This morning we woke up at 6:45 to catch the sunrise. It was cold and breezy at the North Rim so I prepared myself by basically putting on all of my clothes, including the rain jacket and pants which acted as wind protection. I certainly wasn’t going to win any fashion awards but I kept warm!
After the photo session, we returned to camp for hot coffee before packing away the tents and hitting the trail. Our planned route took us to the South Rim where we were treated to more amazing vistas. I particularly enjoyed using my binoculars to view the trail down below in the distant desert. I’m pretty sure that our old campground from our previous trip to Big Bend was visible, but couldn’t quite figure out where it was. However, Santa Elena Canyon was clearly visible in the distance. The canyon walls looked incredibly tall!
Another awesome sight we witnessed was a Peregrine Falcon high above, just riding the wind. It was almost stationary, like a kite on a string, and I was wishing I had a super-telephoto lens… but I had to settle with a photo from my X100T.
The rest of the hike was mostly downhill so we made good time cruising the trail past Laguna Meadows and back to the parking lot. It was an awesome finish to an epic hike!
After a short rest, we visited the store at Chisos Basin and then Panther Junction for some merch, then headed out of the park to find dinner in Fort Stockton.
We decided in Pepito’s Café which serves Mexican food as well as burgers. It turns out we both thought the Pepito’s Burger sounded the best so we ordered one each. I’m not sure how it happened, but when they brought out the food, one of the burgers was a double! There must have been a whole pound of beef in the burger! It was amazing. When I held up the burger for a photo, the man at the net table applauded and said, “hiker hunger!” So true! But we had a long drive ahead of us so I ate half and packed the rest to go.
The drive went smoothly and I arrived home at about 11 pm, unpacked a bit, washed some supplies, took a shower, and crashed hard. A nice end to an amazing weekend backpacking adventure in Big Bend National Park.
I woke up this morning to a lightening sky, grabbed my BRS-3000T stove, Stanley cooking pot, some water, and instant coffee and found a nice location to enjoy the sunrise. From the Toll Mountain campsite, you have a nice view east through Boot Canyon, and also to the north-west where you can see the Chisos Mountain Lodge down below, and the mountains in the distance. Toll Mountain (TM1) is really a great campsite!
After the sun warmed us up a bit, we packed up our campsite, then headed down to the Emory Peak trail-head. There are bear-boxes there so you can stow your gear before heading up the trail to the peak, which is a great thing because lugging a 40-pound pack up there would not be fun!
The hike up Emory Peak Trail was easy and fun since I just had a liter of water, some trail-mix, and my jacket in my lightweight Gonex backpack. I also had my camera and binoculars around my neck, as well as my trekking pole.
We had watched a few YouTube videos about the Emory Peak summit, and they all mentioned the last 25-feet of the trail is a scramble up to the summit. There is a left route and a right route, with the left being easier. However, they don’t mention that they go to separate summits. The right side is the higher of the two, but you need to do a little scrambling up the rocks. Honestly, it was easier than I was expecting, and as long as you take it slow and keep three points of contact at all times, you’ll be fine.
The view from the Emory Peak summit was literally awesome. The drop-off was intense and the view was amazing. It was so cool to be able to touch the geologist badge that is embedded in the rock up there — something that was on our bucket list! After spending about 15 minutes on the summit, enjoying some water and snacks, it was time to scramble down. If you can, try to remember the way up because it will help you choose the right way back down.
The hike back to the trail-head was fast, with no water breaks needed. Ah, downhill hiking is great!
We retrieved our backpacks from the bear-boxes at the trail-head and then took Boot Canyon Trail towards Boot Spring. Again, the trail was mostly downhill and we enjoyed the views of the famous “boot” that gives the canyon its name and soon reached the spring without incident. Water was flowing from the pipe at Boot Spring, so we used our water filters to refill our water supply, then hit the trail again and made our way to our next campsite. By the way, the HydroBlu Versa Flow water filter is an awesome little device!
From Boot Canyon Trail, we changed to East Rim Trail and slogged up until we reached our campsite, NE2/ER2. The site is nestled a short distance from the rim and has plenty of room for two tents, and possible three. Also, it’s sheltered a bit from the wind making it a great “base camp” for exploring the north rim.
We set up camp, then went farther up the trail to where it ends. Usually you can hike all the around to the south rim, but from February 1 – May 31, part of the trail is closed due to Peregrine Falcon nesting. However, there are some places along the north rim with some spectacular views. In fact, we decided to pack up our cooking sets and bring them to one of the north rim spots to eat dinner while enjoying the incredible vistas.
Not only could we see the north side of the park, but when we turned around, we could see the incredible sunset over the south rim. It was terrific!
Tonight’s dinner from the rim was another Mountain House meal: Chicken Teriyaki with Rice and Vegetables. The hot food in the cold back-country was again satisfying, especially after a long hiking day. I’d say the Beef Stroganoff was a little more to my liking, but both are yummy. I capped off the evening with some whiskey and hot water (OMG so good!) before climbing into my tent and crashing.
We arrived at Big Bend National Park at around noon and were able to secure a couple of great campsites for Friday and Saturday nights. Reservations for the back-country campsites have to be made in-person (online reservations are coming Feb 8, 2020) so there was a bit of uncertainty in which sites were already taken. Our preferred hiking plan required staying at the Toll Mountain campsite (TM1) the first night, since it is situated right at the Emory Peak trail-head, which we wanted to hike first thing in the morning. We were stoked that the Toll Mountain campsite was available!
Our second preferred campsite on the South Rim was already taken by someone else, but a few good backup choices were available so we picked NE2/ER2 which looked great. With campsites reserved, we headed to the trail to start our backpacking adventure.
The hike today was simple: take Pinnacles Trail up to the Toll Mountain campsite. Simple but oh so strenuous with 40 lbs on my back! According to Strava, we traveled 3.62 miles with an elevation gain of 1,717 feet. The switchbacks at the end of the trail were intense and when we reached the campsite, we were exhausted but stoked. We figured that this would be the most difficult hike of the weekend, so to survive it in good shape was encouraging and a huge relief!
Dinner tonight was my first try of a Mountain House camp meal, so I was excited to give it a try. I boiled two cups of water in my Stanley Adventure Cooking Pot, then poured it into the bag of dehydrated Beef Stroganoff, sealed it up, and waited 8 minutes for it to re-hydrate. The meal was pretty tasty! I’d definitely recommend this meal. Eating a hot meal with my new Snow Peak titanium spork on a chilly evening in the Big Bend back-country was a great experience!
Day 3 of our our camping trip to Big Bend National Park would be our final day here, but it would end with one of the must-see sights of the park. But first, we were treated to a wonderful sunrise:
What made it spectacular was that we were able to view it from the remote back-country campsite. I highly recommend staying at one of these campsites at least once while in Big Bend! It’s such a different experience from waking up in the middle of a crowded campground. Our campsite, Robbers Roost, is accessible if you have a high-clearance vehicle, but there are other back-country campsites that are accessible by regular passenger cars. Just check with the visitors center rangers, and you can choose the campsite based on their recommendations (and you are required to pay for the back-country permit).
Speaking of high-clearance vehicles, my buddy drove us in his Jeep Rubicon, so we had no worries about traveling to the back-country campsites or trail-heads. It was lots of fun, and the Jeep was certainly in its element!
Next on the agenda was our final trail, and one of the must-see highlights of the park: Santa Elena Canyon. But before I write about that, I have to add a bit of important info about Big Bend. The park occupies a huge amount of land in Texas, so getting from one part of the park to the other takes a significant amount of time. For instance, getting from the Panther Junction Visitors Center, which is kind of in the middle of the park, to Santa Elena Canyon takes over an hour according to Google Maps. And of course, you’ll find yourself wanting to pull over several times on the way to take photos of the incredible landscape! So, make sure you build the travel time into your schedule, especially if you don’t want to set up your campsite in the dark.
Santa Elena Canyon is an amazing sight and very cool trail, but getting on the main trail can be a bit of a challenge, depending on the flow of Terlingua Creek. I’d say half of the people crossed the creek, which came up higher than knee-level this day, and half walked upstream a bit to find a dry crossing. We did the latter on the way in. This dry route involves a little bit of scrambling up the hill to get to the trail, but is not too difficult. If you want to do the creek crossing, wear some shorts or swimming trunks, and have shoes you don’t mind getting wet. A towel would be good to have as well.
But the extra effort of getting across the river will be rewarded by a hike inside the majestic canyon, and some wonderful photos. It’s actually kind of difficult to capture the scale of the canyon because the walls go up so high, but it was fun to try. On this trip, I brought along my Moman tripod and ND-1000 filter so I could blur the water a bit. In the photo at the beginning of this post, I used and exposure of 30 seconds to blur the water. The ND filter and the WCL-X100 wide adapter for my Fujifilm X100T camera made for a nice combination. Still, I had to take four photos and stitch them together to create the final image since I couldn’t capture what I wanted in just a single frame.
That image was taken at a little outcropping not quite at the end of the trail. I think it’s a better view that the one at the end, but I did take a photo at the end. I think the hiker in the photo makes the image work… if she wasn’t there, I probably wouldn’t have posted the photo. But you can get a sense of scale when there’s a person in the image, so I like the photo:
On the way back, my two buddies decided to cross the river. I didn’t want to risk dumping my camera in the water (and I didn’t want to get wet) so I took the dry route back. However, that worked out nicely because I was able to take a photo of them crossing:
After a little break and cleanup at the Jeep, it was time to head home. This trip to Big Bend National Park was pretty epic, with fun camping, lots of hiking, a visit to Mexico, and an endless supply of photo opportunities. And to spend time with friends is priceless. I’m looking forward to our next camping trip! 😊🏕️📷🌌🚙🌇
Day two of our Big Bend trip started with a short hike to the Boquillas Hot Springs. I didn’t go into the water, but my two friends did and enjoyed the relaxing waters. I did pop on the ND filter and made a few long exposures of the water. They turned out okay, but there weren’t too many cool bubbles in the river to make it interesting. Still, it was fun to give it a try, and as a warm up for later since I planned to take some long exposures at Santa Elena Canyon.
I had brought my swimming trunks, but I decided I didn’t want to get wet that morning, plus I had gone into the hot springs on our last trip, so it was kind of a “been there, done that” thing.
Boquillas del Carmen, Mexico
Next up was a highlight of the trip: a visit to the Mexican town of Boquillas del Carmen. To get there, you park at the Boquillas Crossing, then check in with the rangers at the border crossing office. They check to make sure you have your passports, then give you a few tips and a run-down of the rules and what to expect, what items are prohibited to bring back, etc.
After that, it’s a short walk to the ferryman who will shuttle you across the Rio Grande in a rowboat. The cost is US $5 for the round-trip boat ride.
Once on the Mexican shore, you have a choice of transportation options to the town: burros, horses, car, or walk. Of course we chose the burros! At US $5 (round-trip), it seemed like the most memorable and fun, and we weren’t disappointed. My burro was pretty feisty, but nothing scary, and I enjoyed the ride a lot. So fun!
The burro ride was maybe 15 minutes long, and then we walked into town proper. You’ll have a “guide” who takes you to the customs office where we paid a US $2 fee, and then he took us on a walking tour of the small town.
It was about lunchtime so we went to the main restaurant, José Falcon’s for some beer and food. The guac and salsa were delcious, and the tamales were yummy as well. I wouldn’t say the food was spectacular, but we were pretty hungry and it hit the spot.
After lunch, we said goodbye to our guide (and tipped him) before returning to the U.S. via burro and boat. Here are some more photos of Boquillas del Carmen:
Lost Mine Trail
Next up was the Chisos Basin and our long hike on the Lost Mine Trail. This trail is rated as one of the best in the park but we weren’t sure if we’d have enough time to finish it since it gained a lot of elevation from the trail-head to the summit. But after about a half-hour into the hike, we knew that we’d have to complete it. Everyone coming down said that the view from the top was amazing which definitely spurred us on. Actually, the trail up and the many switchbacks gave us some wonderful views of the park and we even saw some roadrunners along the trail.
Arriving at the top, we were rewarded by a spectacular view. I mean, it was truly awe-inspiring and made the tough uphill hike all worth it. We were fortunate to reach the summit when the light was particularly beautiful and the clouds were making the sky interesting and Casa Grande and Emory Peak in the distance made for a memorable view.
When I visited Big Bend last time, the Lost Mine Trail was closed because of bears, so I was very happy to have the chance to hike the trail this time. I knew that if the vacation ended right then, it would have still been a great trip!
Astrophotography at Robbers Roost
When we left the trail, the sun was going down and we had planned to camp in the back country (make sure you get a permit from the visitor’s center beforehand!), which involved several miles of mild off-road driving, so we were eager to make good time. Robbers Roost was the name of the campsite we chose, and when we arrived, we found that we were the only campers there!
After a satisfying dinner of sausage links, potato salad, and chips & salsa, it was time for some serious astrophotography before the moon made its appearance.
The sky was incredible, and we saw a few shooting stars which was really cool. I even managed to make a short time-lapse of the moonrise:
One new technique that I tried was star trails. I’m very pleased at how my first try turned out:
It was an amazing day at Big Bend National Park. A long one for sure, with lots of hiking and good food, but completely satisfying. 😌