We decided to spend the Fourth of July weekend together at Big Bend this year!

Click on the small pictures to see larger ones.

  Ronna and Mark flew in to Dallas on Thursday night to help pack up the truck and drive on Friday. I flew early on Friday morning through DFW into Midland. It was HOT when I landed! Whew! We all met up at the Midland airport and I had my shorts on in no time at all. Tom and Jordan were behind us a little bit on the highway and we all met up just outside town. We swapped riders and drivers for the leg to Fort Stockton. I rode with Tom and Ronna while Jordan, Mark, Mom, and Dad were in the Suburban. We traded again in Ft. Stockton for the final 70 miles to the Park. We all helped each other drive since we are all such good drivers ourselves. There's nothing quite like the experience of driving by committee ;) Big Bend was in fine form when we got there around 8pm that night and we were happy that we had been assigned cottage #103 as that's our favorite cottage. We quickly moved our gear in, had a bite to eat, assembled our trail mix bags, and went to sleep.

We planned to go to the Hot Springs the next morning since the afternoon would be too hot to enjoy them. Somehow, despite the excitement of seeing each other and being in Big Bend, we managed to get to sleep. I took one cot and Jordan had another. Ronna and Mark were exempt from snap-checks this trip since they're married now and they took the bed in the alcove off the main room. We put in our ear plugs and did our best to ignore each other. Tom got us all up early Saturday morning and we set off to the day's adventures.

We were sure glad to get an early start as the day turned out to be quite hot indeed! The cicadas were buzzing madly as we hiked down along the river to the hot springs. I was leading and was surprised to find a rattlesnake on the trail. I was more surprised when he didn't rattle at me or slink away when I approached. By his flattened shape and lethargic demeanor, we figured that he had just eaten and was too stuffed to care about us very much. We all took pictures and looked at him through camera zoom lenses and debated what to do. By the way he was lying, I couldn't tell that he had a head and he was so still that I thought he might be dead. But Tom could see his head and assured us he was quite alive. Somehow we decided it would be a good idea if Dad approached the snake first. He had long pants and boots on so it did kind of make sense. I threw a couple of rocks at it trying to get it to move off the trail, but it just lay there digesting its breakfast (we decided it had eaten lizards) and ignoring us. Well, we had to get through somehow so we very slowly edged our way around him on the bank of the trail. He flicked his tongue at us but didn't rattle or coil up in a defensive position. We all made it by the snake just fine. I held Ronna's hand and we took care of each other as we inched past him. Once we were behind him, Dad poked at him with his hiking stick. The snake lifted its head and slipped off into the bamboo, giving us a cursory rattle as it went. We were pretty relieved!!

a very stuffed snake

flower at Rio Grande

flowers at Panther

ripe prickly pear fruit

The hot springs were in good condition and we spent some time relaxing by them and playing in the river. They'd had some rain up-river so the Rio Grande was very muddy and completely brown. It was low, too. After we left there, we went and soaked our feet in the cool waters of Tornillo Creek. It felt so good to sit in the shade of the cliff and let the water run over our toes. Man, it was shaping up to be a hot, hot day. Mom, Mark, Ronna, Jordan, and I decided to hike up the creek and meet Tom and Dad at the bridge. It was a hot hike but we had fun trying to find where the creek waters originated. They disappeared under a rock so we were ultimately disappointed in our quest. Oh, well, we spent our time looking for fossils. When we met up at the car, we decided to travel on to Rio Grande Village and check out the fish at the ponds there. It was so hot on the boardwalk over the water that we didn't see a single fish or turtle. But that was okay since we had fun poking around back there anyway. We lunched at Dugout Wells and went back to the Basin.

After relaxing for a bit, we decided to go explore Maple Canyon. So Tom, Mark, Ronna, Mom, Jordan, and I took off down Green Gulch road and parked at the service road blockade. We had a great time bushwhacking back in the canyon and checking out the big-tooth maple trees. But then it started to rain, and boy oh boy did it ever thunder and lightning on us. At one point, we were halfway up a rocky scree field when the lightning really took off. I couldn't wait to get down to the relative safety of the trees. You're not safe when you're the tallest object around! We all got cuts and bruises clamboring off those rocks. The thunder was deafening at times and it rattled your brain so much you couldn't even see straight. The rain drops were big and they hurt when they hit. We all were thoroughly soaked by the time we got back to the car. But that's my family's idea of fun (!)

When we returned to the cottage, Dad informed us that the power was out. Evidently, the storm had taken out some power poles in a very remote area of the Park. The power was out from about 4pm Saturday until midnight Sunday night! For dinner that night, we had skillet-cooked ham, broccoli, and macaroni-and-cheese. We didn't have margaritas because the blender wouldn't work but we enjoyed ourselves anyway. We tried our best not to feed the dove that hung out in the tree by the porch. Nor did we indulge the skunk that bravely walked up to the porch's edge. That night we had a visitor at some point since something got into the trash bag that we had carelessly left outside.

what a wet hike

happy and wet!

c'mon, just one goldfish?

tarantula's nest at
Sam Nail Ranch

The prickly pear cactus were fruiting and many century plants and sotols had flowers on them, too. By the green leaves of the ocotillo, we could tell that there had been some rain. That night we lounged on the porch and planned our hiking for Sunday. We decided to hike the Window Trail and then go up-and-over the Oak Springs Trail, meeting up with Dad and Jordan at the spring. Then we would all hike back to Cattail Falls. We crashed hard Saturday night and got up well before dawn on Sunday morning to set off on our trek. One of these days I'm going to find a family to live with who doesn't insist on getting up at 5am!! I was so tired!! But the hike was great and although we kept a sharp eye out for mountain lions and bears, we didn't see any that day. We did see a nifty black-chinned hummingbird, though.

morning dawns on the

goofing on the rocks

up and up!!

big prickly pear patch

Cattail Falls was wonderful and we spent quite a bit of time back there exploring among the rocks. We tried to find a tarantula but I suspect we made too much noise and they had all run off before we got there. We did find a strange creature in the pond at the base of the falls, though. It was white, flat, narrow, and 2-3 inches long. We decided it was a leech and asked Mom if she'd put it on her arm to see if we were right. She said she'd do it, but only if we gave her $50. Well, at $12.50 each, we decided this was entertainment we could afford so we put her up to it. We had salt and lighters so we knew we could get it off her. But try as she might (and I'm not sure how hard she tried), she couldn't catch the thing to get it on her arm. I was impressed that she agreed to do it in the first place. Is there nothing that scares my mother?!?

We each spent some time debating how much we would charge to wear a leech for a few minutes while we ate our lunches. Then we explored the lower ponds, jumping from trees and rocks trying not to get wet. I think maybe my sister got kind of wet ;)

pond at the base of
the falls

lower pond

mom leech-hunting

a cool bath

We hiked back to Oak Springs and then on to the parking lot where Dad met us with the Suburban. At Castolon we had a nice (hot) picnic lunch. We had forgotten to pack the loaf of bread so we were relieved to find that the store had just one loaf left! Or so we thought...until we went back in after lunch and saw that they had put out just one more loaf...some kind of sales trick, I guess, to make us think we were lucky. It was easily 107 degrees down there, and just barely lunchtime. On the way back to the Basin, we stopped at the Sam Nail Ranch to look around. We saw a cool tarantula's nest at the base of a big tree. The windmill was pumping but no water was coming out. It was hot and buggy back in there but the pecan and fig trees provided great shade.

Since the power was out, we thought we wouldn't be able to make microwave popcorn for a snack. But Mark had the bright idea of breaking open the bags and dumping the kernels and oil into a pan over the Coleman stove we'd brought. Well, that worked like a charm and we all had fun resting on the porch while the storm raged around us.

We had dinner at La Kiva in Study Butte that night since we weren't able to heat up the lasagna in the microwave because the power was still out. We were surprised to see water in the Terlingua Creek bed as it's always been dry and dusty when we've been here before. It was shallow, wide, and muddy and Tom drove us right down to the river's edge so we could get a good look at it. We stopped for ice cream after dinner and then drove back to the Park. Ronna, Mom, and I also showed everyone else where the Indian Head trail starts and we all plan to hike back there when we go back for Thanksgiving, 2006.

line up for popcorn!

pretty sage flowers


more pretty sage

On Monday morning, Tom and Jordan got up early and left to return home. We were sorry to see them go but we were also busy getting around for a hike up in the Chisos. Our plan was to hike to Laguna Meadows, then across Calima to Boot Springs, then down Pinaccles back to the cottage. It would be around 10 miles or so altogehter. We hit the trail early, but not as early as the up-and-over hike from Sunday (meaning it was at least light outside!)

The first 3.3 miles were quite steep but after that we had easy going. We had lunch at a nice shady spot and looked for different birds and, as always, kept an eye out for bears. We didn't see any bears, but we did see a lot of rabbits and deer and a black-headed warbler with a bright-orange chest and back. He was really pretty. The hike down Pinaccles was HOT HOT HOT and we stopped often for snacks, water, and sunscreen. Boot Springs was dry as a bone so we were glad we hadn't relied upon filtering water there. Ronna and I had hard-boiled eggs the night before and planned to bring them for lunch on the trail, but we forgot to bring them along so when we got back to the cottage, we all worked together to make deviled eggs out of them. Ronna scammed the mayonaise from the camp store, Mark and I peeled eggs, Dad cut them lengthwise and smashed the yolks. They were great! At midnight that night the electricity came back on and we were all startled awake when the lights turned on and the fans started up. Dad jumped up to turn off the lights and we all complained before falling back to sleep. We complained in a happy way, though. I know it doesn't make sense but you kind of had to be there...

While we were hiking, Dad spent the day at the cottage and then attended a ranger program at the Panther Junction Auditorium. The program was called "Survival in the Desert" and was very interesting. He learned about over-hydration and the symptoms of dehydration and saw a display of items one should take along when venturing into the desert. He also heard tales of people who had made decisions over the years: both good and bad ones. Some of the stories were sad. According to Dad, when you realize you are in a bad situation, you should S T O P: that's Stay put, Think about the situation, Observe your surroundings, and make a Plan and stick to it. Sounds like good advice to me.

Mom had put carrots, onions, and roast beef in the crock pot that morning so when we returned we had a delicious, hearty dinner. We sure were glad the power came back on!

about 10 miles or so

elevation profile

deer not afraid of us

Boot Rock (cool!)

the newlyweds

Ronna's swamp-cooler

Fire sign

neat spider's nest(s)

Even though the power was back on, it was a HOT day and we eventually decided we needed to go 'bear hunting'. The sun's rays were just lengthening the late afternoon shadows as we drove down Green Gulch Road very slowly (with the air-conditioning on) and stopped at the lion/bear information pullout. The wind there was still warm but was quite fast so we spent some time relaxing there and exploring the nearby ravine. Mom spied an old panel truck that had crashed in the ditch and we tried to get to it to see what had happened. We couldn't reach it, though, as the gully was too overgrown. But it was neat to think about how many years we'd driven right past that spot and never even knew about the crash site. I wonder how many other people know about it? By the looks of the vehicle, it's been there for many years.

After leaving there, we continued down toward Panther Junction, stopping and exploring wherever we wanted. We checked out the burn site where there had been a controlled burn that got out of control years ago. It was sad to see all the burnt cactii but many of them were still alive and growing past their burn scars. At Panther Junction, we adopted two century plants and took their pictures. The plan is to photograph these same two cactii every time we come to Big Bend so that we can mark their progress over the years. Mom named them "a" and "b". I guess I'm glad that Dad named us kids when we were born...

As we drove back to the Basin, we marveled at the sunset we had before us. It was a great sendoff for us from Big Bend but unfortunately it signalled the end of our splendid holiday weekend. We watched in silence for a long time, each reflecting on the memories we'd made. Who could forget the green gummi bear on the rear view mirror that sent me to "the hole" for hours and hours? And who could forget Grant Wampy or playing cards with Jordan? How about the way everyone ran out of the cottage when Tom found that scorpion by my bed? And Dad telling us about the sermon at Christmas time that talked about why a woman should always make pies from scratch and not buy them at the store ;)

a hen forgot her eggs...
so we ate 'em!

before the burn...

...after the burn

"A" and "B" Dillinger

"So long..."


"... auf wiedersehn..."

"...good night."

We left the Park around 9am on Tuesday morning, all packed up for our trips home. We were sorry to leave, as we always are. We had a really nice picnic at the Warnock Roadside rest where the sun was shining and the hot Texas wind kept us on our toes by trying to steal away our food. I was sad as I ate, sorry to be leaving my family. We'd all watched out for each other and made decisions together for five days. We'd bumped into each other in the dark of the cottage when the power was out and took short showers to conserve the hot water for the next person. No one got mad, no one got hurt, and we all laughed and experienced the ruggedness of the Chihuahua desert just as we had for so many years.

I'll never forget the story Mom told us one afternoon as we lay on the beds in the cottage trying to nap. She was lying next to me and I said "well, can you tell us a story to give us good dreams". and she said "oh, yes, I sure can. Once upon a time there was a young girl. She fell in love with a boy and she married him. Then the babies came, each one more perfect than the last. They had many happy years with their kids. But the greatest surprise she ever knew was when she discovered that she could enjoy her kids after they were grown up, too. She just thought that was so neat." I smiled, and told her that was a nice story, then fell into a deep, warm, happy nap where I'm sure I surprised my loving mother by snoring to beat the band :) Thanks, Mom and Dad, for putting together this trip - for all the planning and shopping and driving.

Everyone got home safely. Ronna, Mark, and I spent a few hours at the Midland Airport where I learned that my flight would be delayed by about an hour due to a lightning storm in Dallas earlier that day. So I had 4-1/2 hours to wait for my flight! But I spied that there was an earlier flight I could catch and Ronna encouraged me to try to get on it. The American Eagle folks were really nice and let me on the flight so I got to DFW in time to chase around getting on standby for flights to Seattle. There were three possible flights that left DFW before the flight I was confirmed on. I made it on to the last of those three. With the weather-delay added to the standby flight, I got to Sea-Tac airport within about five minutes of my originally-scheduled arrival time. Whew! That was stressful, but seeing Al made everything okay when I got off the plane. I sure was tired when I hit my desk on Wednesday morning, but I was in such a good mood after all that sunshine and fun memories. I can hardly wait to get back to Big Bend!!

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