CHISOS BASIN
There are certainly lots of other options for hiking in the Chisos. We did not, for example, hike to the South Rim or into Boot Canyon. Sections of the trail to the South Rim were closed when we were there in 2014 due to peregrine falcon nesting. It’s also a very long day hike! Our plan eventually is to organize a backpacking trip and hike to the South Rim when we are prepared to spend the night, so we can enjoy the immense solitude of this spot.
We did hike parts of the Laguna Meadow trail in 2014 – just an out and back hike. I think it’s safe to say we will return to Big Bend – I still have areas of the park where I need to leave my footprints!
And just some random flowering desert plants and wildflowers from our 2014 March visit to Big Bend
I wanted to share some links that I used for plant identification. I found these to be particularly helpful for Texas and Southwest plant taxonomy.