Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Big Bend National Park, Texas: October 19, 2021

The Chimneys Trail, Big Bend National Park

The Chihuahuan Desert covers about 80% of the Big Bend NP and surrounds the Chisos Mountains. The park got its name from the big bend in the Rio Grande that is the southwest border of both the park and the United States.

The Chisos Mountains and the surrounding landscape were shaped over millions of years with formation of sedimentary layers, tectonic plates twisting and crashing into each other, the lifting of the massive limestones of Mesa de Anguila and the Sierra del Carmen, the dropping of a large slab of the same rock down almost 2000′ feet in between the two. This “Sunken Block" was later breached about 35 million years ago by volcanic activity forming the Chisos Mountains (https://visitbigbend.com/geology/). The Chisos are the only mountain range that is entirely within a single national park. 

The Chimneys formations are a series of prominent volcanic dike formations.


At the base of one of the Chimneys formations under an overhang that provided some shade we saw several metates where Native Americans using a mano (pestle) would have ground corn and/or seeds into powder. The metate that is quite deep would have been used to pulverize mesquite seeds using a long stick and an up and down motion. 

Site of several Metates






The Chimneys Trail is an exposed, mostly flat 4.8 miles round trip hike. For Big Bend hikes we are supposed to carry 3 liters/quarts of water and try to consume as much as possible pre hikes. We became believers after this hike with no shade.

Roadrunner standing still-Beep Beep!
We had a picnic lunch at the Cottonwood Campground followed by a hike in Santa Elena Canyon along the Rio Grande. The Santa Elena Canyon Trail is 1.6 miles round trip with a gain of 600 feet. The trail parallels the river winding through tamarisk and mesquite trees, continues uphill, and descends to the canyon floor.


Looking at the Mexico side of Santa Elena Canyon
The Rio Grande with Mexico on the left and US on the right
The canyon walls extend more than 1500 feet up while on the day of our visit the water at the deepest point of the Rio Grande was about 2 feet. The international boundary is at the deepest part of the river channel; each half of this canyon is protected by a national park. The southern side (Mexico) belongs to the Area Protegida del Cañón de Santa Elena. The sheer canyon face was formed by the Terlingua Fault.


Walking upstream along the Canyon trail




Rio Grande's downstream view
On the way out of Big Bend we stopped at the Sotol vista point. 




A Sotol plant
A spirit can be distilled from a sotol plant in a manner similar to Mezcal. The distilled spirit is also called sotol. According to Wikipedia Sotol liquor is a Mexican drink that is known as the state spirit of Chihuahua, Durango and Coahuila. Sotol has its own appellation of origin since 2002, and may be produced only in Chihuahua, Coahuila and Durango.

We had a great dinner at the charmingly quirky Starlight Theatre, originally a 1930s movie theater, in Terlingua Ghost Town. Dan and I had a prickly pear margarita made with sotol instead of tequila. It was great.


Old Car in front of Terlingua Jail House

Tomorrow, more hiking in Big Bend National Park.



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