Friday, June 19, 2009

Hidden Desert Oasis

Hidden in the desert of Big Bend are several places that are truly a desert oasis.

Where there is water-there is life.

Water brings, trees, and shade, and plants and animals.

Some places are well known. Others, not so much. And then some are downright secret.

If you want to see a good example of a desert spring hike to Mule Ears Spring. The trail head starts at the Mule Ears Overlook off the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. A walk through the desert takes you to a spring and an acre of green. Sit by the spring and it seems along way from the dry desert that is just 30 yards away.

Then if that experience gets your interest, start looking for others. If you look long enough, you might find this one.

Here a waterfall spills down into a shaded pool. A stream cascades down from there into a small canyon filled with trees, ferns, yellow columbines, etc.

A secret oasis.
It is a place I stumbled upon several years ago and a place I try to make it back to on a regular basis.

I once encountered a mountain lion here. He was about 50 feet away. It was an exciting moment!

Here are a few images from a recent visit. The spring had been rather dry in the Big Bend so only a trickle of water was flowing over the falls, but the pools and shade were all there.

You can see the stream had water in it that gurgled down through the small canyon. You just might make out some of the yellow columbines in the image.
Finally an image of the ferns that grow in in cool moist shade of the canyon.

It is a far cry from the dry desert.

A small place. Maybe three acres. Maybe.

The water runs through this small area and then then desert pulls it into the ground. Quickly the land goes from green trees to scrub to desert.

A fleeting glimpse of life in this harsh dry place. If you can find it.

Keep looking, it is not a mirage.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Closed Canyon

The neighbor of Big Bend Ranch National Park and it's 800,000+ acres is Big Bend Ranch State Park and it's 250,000 acres.
Both are spectacular, but even fewer people go to the state park than go to BBNP.

One of my favorite places to visit in Big Bend Ranch SP is Closed Canyon. This is a narrow cut through steep and deep red rock. It is a very much like a slot canyon that is often 8-10 feet wide. I liken it more to being in Utah than Texas.
It is a place well worth a visit.

Like the canyons of Utah, the best time to visit is closer to mid day when the light shines into the canyon and bounces off the walls.

BTW-every visit here is a new experience as the rains and floods alter the canyon on a regular basis. This last trip saw than many areas had been cleaned of sand and gravel. Places that had been flat now had three foot drops to navigate. Places that had been short two foot hops were now a 5 foot scramble down boulders lodged in the cracks and curves of the walls. It was as fun as ever.
Here are a couple of views. first one of the longer stretches of the canyon that really gives one a sense of how deep and narrow it is. the second of a frequent visitor to this area-the Auodad.

Aoudads were introduced to a few areas in west Texas after some of the native desert sheep died off in the early 20th century. In the rugged areas of BBRSP they have established a foothold and I see them on a regular basis when visiting the canyon. This one was high above me on the canyon rim.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Santa Elena Canyon-After the 2008 Flood

Santa Elena Canyon is one of the major sights to see at Big Bend. It might be the best.
It is certainly something I visit, hike, and photograph on every visit.

The past spring was my first visit since the record floods last fall.

Wow-has it changed!

One of the things you notice along the Rio Grande south of Presidio is how the banks of the river have been scoured. Brush, vegetation, and bank have been taken in many places. Upriver in Big Bend Ranch the river took an entire campground. It's just gone.

What the river did in the narrow confines of Santa Elena Canyon was even bigger. In the 20 years I have been visiting the park, I have come to expect the thick cane and brush that filled much of the areas along the river.

It's all gone.

The river took it. And the brush. And the soil.

All that was left was mud and rock.

Check out the third picture. A year ago this would have had 6 feet of dirt and cane so thick you could not walk through it. Now it is just a mud hole.

And in all honesty, I have never seen the river look better.

With the cane gone and the banks cut back the river was broad, with sand bars and was running clear. It is the best looking I have seen it-healthy.

It shows the power of nature as it should be.

We need a good flood every few years.

Looking past the changes the the flood brought, it was still the spectacular place it has always been.
When you drive to the western side of the park and see this towering 1500 foot tall cliff wall that runs for miles you are impressed. Then you see this crack and realize it is a canyon carved through it, you are wow'd. Then you walk inside it and you are in awe.

The images are just a sample. The first one is a view from the overlook. It was here Ansel Adams made his image of Santa Elena. Mine is nothing compared to that.

The second image is looking out of the canyon toward the Chisos Mountains. This is an image I have always wanted to capture but have never had a wide enough lens to get it all in one frame before.

Again, the third shows how the canyon has been scoured.

I wonder what it will look like next time?

To see more on Big Bend see the article I had published on Nature Photographers Network