After poking around the Chisos Basin in the morning, my wife and I headed out to trek across the western reaches of Big Bend National Park. We started down the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive and our first stop was Sotol Vista.
This appropriately-named high point is surrounded by common sotol (Dasylirion wheeleri, Liliaceae) and scenic views of Burro Mesa and the distant western reaches of the park.
The Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive ends at Santa Elena Canyon, and from here we could make it out as a gap in a mesa almost twenty miles (32 km) away:
Over the next few miles we descended quite some distance to the Burro Mesa Pouroff trailhead. At this lower elevation the landscape was dominated by yuccas (Yucca spp., Agavaceae) and creosote (Larrea tridentata, Zygophyllaceae):
We then hiked the Burro Mesa Pouroff Trail. This short hike follows Javelina Wash up a canyon to the edge of Burro Mesa. Although it was only about 11 AM on a February morning, the sun was hot and the canyon provided some nice shade.
Burro Mesa Pouroff itself is a vertical feature in the mesa. During rare rainfall events, Javelina Wash fills with surface runoff. When the water reaches the pouroff, this cliff face becomes a waterfall that provides a rare treat not only to visitors, but to the plants and animals that live here.
Down the road we made a quick stop near Mule Ears Peaks. These prominent features are dikes of igneous rock, formed by rising magma that cooled and solidified near the surface. Tuff (soft rock made from volcanic ash) that once encased the peaks has since been eroded away.
Tuff is still present to the west where it makes up the walls of Tuff Canyon:
Further west is Cerro Castellan, a peak made up of alternating layers of pale tuff and dark basalt (lava rock):
Along the road were other tuff and basalt deposits, further evidence of the ash and lava that blanketed this area millions of years ago:
After another few miles we reached the Rio Grande near Santa Elena Canyon:
This area was an interesting juxtaposition between the relatively lush riparian (river) environment and the sun-baked flora of the desert floor. One one side we had tall, green grasses along the river:
Not far away were some dried-up and dormant ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens, Fouquieriaceae):
As we approached Santa Elena Canyon, it became apparent that this gorge was much more imposing than it had appeared twenty miles (32 km) away:
We hiked up the Santa Elena Canyon Trail, which followed a narrow trace between the Rio Grande and the high, narrow walls of the canyon. The river has spent the last few million years eroding away at the mesa to create this spectacle:
The rest of day two would find us returning to the Chisos Mountains Lodge via Old Maverick Road, a primitive gravel trail that follows the west edge of the Big Bend.