Friday, April 26, 2013

Big Bend National Park, Day 3--Cottonwood Campground

We decided this day to leave Rio Grande Village and drive toward the west end of the park, and what a day it was!  As we drove along the main road, the sun was out much earlier and brighter than the day before, reflecting off some incredibly interesting rock formations, including several striations of different colored limestone:

More fascinating sights as we continued westward--it's so hard not to just take a gazillion pictures, since everywhere you look you see some different light patterns, or the same sight in different perspective, and you know you just have to take it.  So bear with me if I swamp you with too many pics, but believe me this is just a small sampling!

Just layer upon layer of mountains, many formed by ancient volcanic eruptions, some by eons of water cutting paths through the rock.

 We came to the Wilson Ranch, which is still in pretty good shape, though the ranch was abandoned in 1845.  Some views of Carousel Rock, which you can see from the road, and as we hiked down to the ranch.
 The main ranch house, and one of the outbuildings.

 Prickly pear cactus, blooms not quite popping out in full.
 Tons of lizards skittering across our path as we hiked down to the canyon floor where the rance was located.
 Being new to the desert, it just blows us away to see all this arid, dry landscape, very beige and brown, and all of a sudden you encounter the most beautiful colors of desert flowers.  Hard to wrap my brain around how something this colorful can survive in a place that for so much of the year is bone dry.
 On the trail down to the ranch
 Bloom of the desert willow tree.
 View of Carousel Rock from the ranch.
 Canyon rim looking another way from the ranch.
Outside the ranch house
 Looking into the main room of the ranch house from the front porch door, lovely stone mantle over the fireplace.
 The settlers who built the ranch used many of the native american materials and techniques: stone floors, adobe walls, reed ceilings.
 By the fireplace in the house.
 Two views from the front porch--can you imagine chilling out here under the shade of the porch, looking at these views at the end of a long day!!

 Hard to see the deep purple shade of this variety of cactus, but some of the flowers are already blooming.
 Our next stop was at the Burro Mesa Pouroff, an area that periodically floods as the waters come cascading down off the Burro Mesa.  Looking at how dry it is in these pictures, it's hard to imagine the area flooded.  It was near midday when we got here, and already quite hot.  Cannot imagine doing this hike in the summer!  All the guide books warn you to drink much more water than you think you need, and it's definitely good advice.  We realized that part of the reason we were so tired after the hike from the day before was that we weren't drinking enough as we went along.  Won't make that mistake again!

 Remarkable strata of different colored limestone, showing how the water through the centuries has cut through the rock, little by little.
 If you enlarge this picture some, you can see more detail--it looks for all the world like a bunch of rocks have been set into a big ball of cement mortar, but the guidebook explained that this conglomerate, as it's called, is totally natural.

 We crossed this dry creekbed on the way to the half pipe, where the water comes thundering down when it storms, and completely floods this area.  The guide warns never to attempt this hike if there's any hint of a storm in the forecast.

 The beautiful desert willow blossom.
Brightly colored lizard along our path.

A series of shots of the half pipe--hard to fully appreciate the awesome height of these walls from these pics, but it's incredible.  When it storms, all the water from above comes thundering down this half pipe and quickly floods the floor of the creekbed where we ate our lunch.

 This shot is just the base of the half pipe.
 The walls are covered with lots of large rocks, set into the limestone, and you can also see some holes where some of the rocks have come loose and fallen to the ground.

 After a storm, all of this area floods, to a height well above Trisha's head.

Several shots of the "Mule Ears," very interesting rock formation.

Several shots of Tuffs Canyon.  Tuff is volcanic ash, very gray, and from a distance looks like a fresh pile of beach sand castles, but is quite firm.

 Here are some scenes from Cottonwood Campground--an incredible way to end this glorious day. We were so glad we stopped here--another dry camping experience, but so wonderful!  There were cool breezes blowing across our lovely site, under the shade of cottonwood trees.  The above picture is of the fattest worm I think I've ever seen--who soon became supper for a Gila Woodpecker we saw a bit later.  Below is a Vermillion Flycatcher, brilliant red coloring, and we saw these all around our site.
 This is the Gila Woodpecker, who we'd hear from time to time, pecking away at a tree.  Never seen a woodpecker with a golden head, though it was hard to capture all the colors.
 Stretched out for a nap in the recliner beside the RV, and this was the view when I woke up!  Not too shabby!
 Then, the piece de resistance!  A mama Great Horned Owl, wrapping her wings around her two baby chicks.  The guide at the Visitors Center had told us where to look for this owl once we got to the campground, nesting in a hollowed out stump of a branch that had come down.  Turned out to be right across from our campground.  Met some veteran birders who said they'd been sitting for hours waiting for the mother to come back to the nest, so we were so glad to see her and her babies!
 Mama keeping sharp eyed watch over any threats to her little ones
 You can see one of the babies in the lower right part of the nest.
 Little better shot showing one of the babies.  Trisha's favorite children's book of all times is Owl Babies, so she was going completely bananas over seeing these!  The highlight of her trip so far.  There was a group of middle schoolers from Dallas who had just come in and set up their tents down in the group camping area, having been canoeing the Rio Grande for 3 days.  Trisha just had to go down and tell their teacher to bring the kids up to see the owls, and they were all most appreciative! It was a remarkable sight.  At one point, Mama spread her wings, took off in flight, came swooping down and seemingly aimed straight at my head, then pulled up just before she got there!  Scared the daylights out of me, which I suppose was her intent, to be sure I knew to be sure and stay away from the nest.  She was apparently also on her way out to find food for the babies, as we saw her bring something back and feed them.  During the night we heard some sounds we thought might be the owls flying--some fellow campers said they thought it may have been the babies learning to fly.  Apparently after the mother lays the eggs, she nests them for 30 days until they're born, and then stays with them in the nest for another 30 days, and then teaches them to fly.  Truly a remarkable sight, and an incredible to end another spectacular day in this incredible place.


  1. Great park pictures! We did not get to spend many days there, as Anneke broke her foot in a fall on one of the trails:(

    1. Chuck, so sorry to hear about Anneke and her broken foot--sounds awful! Hope it's now healed okay. We've been here for 5 days and will be leaving today, but definitely plan to return some day and spend more time. Would love to do some rafting/kayaking on the Rio Grande, but there's been a drought here and talked to a fellow in the campground who did it and said there was barely enough water to paddle. It is a beautiful place, though, in ways we could never imagine before coming here.

  2. Incredible pictures...............


    1. Thanks, Rod--I keep repeating myself, but when I look at the pictures, I see again how inadequate photos are to really convey the awesome beauty of this place. It's just so massive, and we can often see big changes in the same scenery in just a few hours time due to the changing sunlight. It's truly incredible!

  3. Wow! Great photos...especially thrilled to see the Owl mama! I had to ditch my plans to visit Texas this spring to see Big Bend and the Hill Country, so am THRILLED to be following your posts right now and enjoying all the pictures.

    Have you been doing any star gazing at Big Bend? I hear the Milky Way is spectacular from there.

    1. Lynne--One day I know you'll get here, and you will just love it! It's an awesome place and we've barely scratched the surface. Bring your kayak and hope there's enough water in the Rio Grande to paddle! Yes, the stars are gorgeous--last night especially was a wonderful display. The owl mama and her babies was just such a wonder filled sight. So glad the visitors center guide told us where to look, and it's a memory we'll treasure forever. In the Hill Country, the locals were all telling us that the wild flowers were not very good this year, but for us they were just an unbelievable mural of brilliant color.

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