Saturday, January 1, 2011

Ringing in the New Year from Big Bend

Big Bend National Park is located in southwest Texas on the border of Mexico. Despite the harsh environment in the Chihuahuan Desert, Big Bend has an amazing plant and animal diversity. It has more than 1200 species of plants (including 60 different cacti species), more than 600 animal species (~450 bird species). The diversity is largely due to the diverse ecology and changes in elevation, ranging from the dry, hot desert to the cool mountains to the river valley.

Last year for New Year’s my friend Kristen and I went to Philadelphia for a traditional celebration—beer, bars, and fireworks at Penn’s Landing. We had a great time, but this year I wanted to do something different. So I asked my backpacking buddy Kristin (note the I, not E) if she wanted to hit up Big Bend for the New Year. She did!

Big Bend is a bit out of the way, making it a park that is generally less visited than others. But one of the rangers told us that New Years is fairly popular and that Spring Break is their most popular time of year. We arrived at the park in the late afternoon, got our backcountry permit, headed to the Chisos Basin, and hiked a quick 1.5 miles up the Pinnacles trail to our first campsite--it was a race against the sun. The weather wasn’t great—40mph wind gusts. And once the sun sets the temperatures drop like crazy! Plus, the elevation in the basin is 5,400ft—so the overnight lows were in the low 30s. (Photo left of me on right from the first morning--windy and cold! But warmed up quickly.)

We hiked up the rest of the Pinnacles trail and the Colima trail on New Years Eve—we had a campsite not far from the Southwest rim. (As a side note, many birders come up to the Colima trail in spring to see the Colima Warbler--it breeds only in the Chisos Mountains of western Texas and the Sierra Madre Oriental of northeastern Mexico.) We set up camp and then headed out to explore the South Rim without our packs.

The South Rim is located at the extreme southern edge of the Chisos Mountains. At the rim, the desert floor is 2,500 feet below you and the panoramic view of rugged desert and mountains reach far into Mexico.  This is a photo of Kristin comminicating with the sun gods--hoping to warm up!

After a quick dinner we watched the last sunset of 2010 and then crawled into our tents for warmth.

In the morning we headed down the Laguna meadows trail back to the Chisos lodge area and switched to car camping mode for the remainder of the trip.

To be continued...

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