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Bonus Feature

Dry Camping up in the Spectacular Chisos Basin at 5,000 ft










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The Trails Grow Longer and Our Packs Get Heavier
Lonely, Far Away - Big Bend National Park

May 12, 2015

I am a city girl, I love the noise, the anonymity, the choices, museums and art galleries, theater…  And yet now I find myself someplace as far from our old home at 81st and Broadway as I can imagine. And I love it! I have disappeared into an otherworldly land… The Chisos Basin is a high, harsh place and, with the exception of the wind and the ever present sound of the cactus wrens revving their little engines - chug, chug, chug, a quiet place. 

Big Bend and the the Chihuahuan  desert have been calling me back for years. In dreams I could see the towering red cliffs, the dusty lava bombed landscape and the green trees clinging along the edge of the River Grande River. Here at night, the stars really are big, bright and endless.

Bernie and I have come back to hike this desolate place again, to watch the birds and to try and figure out if we are looking at a Mexican Jay or a Western Jay, and to hear the whistling screams of the Black Hawks and croaks and kraaks of the Chihuahuan Ravens.

On our first visit, many years ago, we climbed the Lost Mine Trail which rises above the basin to almost 8,000 feet. According to my pedometer we hiked about 12 miles that day. Not this time! Can it be that we have aged? Our lungs are certainly not the same. Chisos Basin sits at an altitude of 5,400 ft. and sadly we now find we get quite winded just walking the dogs around the campground. Sounding like a couple of trains pulling out of the station, we call into play the signs warning of lions and bears as a reason not to undertake another strenuous climb. After all, it is really quite beautiful sitting here below the cliffs marveling at their ruggedness and changing colors. It seems there is much peace to be found in sitting and drawing the birds and plants around me. OMAH

However, we did not forego hiking all together, although once again revealing our lack of forethought, we decided to climb down the 5-mile round-trip Window Trail this time. We set off in the early morning when it was still cool and the descent was easy. The canyon walls narrowed towards the last section of the trail. Pinion pines, junipers and scrubby gray oaks provided some shade. 

We traveled beside a stream leading to the Window where the run-off water from the basin tumbles through an opening in the canyon walls and drops 200 feet down into the desert. I did not go close! Usually I agonize with empathic acrophobia when there is a large drop-off, but in this case it was my own thinly disguised terror and jelly-for-legs that kept me back. I did not even look when I took a picture of Bernie going across the black, slippery rocks to look over the edge.

A young man was setting up his large view camera in the window while his voluptuous girlfriend sat farther back lounging against a rock and staring at her iPhone. We could hear the rowdy whoops of joyous chickens and the slathering, grunting of pigs1 coming from the little out of place device. Fortunately her battery died and it was then that I felt the ghost of Ansel Adams slip onto the rocks with us, sit down, and quietly wait for the perfect moment to take the photograph. One and done.

We sat beside the water pools, rested for a bit and had a couple of shots of Duckhunter’s Special2 before heading the two and a half miles back up the canyon.  Apparently during that rest, a phenomena occurred that can often afflict more mature people3. Our packs became at least three times heavier than they had been on the way down. Meanwhile the trail itself had grown exponentially in length and vertical gain. A hike of biblical proportions, seemingly straight up lay in front of us.

When we finally staggered to the top, a jolly group of fabulously fit lesbian hikers, who had probably run up and down the canyon, were drinking beer and posing for pictures. Laughing compassionately at us  - sweating, breathless, weak- kneed - they handed each of us an icy brew saying  "Join us, you look like you could use one." We gratefully accepted and like marionettes with broken strings, flopped to the ground. Thanks.

1 Duckhunter’s Special, The Hikers Friend: 1 part cheap burning bourbon and 1 part cream sherry - good for whatever ails you.

2 The Angry Birds game - drowning out any hope of hearing ladder-backed woodpeckers and blue grosbeaks. Blasphemy!

3 Senior citizens, older Americans, the elderly, retirees, national treasures, golden agers, old-timers, geezers. Sigh…

I must say I envy your life style. My old knees and hips would never have made it up that hill.

Keep sending along your adventures.


Cool trek! From now on it is all about maintenance and repair. Thus we tread the inexorable path called life.


A Beautiful, even Poetic description of a geriatric round-trip. Not for nothing are home runs sometimes called round-trippers.

But how did you know your benefactors were lesbians? Something they said? Did? I'm not looking for any prurient details here -- but if you have any, I'm game.


The ghost of Ansel Adams.....he must have appeared after the Duckhunter's Special! Thanks for sharing your tour of Big Bend National Park.

Donna K

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