Olympic NP – Mountains & the Strait of Juan de Fuca

Working our way clockwise around Olympic National Park, we had a few days to check out the interior of the peninsula.  Since we knew we’d be day-hiking, we looked for a trail that would give us some solitude from the crowds.  Helping achieve this goal was the fact that we never quite adjusted from Central time so we were always two hours ahead.  While we found ourselves tired early, we got to experience some breathtaking sunrises.  Nowhere did we benefit from this more than when we chose the hike to Mount Angeles.

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Hurricane Ridge visitor’s center at sunrise

We were pleased when the only car in the lot at the Hurricane Ridge visitor’s center was ours.  That rare occurrence was matched with an equally rare clear sky.  I don’t know how long I’d have to spend in this region to become complacent to walking above clouds but, after 5 days, it still left me astonished.  Our hiking pace was modest as we stopped at nearly every overlook to watch clouds wrap over mountain peaks.  For the next 4-5 hours, we could look any direction and not see another person.

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Walking on clouds as the sun comes up

This experience also reinforced a thought Aly and I started to discuss.  Some parks have access roads that bring you right into the heart of the park and then you branch out from there (i.e. Yosemite).  Alternatively, Olympic’s core is only accessible by backpackers and mountaineers.  You can chip at the edges with day hikes but, we wished he had backpacked several days to really experience the peace and respite from modern life we seek when we go to places of amazing nature.

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From the top of Mount Angeles

We finished our summit of Mount Angeles with some slightly-sketchy scrambling and down-climbing and headed back to our car.  At this point, fellow trail travelers began appearing and cars became visible on roads below.  As our trip was nearing its end, civilization would only become more apparent as Port Angeles then Seattle were on the docket.  However, we’d squeeze in a little more birding at the Ediz Hook.  A long, narrow strip of land that runs parallel to the strait, this spit is separated from the mainland by a huge paper processing plant.  As we drove past the thousands of tree trunks, felled to be turned into paper, we expressed gratitude for how much of the peninsula has been preserved by the national park.  I would have been so easy for the forests to all be turned into tree farms and old-growth wonders like the Hoh Rain Forest, lost forever.

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For a brief, hot second, my inland birding self thought I might be looking at a distant Marbled Murrelet.  This guillemot made up for not being a lifer by swimming right by.

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These stocky ducks, even without their spring finery, entertained both of us with their “paddle with head below water” feeding.

The birding at the hook was good and after some obliging views of sea lions, Pigeon Guillemot, and Harlequin Ducks we started to head further east, towards our ferry to Seattle.  Luckily, we were running a bit ahead of schedule and got to stop at the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge.  The spit at Dungeness is awesome and apparently the longest of its type in the country.  I would love to have this place be my local patch and spend a Saturday afternoon during migration walking the 5.5 miles to the tip of the sandy land-form.  Plovers and pipers were present and the forest and meadow produced several year birds and the last lifer of the trip, a Red-breasted Sapsucker.  I had hoped to tour the recently restored Elwha River but, due to flood damage, most access was closed.  For those who aren’t familiar with this dam removal project, check out this article, it’s hope-inspiring for those of us who live in areas where nature is always subverted in the name of growth.

Steller Sea Lion

Sea lions always seem to have sadness in their face.

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Not the birdiest trip I’ve ever taken but, the birds that were here simply did not give a crap.  One last killer view of Black Turnstones to end the trip.

This entire trip felt a little like a teaser trailer for a future trip.  There were so many things we just barely explored, it left us wishing we had 3-4 weeks here rather than one.  The short ferry ride into Seattle makes the Olympic peninsula seem so close that even as I now sit in Chicago, typing this, I feel like I could jump on a plane and within hours, be bounding about the green mountains or be walking endlessly on foggy shores extending indefinitely into the distance.

Olympic NP – The Pacific Coast

After bonus mountains and the pelagic, we moved to the main destination for our trip, Olympic National Park (Park lifer #32!!).  Since we were already in Westport, we decided to attack the park in the clockwise fashion; working our way up the coast and then turning east to head to the inland portion.  We camped out at Kalaloch (pronounced CLAY-lock, apparently) for our first nights in the park.  The campground overlooks the beach with incredible views.  If you stay at one of the campsites along the western edge, you’ll be able to sit next to a fire, on a rocky cliff rising majestically over the driftwood dotted beach, basking in the serene progression of time as the ocean’s waves roll in below a setting sun.  Alternatively, if you’re along the eastern edge, like we were, you get to enjoy a night of logging trucks bearing down on you from 20 feet away.

Regardless, it was a comfortable campground and convenient to the Hoh Rain Forest, our next morning’s target.  Being Labor Day weekend, we were not surprised to arrive and see the lot packed.  Getting there early definitely gave us a little peace in the mossy forest but, there were always people around.  As such, we probably rushed through the two short trails near the visitor’s center.  Such is the paradox of the national parks, I suppose.  They need to be popular enough so people care about them but, being too popular robs them of their magic that made them worth saving in the first place.  Luckily, the Hoh Rain Forest still had plenty of magic left.  The “closeness” of the forest was fascinating.  The clumps of moss and lichen hanging from the trees, themselves growing up from a fern-strewn carpet, acted as sound dampers that made the trail feel more indoors than outdoors.  If you closed your eyes and just listened, you’d swear you were in carpeted room.

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A green room

The bird life was pretty minimal, likely due to the growing crowds, so after we got our fill of rainforest, we headed back to Kalaloch where we, unfortunately, got rained out.  We passed our time sitting in the lodge, play cards and looking forward to the next day’s destination Shi Shi Beach.

Based on a tip from a friend, we added Shi Shi Beach to our itinerary (Pronounced SHY-shy, I swear I’m not making this up).  Heading up the Pacific Coast, this beach is right near where the Strait of Juan de Fuca meets the ocean.  The hike was a short mile or so through restored, then old-growth forest until you arrive at a hand-rope assisted descent to the beach.  The beach itself is probably the source of every Olympic NP postcard that features the coast, and with good reason, it’s extraordinary.  We arrived just after low tide, with millions of mussels clinging to wave-worn boulders and tide pools filled with aquatic life.

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Rock spire formations at Shi Shi Beach

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A small beach, just north of the trailhead back inland

Having an inkling as to what birds my be around I started to carefully scan the coast.  Climbing over some rocks to the beach just north of the Shi Shi campground, I finally found one of my main targets, a Black Oystercatcher!  Eventually, as I trapezed around the boulders, searching for every patch of bare rock I could actually stand on, I was eventually able to find myself looking at nearly a dozen oystercatchers.  Not only was this a lifer but, the only other time I had seen an oystercatcher was upon reviewing photographs from a previous trip and discovering a few American Oystercatcher I had missed in the field.  So this was a lifer bird family, as well.

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I even enjoyed the oystercatchers’ smug look on their face.  It’s like they knew how impressed I was by them.

We spent several hours hanging around the beach then turned our backs to the ocean.  We ended the day at the Log Cabin Lodge, alongside Lake Crescent and prepared to explore the interior of the massive park.

Bonus Mountains: Mount Rainier NP

Early when scheduling our trip, we had our pelagic out of Westport scheduled on our second day in Washington.  However, when that outing was moved to Sunday, we were left with an extra day in our schedule.  After quick review of driving times, we decided we could swing by Mount Rainier National Park.  It was agreed that this would not count as our “Mount Rainier Trip” since it was only going to be about a day and a half but, that this would be a “bonus” park for our Olympic NP trip.

Busting out of Sea-Tac we made, Mount Rainier (National Park lifer #31) early in the afternoon.  Rain pelted us the entire way to the visitor center.  A short respite allowed us to pitch our tent and go for a short hike on a portion of the Wonderland Trail.  This also gave us about 15 seconds of the 30 total we’d actually get to see Mount Rainier with out its cloud veil on.  The trail was great and we made it back to our car right as the rain picked up.  A bowl of soup and a pot roast later, we were in our tent.

Mount Rainier NP - Woods along Paradise Riber

Occasionally, sun would peak through the clouds

Enjoying the time zone difference, we woke up early to get on the Skyline Trail.  Once again, the visibility was pretty low but the fog created an interesting sense of closeness with landscape around you.  Not more than 30 minutes on the trail, a group of 5 Sooty Grouse would establish their own sense of closeness.  For a bird that has little natural defense other than its camouflage, these birds could not care in the least bit that hikers were walking 5 feet from them.  True to the term, these cripplers froze Aly and I in place for at lease 15 minutes.  With the sound muffled by the fog, we were able to hear their low hoots as they grazed on the mountain plants.

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Maybe we lost distant views with this fog and rain but, hiking among the clouds was a unique experience

 

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One of the five Sooty Grouse, focussed on eating more than Aly and I freaking out behind it

It’s a good thing those birds gave such great views because, in what became an unwelcome custom for this trip, birds were few and far between.  However, the ones that were seen, were quite confiding. 

We started looping back around for our return trip as we passed several large groups of hikers on their way to Camp Muir.  I can only imagine the commotion there as no fewer than 40 backpackers, replete with rented ice axes, crampons, and $600 hiking books passed us as we lumbered around looking for rosy-finches.  Although, Aly and I both admitted, jealously, that we had brought our mountaineering gear and were headed up the mountain.  With lifers to stave off any disappointment, we returned to our car and our bonus time in Mount Rainier came to an end.

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One of the Rosy-Finches, posing nicely on a rock as hikers walked by

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Not to be outdone by the other birds, this pipit wanted to get in on the “not giving a crap about people being nearby” action

We drove the two hours to Westport which gave us plenty of daylight to snoop around the rocky spits for shorebirds.  Feeling a bit premature, we found a few lifer alcids hanging around as well as a collection of cormorants.  Getting ready to turn back, I spotted a few smaller birds hopping around the green mat of algae at the base of one of the rocks and picked up my last lifer for the day, a Black Turnstone.  A quick dinner of halibut and cod on the dock and we were in bed, hoping to take advantage of the time zone difference one more time, so we’d be full of energy for the next day’s pelagic boat tour.

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Black Turnstone feeding on the mats of algae on the rocky shoreline

National Park #26: Great Basin, Day 3

Previous Day

Aly woke up early in the morning to catch the sunrise and get us moving on our last day in Great Basin National Park.

Upper Lehman Creek Camp

Worth waking up early

Once we got moving, we knew exactly where we wanted to go, the grove of ancient Bristlecone pine trees. (C) Gnarled and denuded of needles, these trees have been growing for thousands of years making them the oldest known organisms on the planet. The hike up is pleasant and wooded. As we rounded a shallow valley a mile or so before the grove, we encounter a small hotspot of birds. About 20 or so Red Crossbill were plowing through the cones on a group of trees. Their odd bill adaptation seemed perfect for dismantling the cones to feast on the seeds.

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Red Crossbill

A bronze tablet marked the entrance to the short loop trail around the grove of trees. We ran into a few other couples and noticed that everyone fell into a sort-of hush as they slowly walked the trail. It felt as though one was in a holy place and any loud noise might disturb the slow, painstaking growth of the Bristlecone and Limber pine trees. Placards marked specific trees and gave approximate dates of their birth. The oldest tree in the park is about 4,600 years old and still growing. It was humbling to stare at these trees and think back to what the view from that spot must have been thousands of years ago, when that tree’s roots first grasp the rocky soil and began growing.

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A Limber pine

Once we were down from the old trees trail, we began to head out of the park. We made one last stop at the Baker Creek Trailhead (E) and went for a short hike. Upon crossing the creek, we found ourselves in a lush prairie meadow that seemed out of place for an area so lacking of water. Across the field, hopping among the tree branches was a MacGillivray’s Warbler, the western counterpart to the eastern Mourning Warbler.

If there was one thing stood out to Aly and I about Great Basin National Park it was the remarkable diversity of the ecosystems contained within the park. Between green meadows spotted with flowers, parched, scrubby sagebrush, and glacial moraines below bouldered peaks, one could experience a different park on every hike. Even as we drove down the long, straight road to Baker, it was jarring how quickly the varied micro-landscapes gave way to the desolate expanse of the Great Basin.

26 parks down, 33 to go.

Great Basin NP

Click for full Great Basin NP Album

My eBird checklists:
Bristlecone Pine Trail
Baker Creek Trail

National Park #26: Great Basin, Day 2

Previous Day

We started out early in the morning to summit Wheeler Peak (13,063). (A)  You’re in beautiful forests with comfortable trails until you get about a mile past Stella Lake  It’s pretty tame until you get above the treeline and then you’re in switchback/scrambling/sucking air hell.  For the last 1,000 feet of the ascent, we probably averaged 30 seconds of progress for every 2 minutes of rest.  Breathless, we made it to the top (B) found a friend, a Black Rosy-Finch, one of the highest nesting birds in North America.  The trail is 8.6 miles, round-trip, with about 3,000 feet of elevation gain.  It was quite satisfying from the top but we couldn’t linger too longer as there was a storm the next mountain over.

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The forest approach to the peak

Mount Wheeler Meadow

The meadow above Stella Lake, the beginning of the switchbacks.

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Wheeler Peak

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Black Rosy-Finch

Once we returned to the trailhead, we drove down to the visitor center (F) for some ice cream and rest.  Alison took a brief nap in the shade while I explored the area surrounding the building.  Our ongoing joke about the best birding in national parks being the area around the parking lot held true.  As I was walking around, I ran into a Common Nighthawk being harassed by an Ash-throated Flycatcher.  Violet-green Swallows circled overhead and a Black-throated Gray Warbler was spotted behind the cave trail.  Once Aly woke up, she came to join me an ended up finding a second nighthawk right off the main path down from the caves.  Who knows how many people walked right past this little guy!!

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Ash-throated Flycatcher

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… and the offending Common Nighthawk.

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Nighthawk, perched right next to the Lehman Caves path.

Finally, after an action packed day, we head back to our site (D), had a cold beer, and made steak fajitas on the fire.

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Upper Lehman Creek Campsite

Next Day

Here are my eBird checklists from the day:

Wheeler Peak Trail

Lehman Caves Visitor Center

National Park #26: Great Basin, Day 1

We head out from Salt Lake city early on the morning of July 1st. Driving through the Great Basin gave incredible views of parched desolation. However, storm clouds would occasionally gather and provide some drama to the endless sagebrush sea.

In the Basin

The Sagebrush Sea

Once we got to Great Basin National Park, we set up camp at the Upper Lehman Creek campground (D).  Our site was right along the creek so that its noise was a constant presence.  Cassin’s Finches nested above our tent and an adult Red-naped Sapsucker with its own fledgling were regular visitors.  Yellow-rumped Warbler and Mountain Chickadees occasionally passed through.

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Red-naped Sapsucker, adult

We then took a tour of the Lehman Caves(F), home to hundreds of “shield” formations as well as the more typical stalagmites, stalactites, helictites, flowstone, and popcorn formations.

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Lehman Caves, The Grand Palace room

The remainder of the ending day was spent exploring the Lehman Creek trails around the campsite.   Complete eBird checklist can be found here.

Next Day

National Park #25: Big Bend, Day 6

Previous Day

We had one last stop before heading back to Midland-Odessa, the Christmas Mountain Oasis. (J)  The story behind this spot is simple but, remarkable.  A woman bought a piece of land in Texas, built a reservoir pond to hold water, and then built a planted area to host wildlife, specifically, birds.  And it worked.  The Christmas Mountain Oasis is now the go-to spot for Lucifer Hummingbirds.  Getting here was quite an adventure, as well.  The route involved hand-drawn maps obtained from a local ranch, combinations to locked gates, and a test of the full range of our rental car’s suspension.  I only wished that we had as much time to spend here as it took to find it.  Almost immediately after pulling in, we spotted numerous Lucifer, as well as Black-chinned Hummingbirds.  While exploring a bit on our own, I finally spotted an animal we’ve read plenty about but still eluded us, a Javelina!  They really do just look like medium-sized black pigs. While this one went about its business,  I ran over to Aly yelling, “Javelina! Javelina!” (which is a lot of fun to yell) She finally ran over to where I was but, a moment too late.  The little pig had disappeared.  Disappointed but, also motivated by my spotting of a snake, Aly retreated to a chair near the hummingbird feeders.  We birded for about an hour and then figured we should call this trip a success and head to the airport.

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Ash-throated Flycatcher

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Lucifer Hummingbird

In the end, Big Bend is an incredible place. There were times when we were going from place to place that we remarked that we hadn’t felt this remote since we were in Alaska.  While we found ways to cope with the heat, we would have preferred to do this trip in the early spring.  The high density of wildlife was very noticeable compared to many other parks, I could only imagine what this place is like during peak migration.  But, we had a blast and, as written by the champion of the Chisos, enjoying yourself is victorious:

“One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am – a reluctant enthusiast….a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards.” – Edward Abbey

25 stamps in the book,

halfway done is within our sight.

Big Bend NP

Click for full Big Bend NP album

My eBird checklists:

Terlingua

Christmas Mountain Oasis

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.

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Black-tailed Jackrabbit

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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.

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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.

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A Great-tailed Grackle on a casita

My eBird checklists:

Balanced Rock Trail

Santa Elena Canyon

National Park #25: Big Bend, Day 4

Previous Day

Even with the late-night stargazing we woke up early and packed up camp. (D)  A Bewick’s Wren stopped by to see us off and we were moving.  The hike down was much easier and the grades not as steep.  Spotted Towhee were by far the most numerous bird this morning but, we would regularly find a Greater Roadrunner out in front of us.  We hiked the remainder of the Southwest Rim Trail and then the last 3.3 miles were on the Laguna Meadows Trail.  The lack of steep terrain on the descent meant that we were in low, exposed scrub more than shaded canyon woods.  However, we had made pretty good progress on drinking our water so our packs felt significantly lighter.  We reached the bottom, grabbed some ice cream at the visitor’s center (C), and then loaded up for our next destination.

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Spotted Towhee

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Greater Roadrunner

Headed towards the Laguna Meadows

Laguna Meadows overlook

The promise of a shower after backpacking always raises the spirits but, we decided to delay cleanliness for a couple hours because of where the shower was located, Rio Grande Village. (E)  Located to the east of the Chisos Mountains, this small campground sits adjacent to the Rio Grande, just across the border from the Mexican town of Boquillas del Carmen.  Being a few thousand feet below the morning hike on mountain trails, there would be little, if any respite from the heat making any satisfaction from a shower very temporary.

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The Rio Grande

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The Sierra del Carmen

Once we pulled in, it was pretty obvious that this campground was getting ready to close for the season.  There were no more than 5 other campers in a large and sprawling campground.  However, the desolation meant that wildlife had moved in and inhabited open areas very close to our campsite.  As a result, this area provided the best birding of the trip.  Roadrunners, doves, tanagers, and woodpeckers were everywhere. The fiery, red Vermilion Flycatchers were so abundant, I stopped counting.  The highlight would have been the Gray Hawks soaring above the treetops if not for a resident hawk located just down the path.  Common Black Hawks have nested in this campground for years (the NPS has their nesting area well defined and protected) making this little patch on the Rio Grande River one of only two places in the United States where you can see these all-black raptors.  After watching the parent move around in its nest, we headed back to our campsite.  Aly promptly laid out the tent’s footprint in the shade and took a siesta.  I wandered around the campsite taking pictures until the evening when we finally did get our shower.

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Golden-fronted Woodpecker

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The aptly named Gray Hawk

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Vermilion Flycatcher

We ended our evening with a short but, stunning hike on the Rio Grande Village Nature Trail (F) and watched the sun set over the mountains.  When we returned to our tent, a little playback brought Lesser Nighthawks, Western Screech-Owl and the tiny Elf Owl to trees near our tent.  After failing to find them perched and almost have a flying owl run into my head, we settled into our tent and called it a night.

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Rio Grande and Chisos Mountains at sunset

Next Day

My eBird checklists:

Rio Grande Village

National Park #25: Big Bend, Day 3

Previous Day

Having got our wilderness permit the day before, we woke up a bit before dawn to get on the mountain trail right away.  Backpacking in the heat is always grueling, even more so  when you have to carry all you water with you.  Alison and I each carried 5L of water, weighing in at 11 pounds, in addition to the rest of our backpacking supplies.  Piling on, this would be my first attempt at actively birding while I backpacked when meant I’d be carrying my camera and binoculars.  However, our trip was only going to be one night and any calories expended carrying extra gear would be worth it if we found the marquee bird for the Chisos Mountains, the Colima Warbler.

We began our loop on the Pinnacles Trail (C), quickly ascending from the basin floor.  Beyond the first few miles, the trail was quite shady and we found ourselves shielded from the sun for most of the morning.  Wildlife activity was concentrated into a few hotspots where we found Acorn Woodpecker, Mexican Jay, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, and Black-crested Titmouse among other regular birds.

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Acorn Woodpecker

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A sassy Mexican Jay

Connecting to the Pinnacles Trail, we continued on the Boot Canyon Trail.  As the name suggests, this trail is flanked by rocky cliffs, making it a comfortable hike, even in the midday heat.  Deciding that it was time for a break, we dropped our packs at the Boot Spring Ranch.  Optimistically named, the spring is most always dry but, the surrounding canyon allows for rather lush vegetation to thrive.  Almost immediately after dropping our bags and drinking some water, we began to hear the chirps and chits of warblers.  Within 5 minutes we had tracked down the source of the sound, three Colima Warblers!!  Various birds started trickling through and by the time 20 minutes had past we had added another Colima to our list as well as Black-headed Grosbeak, Western Tanager, and an unexpected bonus… two Painted Redstart.  I can only imagine how spoiled Texas birders must get with colorful Neotropical birds just appearing on their doorstep.

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Colima Warbler having lunch

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An acrobatic Painted Redstart

After getting my fill of Colima Warblers, we continued on the Boot Canyon Trail up towards the Southwest Rim.  Upon reaching the edge, you’re presented with foreground views of the foothills which abruptly end at the Rio Grande River and the Mexican boarder.  We found our backcountry site (D) and, exhausted from the 2,000+ feet of climb and afternoon sun, I dropped my bag, found a rock for a pillow and took a nap.  Aly tells me she did the same although, I’ll have to take her word for it because I didn’t wake up for about 4 hours.  Once awake, we set up camp, made dinner and prepared for bed.

Southwest Rim Campsite

Camp at the Southwest Rim

We continuing sitting around our site until after sundown, listening to the odd call of Mexican Whip-poor-wills.  Before we turned in, Alison thought it’d be fun to get up in the middle of the night and do some stargazing.  We tried to think cool thoughts and dozed off with our alarm set for 3:00 a.m.  Once we woke up and rubbed our eyes a bit, we could see the incredible nighttime vista around us.  The Milky Way was clearly visible and so many starts populated the sky that it made it difficult to locate even the constellations we were most familiar with and an occasional shooting star would zip by.  As we wrapped ourselves in blankets, sitting on the edge of the Southwest Rim, a cute Kangaroo Rat scurried along in the starlight.

Next Day

My eBird checklists:

Pinnacles Trail

Boot Spring/Boot Canyon Trail

Southwest Rim Trail