Friday, March 31, 2006

Big Bend Perfect Day, part II: The magic of sunset

The best photographers rarely bother taking photos in the middle of the day because they know it's all about the quality of the light, and the quality of the light is at it's best within an hour of sunrise or sunset. I rarely even see the hour after sunrise! But, once in a while, we're in the right place at the right time around sunset. Never have I seen the setting sun change the landscape so dramatically as yesterday here in Big Bend National Park. Desert sunsets are simply magic, that's all there is to it. We were on the river till almost 5:30, so our 40-50 mile scenic drive back thru the center of the park took us thru prime time! One of the truly unique peaks in Big Bend is called Mule Ears. We decided to take the short drive to a specific Mule Ears overlook. Since we had only passed a few cars all day long, we were sure surprised to see half a dozen cars at this parking lot and people standing all around. On closer inspection, we saw they were all painting. Come to find out, it was a workshop given by two professional artists, David Caton and Bill Zaner. Hey Emily! I know you're in a watercolor workshop in Italy right now ... how about trying Texas next! David didn't have his own website but said you can find him on and Bill's website is and there is definitely contact information on Bill's site. This class was all working in oils, but we were told they do workshops on watercolor too. Here's David at work: Back on the road and on to the next mountain scene, the Chisos Mountains. Just the road itself was quite gorgeous, don't you think? And, most anywhere you look. Here are the Chisos from a distance. And we made it up to the top of the Chisos road *just* in time to catch the full sunset. OK .. the day is done. Can't take any more pictures. Still 28 miles to go to home. What a day.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Big Bend Perfect Day, part I: Kayaking the Santa Elena Canyon

Truly, truly ... today was the perfect day. Water, sun, scenery, exercise, unique / awesome experiences. Diane and Andy, THANK YOU, for saying we *had* to visit Big Bend. I wrote on our calendar on the square for March 30 ... "Perfect Day." It just doesn't get any better than this. We took 78 pictures. We didn't get home till after 8. I'm going to have to divide this into 2 posts! We had a relaxing morning because we needed to move to a different site, and we couldn't do that till 11. We got moved, plugged into electric so we could leave the air conditioning on for Odie - then took off to see Big Bend National Park. First stop, the visitor center, surrounded by pristine Chihuahuan desert. We needed to stop at the visitor center to get a permit to go kayaking. Bill and Susan had offered to help us shuttle cars so we could float down the river on some determined stretch, but we couldn't find any put-in/take-out spots that would work. We decided to try our luck with paddling upstream for a while at Santa Elena canyon, then just turning around and floating back. The folks at the visitor center said, 'yeah, you can do that' and issued us a permit. Off we went. Look very carefully at this picture and you'll see a canyon cut out of the rock wall in the distance. The left side of the canyon is Mexico and the right side is the United States. That's where we're headed. We're getting closer ... Getting ready to put in. The current started off very slow, it was pretty easy to paddle upstream. Can you see Jim's itsy-bitsy kayak in this colossal canyon? I can't take *all* the pictures and prove that I was there now can I? Here's Jim - touching Mexico! We were told in no uncertain terms that we could *not* get out of the kayaks on the Mexico side. Well, actually we *could* get out if we really wanted to, but then we would not be allowed to return to the US. The rules have gotten a LOT stricter since 9/11. Before then, visitors to Big Bend could wade over to Mexico, have a taco and a cerveza (not in this spot, of course, but at other places like Boquilla) and wade back. Not so today. The current is getting a little stronger here. We got our exercise. The river guides kindly informed us that we were going the wrong way! We were starting to get a little tired at this point. So we pulled the kayaks onto a sandbar and took a little rest. I just want to see the view around one...more...bend! OK, now we can turn around and float ... Look up at the sky ... And reflect ... ... on how lucky we are to be able to do this ... how exquisitely beautiful the world can be. One beauty you can't see is sound. This massive place is ... silent. The silence permeates you to the point of being almost spiritual. This was one time, I told Jim, that I was so glad he doesn't talk much. (usually I complain that we don't have enough conversation!) The only sound, other than your paddle in the water - which we didn't do on the way back, was the occasional bird song. No opera has ever sounded as sweet. more tomorrow ...

Birds in Big Bend

This will be a quick post cuz the generator is running and we've gotta get movin' on our day. Jim put our name on the waiting list to get into the full-hookup park today cuz we want to do some sightseeing that will take us out all day and we have to leave Odie behind since he's not allowed on any trails in a national park. It's pretty hot, and we'd like to leave him with air conditioning. If it weren't for the heat, we'd certainly stay in the campground. It's very pretty and lots of space. The full hookup area is just a crowded parking lot. Here's our site: Anyway I just had to post a couple more photos we took. There are roadrunners all over the place here. They're also known as 'paisano' meaning countryman in Spanish. Yes, they can run fast, so you gotta shoot a lot of pictures to capture one. Thank god for digital cameras! Jim took these. He also took this one of a little red beauty. We don't know what it is, but I've sent the photo to Liz and asked for an ID - I'll edit this post when I find out. And, here's the Sierra Del Carmen mountains at sunset last night.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Rio Grande

We are here at Big Bend National park, and we planned to take a hike to the hot springs that are a few miles upriver from our campground. Oh Boy! Hot Springs. My favorite! First a couple photos from yesterday. There's a great little nature trail right from the campground, to views of the river. On coming back to camp we interrupted dinner for these Javelinas. They are distantly related to pigs, and they can be pretty aggressive. There are all sorts of warnings about not leaving food out, and keeping a tight hold on your pets. As we were settling in to our campsite last night, I noticed a fifth wheel pulling in that looked familiar. Sure enough when they turned the corner, I saw the sign on the back that said "". That's the website for Bill and Susan who we met in Utah last year. What a treat to run into them again. Since we were all settled in, we decided to go over and bug them while they went thru their setup procedures. They graciously gave us some wine while we yakked away and were generally being nosey about all their stuff! Don't they know, if they give us wine, we'll never leave? Anyway, we agreed to get together this morning for the hike to the hotsprings. It was wonderful. This is Jim and Susan hiking. I guess you'll have to go to their website to see pictures of them because the only photo we took of them was with their camera. We really enjoyed the conversation along the trail, and, what a treat to have someone along to take a picture of the two of us. Quite a few cactus flowers along the way. It was a hot, dry hike, but the views were worth it. And, here's the hot springs. The trail from the camground is 3.3 miles, but there is also a road that comes in from another direction. So, there were a few people at the springs. The temperature was about 100, it was wonderful. And, you could sit on top of the retaining wall and get in the Rio Grande to cool off. Just, hold on to the wall cuz the current was pretty swift. Here are some views on the way back. Everything you see here is in Big Bend National Park - it's huge. The mountains in the distance of this photo are the Sierra Del Carmen. They're on the other side of the river, thus, in Mexico.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Onward to Big Bend

It never fails to amaze me how BIG Texas is. How much of nothing there is in West Texas. You just drive and drive and drive. Jim does the great majority of the driving. I am just the relief driver. This basically means, I drive sometimes in Texas! Ah .. finally, signs of Big Bend National Park. We're here! Actually, there's about 40 more miles to the campground. This has to be a short post because we have to turn the generator off now. More tomorrow!

Monday, March 27, 2006

Chiricahua - Wow!

Gotta find another word for Wow! We just kept saying it over and over again walking along the Echo Canyon trail yesterday in Chiricahua Nat'l Monument. We started the day in Willcox, AZ and visited the Rex Allen museum and Cowboy Hall of Fame. Rex Allen was right up there with Roy Rogers and he was from Willcox. Here is his statue. He was a real cowboy to start with, then turned to music and movies. Although, Jim remembers him best as the voice of the narrator on the Wonderful World of Disney. When we got to the Chiricahua Visitor Center, we discovered that the narrator for their intro film was none other than Rex Allen Sr. Ah yes, a very memorable deep, resonant voice. Then we took the 35 mile drive thru the desert to Chiricahua. What a difference! We're in pine forests at 6, 7000 feet. What a contrast to the creosote and yucca on the valley floor. The best part was hiking the 3.3 mile Echo Canyon trail. It went up and down and wound around thru canyons of rock formations and beautiful forests. All at over 6300 feet. Even though this is their high season, we only saw 3-4 other people along the trail. This is a real 'off-the-beaten-path' find! Thanx for the tip Lizzie! This next picture is actually 8 photos stitched together. Click on the picture to see a larger version. Today, it's on to Texas!