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Big Bend National Park-Texas: An exercise in heat management

February 21, 2011

I can see Mexico from my house.  Does that foreign policy credential make me a qualified Vice Presidential candidate?  You betcha!

Ugh.  Get it out of my head!  This thought kept crossing my mind during my stay at Big Bend since I could indeed see Mexico from my campground, which happened to be located on the banks of the Rio Grande.

Prior to 9-11, it was most common for Mexican folks to unofficially shuttle Park visitors across in row boats so they could walk into the town of Boquillas to have lunch and buy trinkets or whatnot.  This practice is no longer allowed which has cut off a hefty source of income to the town.  Here is what has sprung up as a result.

These “Border Stores” are regular sights at River access points.  Next comes Singing Victor.

Well his tip cup anyway.  Alas singing Victor was not present when I happened by his sign, though I’ve seen a picture of him singing while perched on his rock taken by Bill and Lil Eubanks during their Big Bend visit last Spring.  Perhaps I’ll catch him another time.

Clearly crossing over from Mexico to the US is easy as a 2 minute paddle.

Boats at the ready in Mexico.

While everyone is supposed to stay on their own side of the River, it is clear from the many paths and footprints leading to and away on both sides that this is not the case.  While the traffic in this area seems harmless enough with everyone going back to his or her own side by day’s end, I understand the Park as a whole does see its share of drug smugglers.  Drug smuggling is apparently prevalent enough to warrant an article in the Big Bend NP newspaper accompanied by a “What to do if you run into smugglers” advice section.  Due to the fact that I no longer have a high clearance vehicle, I didn’t get too far off the beaten path, so fortunately did not run into any of these shenanigans.

What I did run into was daily temperatures of 97 degrees.  Boy howdy, was it hot and may I please remind you that it is FEBRUARY?  I sure am glad I got that bigger fan and am glad my generator was in good working order because if it had not been, I would have had to pull stakes and head north.  National Park campgrounds do not have electrical hook ups, so in order to run my A/C, I had to rely on my generator.  The fan I could run off my battery inverter, but when its 97 degrees in the shade, a fan can only do so much.  As a result of all this, I had to plan my days accordingly.  Up and out hiking early so I could get myself out of the sun by noon and be back to the dogs by 1’ish in order to begin managing the heat for the next 5-6 hours via fan, A/C, and water hose.  The water hose was used to hose down the dogs with cool water every hour or so.  Really.  This is what I did for two of the three full days I was there and it seemed to work out OK.  By 6 or so I could hop on my bike and ride around and explore for a bit, which was fun.

The first full day, I loaded the dogs in the car and drove the extent of the Park’s road system taking in the sights from the comfort of air conditioned Lil’ Pea.   Big Bend is big, not Denali big, but quite large, so that first day of sightseeing covered almost 200 miles.  I chose hikes in the somewhat cooler mountains and within an hour’s drive of Dora the next two days so I could stick to the heat maintenance schedule mentioned above.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Big Bend is divided into three sections:  River, Desert, and Mountain.  I’d say about 1% River, 1% Mountain, and 98% desert.  Take a look.

The River Region:

Here is the river on the eastern end of the Park across from Boquillas.

And here it is on the western end near the mouth of the Santa Elena Canyon.

And here are the Hotsprings.  I went to see them, but the last thing I wanted to do in the 90 degree heat was get into 105 degree water.

The Desert Region:

Here’s a shot of the southeast side of the park.

And the southwest side, which I found to be prettier since it had more green things growing.

I was lucky to see these guys.  Javelinas (pronounced with an H).  A pack/herd of about a dozen crossed the road right in front of me one day.  Though they look like cute pot-bellied pigs, I understand they can be on the aggressive side.

The Mountain Region:

I saw this sign on the way up to the Mountains and hiking.  While I did not see either a Mountain Lion or a Bear, I saw notices on the trails that a mountain lion was sighted a week earlier and a black bear sow with her three cubs was seen the week before that.

My favorite hike was the Lost Mine Trail which took me up to an elevation of 6850 ft.  It was lovely.  Here is a scene from toward the top.  The highest point in the Park is Emery Peak which sits just below 8,000 ft.

And to wrap up, let’s talk about the old Roadrunner cartoons.  Remember them?  In addition to Silly Sarah’s foreign policy mishap, I also thought about Roadrunner and Wylie Coyote because Big Bend is full of both.  Here we have a Roadrunner pecking its way across my campsite.

And here we have a coyote sauntering along next to my campsite.  During the day they come into the campground one at a time, but at night I could hear them running through in packs yipping all the while.

And here is the tunnel I drove though every day.

Doesn’t it completely remind you of those tunnels in the cartoons and don’t you know Wylie Coyote has some doomed to failure, ACME, Roadrunner catching contraption rigged up somewhere nearby and is standing behind some rock holding a string?  I can see him, can’t you? Ha!  I love it!  Beep Beep!

That’s it for Big Bend.  I left this morning and after a few hours of driving North, was back in civilized temperatures (60’s).  I am presently sitting in the Wal-Mart parking lot in Carlsbad, New Mexico, from which I will depart in the morning and will head to, you guessed it, Carlsbad Caverns located about 20 miles down the road.

Oh, and by the way, I have changed my route and will no longer be heading north from here up through Albuquerque and Santé Fe.  Why?  Because it’s too cold up there.  It’s still in the 20’s at night.  Brrrrrrrr.  Instead, I plan to head west and come up through Phoenix from the South.  I know, I know, I hear myself.  What a weather wimp I’ve become.  I admit it.  It’s too hot here….it’s too cold there…. Blah, blah, blah.  What can I say except stay tuned for stalactites, stalagmites, and bats.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Suzanne permalink
    February 22, 2011 7:40 pm

    AlaskaMarge for President!!!!

  2. ernie permalink
    February 23, 2011 11:26 am

    Beep! Beep! Stay cool……

  3. Lil Eubanks permalink
    February 23, 2011 1:33 pm

    Sounds like you found the weather a little cooler than we did, but not much. Glad you were able to deal with the temperatures and still see some of the sites. Lady has started Chemo treatments, just like she did before and seems to be doing well. It might be wishful thinking on my part, but another big bump that came up last week seems to already be getting smaller after the first 2 treatments. We will be adjusting our travel plans to fit her treatment days, but still plan on a shortened version of our trip west in October, if all goes well with her. Love, Lil

  4. Li1gray permalink
    February 23, 2011 11:32 pm

    Wow another great update to your travels. Really enjoyed the pictures, you have a really nice camera! Loved the picture of the Javelinas I spent 3 years in Alamogordo, New Mexico at Holloman Air Force Base and never seen any of those. Seen all other types of the wildlife. Hope you enjoy Carlsbad Caverns, we always enjoyed going over there and going thru it. It was a nice trip on our motorcyle. Hope you get a chance to go to White Sands National Monument.

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