National Park #25: Big Bend, Day 5

Previous Day

We were on the road by 6:00 for our last day before more civilized accommodations.  Rather than sleepily make our way behind the wheel, we white-knuckled it trying to avoid the various quail and jackrabbits that would run alongside the road.  When one of the jackrabbits would decide to really run away, you could see how their body adaptation was suited for extreme speed.  Their high gait and lanky body created an unbelievable spring of energy when our car went rushing by.

150527_Black-tailed Jackrabbit

Black-tailed Jackrabbit

SCQU_150528 - 001

Scaled Quail

As we turned off the paved road onto the Grapevine Hills Road, the sun started to poke above the mountains and revealed the nighttime roosting spots of dozens of Turkey Vultures.  Once the sun starts to bake the earth, these gnarly looking birds will start to soar on thermals of hot air looking for road kill and other carrion.

Grapevine Hills Trail

Us at the Grapevine Hills trailhead

Once we arrived at the Grapevine Hills Trailhead, we head off to Balanced Rock. (I)  Canyon Wren echoed their call on the modest, rocky hills that rose on either side of us.  After a short ascent, we reached Balanced Rock.  While the large boulder, left there by erosion, was worth the trek, the view through the “window” gave a wonderful overlook to the desert expanse.

150527_Chisos Mountains from the Grapevine Hills

View from Balanced Rock

Balanced Rock

Balanced Rock

Turning around, we briskly walked back to the car to make one more stop for the day.  At the western edge of the park, the Santa Elena Canyon (G) straddles the Rio Grande as well as the US-Mexico border.  We watched canoes drift back and forth between countries depending on what side of the river they’re on.  On the American side, the Chihauhuan Desert is sliced by the Rio Grande and continues on a plateau on the Mexican side but, a couple thousand feet higher in elevation.  The mouth of the canyon was too wide to provide much shade but the beginning of the trail requires crossing the Terlingua Creek.  The waist deep water was lukewarm but still cooler than the air around us.  I wish we could have floated the mostly still river and explored the canyons but, we’ll have to leave that for next time.  The hike tracked the American edge of the Rio Grande and occasionally gave great vistas downstream.  A mixture of Cliff and Cave Swallows circled overhead, differentiated only by their call.  The birds collect mud and fill every nook and cranny of the canyon wall with their adobe nests.

Watching swallows in the Santa Elena Canyon

Watching swallows on the canyon walls

Returning to our car, we eagerly drove towards the Far Flung Casitas (H) as we knew our trip was coming to an end (as an aside, the rooms here were probably some of the nicest we’ve ever had on a national park trip, we highly recommend them).  Even as we unloaded all our gear into the room for packing, we found ourselves experiencing yet something new.  Without warning, huge gusts of wind swirled around us laid a thin layer of dust all over our little cabin.  After some highly enjoyable showers, we proceeded to lay on the bed and watch 3 Bond movies until we decided to sit on the porch at the Starlight Theater (A) one more time and prepare for our last day of the trip and return flight home.

GTGR_150528 - 001

A Great-tailed Grackle on a casita

My eBird checklists:

Balanced Rock Trail

Santa Elena Canyon

One comment

  1. Shannon · October 5, 2015

    Jack rabbit could easily be a painting in a child’s book. Great shot.

    Like

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