The drive into the park was fun, as always. We stopped for dinner in Grand Falls and had Mexican food. It was completely dark as we entered the park and my sister did a great job of avoiding the various animals who ran into the road. We even saw an owl. We camped that night in the Basin campground. Mom and Ronna slept in Mom's tent and Nathan and I slept outside, huddled under the monster-quilt. It was pretty cold! But we were cozy and got up early the next morning, anxious to hit the trail. We packed our packs, then tried each other's pack on to make sure no one was slacking off ;) and drove to the trailhead at the Homer Wilson ranch.

Click on the small pictures to see larger ones.

Our plan was to hike the Blue Creek bed to the Smokey Creek bed and up to the Mule Ears trailhead. All in all, it was 16.2 miles. I had my GPS on almost the whole time and was able to keep a great track of our progress and elevation gain/loss. Ronna and I stayed at the ranch trailhead with the packs while Nathan and Mom drove the Suburban to the Mule Ears trailhead and caught a ride back to Homer Wilson with some nice people. We thought it would be best to have the vehicle at the end of our trail in case we were delayed for some reason and might have a hard time catching a ride at night. Then, placing one foot in front of the other, we were off!

our trail

our elevation analysis

would you give this guy a ride?

final gear check

The view the first day was absolutely beautiful. Panther Junction reported 107 miles of visibility that day. We gained a lot of elevation the first 3-4 miles but it was sunny and warm and we were in high spirits. The rock formations were great, too!

Sierra del Carmens

Mule Ears off in the distance

We hiked all around this hill

We hiked up and we hiked down, on and on. Soon we lost sight of the ranch and we could no longer see any evidence of civilisation at all: no planes, no roads, nothing. We could see Santa Elena canyon way off in the distance and the Sierra del Carmens were spectacular.

This is "Relief Saddle"

See the trail down below?

a welcome break!

We camped under the stars that night and Ronna made rice pilaf with spinach and feta cheese for dinner! Yum! Then we relaxed, walked around a bit (it felt good to walk without the pack for a change) and fell asleep around 8pm. We didn't worry too much about wildlife since we weren't near water and most 'creatures' were hibernating anyway. Besides, with the noise this group generated by snoring, I doubt anything would have come close to us! It was pretty cold that night and we slept close to each other. Ronna and I made hot apple cider for everyone in the morning and that brightened our spirits (get it?) quite a bit.

like shiny slugs

dreaming of fireplaces

love that cider!

The creek beds were great for hiking and we saw lots of pretty stones along the way. There were several arroyos - I'm sure glad we didn't get caught in a sudden downpour! Look how big those rocks are! We took our time and every now and then dropped our packs for a snack or a little walk.

This is me happy

vanishing in the rocks

great creek wall

We rose early again, had oatmeal and Mom's special hot apple cider, and set off for another day of beautiful desert! No cactii were blooming but there were enough wild flowers to keep us happy. It was a cold morning but developed into another sunny and warm day. It was a bit breezy, though. I lost my hat several times and Nathan helped me retrieve it. We hiked through a canyon with lovely red-and-cream striated walls and then found ourselves trekking across a high-altitude mesa! The going was level, but on each side of us was a big drop. It was so peaceful and quiet there.

on the mesa

Ronna enjoying the sun

Mom enjoying the flatness

Along the creek bed we passed a couple of handmade dams. We weren't sure when they had been built but they looked pretty sturdy! That evening Ronna and Nathan made pizza for dinner and we all explored Smokey Creek's bed and surrounding canyon walls. We hid our food in a crevice so the animals (?) couldn't get to it. We pitched camp, as it were, in the bed of a side-creek that feeds Smokey Creek. The wind was howling through the canyon and it was COLD. The side-creekbed was slightly lower than the ground and had 3-4 foot bushes on each side which acted as windbreaks so we could sleep. This time I didn't wait until 8pm to go to sleep but nodded off around 7:30. We had covered a lot of miles that day!

An old dam of rocks

great colors

another cold camp!

We got up early again and I think we were all a little sad as we rolled up our sleeping bags and fired up the stove for oatmeal since this would be our last day on the trail. The packs were a lot lighter, though, without all the water that we had been carrying. Ronna took a quick inventory and determined that we would probably be okay but if any of the springs we passed had water, we should stop and filter some. We hiked through more gorgeous arroyos, but this day was not as warm as the others. The wind that howled all night didn't let up and it was pretty chilly going. I wore my earmuffs almost all day. Using Ronna's 7.5-minute map and my GPS, we were able to identify all of our trail turnoffs and made pretty good time until we climbed out of the creek bed and saw that our trail took us straight up the side of a mountain to a saddle between two peaks. We had to stop for a snack and contemplate that one! Alas, there was no where to go but forward, so off we went. The trail was narrow and full of tight switchbacks but extremely well-constructed and well-maintained. At the top of these steep steps were a couple of the prettiest quartz beds I have ever seen. There were huge pieces of clear crystal quartz just lying around, glistening in the sun. I'll never forget the beauty of this saddle-pass between peaks. We persevered and made our way to Mule Ears Spring.

up and up and up

lunch at the springs

Mule Ears getting closer

Nathan filtered some water for the final push to the Mule Ears trailhead. We took some time to look around the spring area, though, since there had been a stone corral there at one time and it was so relaxing. We had lunch near the biggest fern I've ever seen and watched the tadpoles in the water. None of us wanted to leave, since we knew this would be the final stretch and we'd be at the car soon.

filtering some water

off we go!

an old stone corral

We made it to the car around 2pm and drove back to the Basin to find a camping spot for the night. There were plenty of spaces available and the temperature was quite low! Mom fixed frito pie for dinner and we washed up and drove into Terlinqua. We went to the gift shop at the Starlight and then had a quick drink at their bar. I bought a little skeleton bride-and-groom set for the top of Lori and Jonathan's wedding cake at the gift store. We decided to see "Girls with Guitars" perform at La Kiva and had a great time there talking, eating, and enjoying the music. The bartender was quite friendly, too. Soon, though, we all had to admit we were bushed and decided to drive back to camp. That night, Nathan and Mom slept in the tent and Ronna and I slept in the Suburban because the temperature got down to 16 degrees Farenheit! So cold that all of our water was frozen solid the next day. We got up early (more wind!) and decided to skip our usual oatmeal and have breakfast at the lodge cafe. The power was out at the lodge so we had the breakfast buffet by candlelight. It was really tasty and very warm. We all were surprised at how cold the night had been. We decided to drive to the Hot Springs to relax and wash off. There were a few people there but it wasn't too crowded.

breakfast at the lodge

fun in the water!

the mud felt good

After a refreshing dip, we drove to Rio Grande Village and walked on the boardwalk. All too soon, it was time to head out of the park. We were all sad to leave Big Bend. We drove to Midland where they dropped me at the Ramada Inn by the airport. I flew home the next day. It was such a wonderful trip - I was sorry to be back in Seattle living my 'life'. So many times during the following week I found myself dreaming of being back on the trail - happy and laughing with my family in the sunshine. So long, Big Bend! See you in July!

what a great sunset!

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