Big Bend National Park: Day 2, Part 2

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The Chisos Mountains from the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. Photographed 02/10/2014 at Big Bend National Park, Texas.

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.

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A flowering sotol and scenery from Sotol Vista. Photographed 02/10/2014 at Big Bend National Park, Texas.

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.

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Sotol and Burro Mesa from Sotol Vista. Photographed 02/10/2014 at Big Bend National Park, Texas.

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:

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Distant Santa Elena Canyon from Sotol Vista. Photographed 02/10/2014 at Big Bend National Park, Texas.

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):

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Yuccas and creosote near Burro Mesa. Photographed 02/10/2014 at Big Bend National Park, Texas.

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.

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Javelina Wash going up the trail to Burro Mesa Pouroff. Photographed 02/10/2014 at Big Bend National Park, Texas.

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.

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Burro Mesa Pouroff photographed 02/10/2014 at Big Bend National Park, Texas.

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.

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Mule Ears Peaks photographed 02/10/2014 at Big Bend National Park, Texas.

Tuff is still present to the west where it makes up the walls of Tuff Canyon:

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Tuff Canyon photographed 02/10/2014 at Big Bend National Park, Texas.

Further west is Cerro Castellan, a peak made up of alternating layers of pale tuff and dark basalt (lava rock):

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Prickly pear and Cerro Castellan. Photographed 02/10/2014 at Big Bend National Park, Texas.

Along the road were other tuff and basalt deposits, further evidence of the ash and lava that blanketed this area millions of years ago:

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Pale volcanic tuff and dark volcanic basalt. Photographed 02/10/2014 at Big Bend National Park, Texas.

After another few miles we reached the Rio Grande near Santa Elena Canyon:

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The Rio Grande near Santa Elena Canyon. Photographed 02/10/2014 at Big Bend National Park, Texas.

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:

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Tall grasses along the Rio Grande. Photographed 02/10/2014 at Big Bend National Park, Texas.

Not far away were some dried-up and dormant ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens, Fouquieriaceae):

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Ocotillo photographed 02/10/2014 at Big Bend National Park, Texas.

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:

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Santa Elena Canyon photographed 02/10/2014 at Big Bend National Park, Texas.

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:

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Santa Elena Canyon photographed 02/10/2014 at Big Bend National Park, Texas.

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.

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About Jeremy Sell

Science and nature nerd.
This entry was posted in Botany, Ecology, Geology, National Parks, Weather and Climate and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Big Bend National Park: Day 2, Part 2

  1. Thanks for the post – and reminders – of all the plant names I knew and have forgotten since we were there last year. We really enjoyed the park and it looks like you are too.

    Like

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