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

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