On my second day in Big Bend, after a windy and rainy night I woke up before the dawn. My tent had survived the night intact without leaking, but the forecast called for stronger gusts of wind throughout the morning, so I quickly packed up and stowed my tent in the car before sunrise. I then headed out to a place I scoped out the previous evening to try to catch some morning light on the cliffs.
I got to my location before the sun made it above the horizon and waited. There wasn’t a very impressive cloud show on the eastern horizon so I faced west in hopes of getting some nice light on the high cliffs. I wasn’t sure just exactly how much sunlight would make it over the mountains behind me at first light. Also, just after sunrise, a large ridge of clouds got in the way and I had to wait that out for a while. But at last, the light showed up and I took some pictures. See below. I believe the subject is called Pulliam Bluff.
I would have liked to have had more light down on the lower cliffs, but there is a mountain range blocking the light. If I had waited until the sun was high enough, the deep warm light would be gone and I would have flatter white sunlight. But, the warm side light does reveal some nice texture on the cliffs. I had hoped to get more out of the distant cliffs to the left, but they didn’t read that well for me.
There aren’t many clouds on the western horizon, which most people want, but my personal taste is that I love the warm, earthy toned cliffs against the clear blue sky as it makes such a strong contrast.
The Window Trail
After heading back to the campground and having some breakfast, I went on another hike. This time I went down the Window Trail. This is a much shorter hike than the day before as my plan was to head for Rio Grande Village around lunch time, so this would make a good morning hike (about 6 miles round-trip).
This trail leads down to a window in the rocks of a canyon, through which a stream flows and then over the edge of the cliff. From this vantage point, you can see the desert in the distance between the rocks. The window trail is also all downhill, so the return trip is all uphill (about 950 feet). So, it was good exercise for my legs which were a bit sore from the previous day’s hike. See the map below for the extent of my hike.
The Oak Springs trail forks from the Window trail. The Oak Spring trail climbs high upon the cliffs above the Window before continuing over the ridge and I decided to check the view from up there as well. But first, the Window.
As you get down to the last part of the trail, you are basically hiking along and repeatedly crossing a flowing stream and this involves walking over slippery rocks. In sections there are stairs constructed to let you get over some of the more treacherous areas. See the picture below.
At one particularly slippery crossing, I ended sinking a foot up to my ankle in the cold water. I was glad that I was able to keep my balance enough so that the rest of me didn’t fall in.
As you get closer to the Window, the trail get more rugged and treacherous. And on this particular morning there was a very strong wind blowing right through the window in my face. The wind was picking up a lot of the water and showering me with it. I found a vantage point behind a cliff wall where I could take a few pictures in between wind gusts so I could avoid showering my camera. See the image below.
When I started taking these photos, I began to focus my attention on the pattern of shadows in the foreground rocks. Perhaps I was too distracted by that, but I really like the way it turned out. Through the window is the desert far below.
I did venture a little farther, but the wind and spray of water kept me from going too far. I looked around a bit, met a few other hikers, and then headed back up the trail to take the Oak Springs fork and see where that leads.
From the fork, the Oak Springs trail climbs steadily, around the edges of cliffs and up to the top of a ridge. When I got to the top of the ridge, there was a view between some boulders of the mountains and hills of the desert below. I spent a lot of time at this point, being blasted by wind and trying to figure out a way to keep my shadow out of the photo. Below is the composition that I was going for, but as you can see, my shadow insisted on photo-bombing.
I really thought that the foreground plant was important for this photo and I still like it. I could not find a way to remove my shadow as I was already kind of standing precariously on a large boulder to get this shot. I like the distant peak framed in the break in rocks in front of me for a mid-ground with the distant desert hills in the background.
I could see that the trail continued up and the over this ridge coming back down around the other side of the Window. It may have been fun to spend a few more hours on this trail to see the sights, but I did want to get back down to my car by around noon because I planned on crossing the border to have a late lunch in Mexico and be back before the US side of the border closes at 5:00PM.
Boquillas del Carmen, Mexico
Near Rio Grande Village in the park is on official border crossing point between the United States and Mexico. The Boquillas crossing allows you to cross the border to a small town called Boquillas del Carmen. You need a passport to get back to the United States and the small border checkpoint closes at 5:00 PM. So, I figured I could have a late lunch, look around, and be back in time.
This small town is very isolated in Mexico and exists really because of the small amount of tourism. I am told that this town was mostly abandoned in the years that the border crossing was closed from 2001 to 2013, but it sprang back to life when the border was re-opened.
To cross the border, you must cross the Rio Grande river. There is no bridge here and you have two choices: you can pay a boatman $5 to row you across and back or you can swim; I chose the boat. Once across you can get into town by walking a mile up the road, or hiring a mule, or paying for a ride in a pick-up truck; I walked. Below is a photo of the border crossing from the US side with the boatman in the distance and the people waiting to take you into town on the Mexican side of the river.
In Boquillas there is a check-point but it was closed and un-manned. So, Mexico doesn’t seem to care who comes in here. I wandered around, settled on a restaurant called Jose Falcon’s and had lunch and a beer. The restaurant is completely American friendly with everything in English and the lady running the place was very nice. It was cold and windy so I sat inside, but they have a nice patio in the back over-looking the Rio Grande and the United States beyond.
A lot of bad news comes from the Mexican side of the border, but none of that bad news comes from Boquillas. Boquillas is quite distant from other places in Mexico and situated between large national/state parks in this part of Mexico. Just east of Boquillas is the Sierra Maderas del Carmen, a massive ridge of cliffs and mountains that I took time to photograph from along the road in the national park on the US side of the border later that afternoon.
I had my lunch, looked around a bit, and made it back across the river in plenty of time. At the US border check-point, you scan your passport into a machine and speak to someone on the phone. She asked me what I was bringing back from Mexico, I said “a tee-shirt”, she said something like “you’re good to go”, and that was it. Definitely not like going through LAX or JFK.
Sierra Maderas del Carmen
Near Big Bend, on the Mexico side of the border are the Sierra Maderas del Carmen. This prominent ridge of cliffs can be seen from a great distance across the park. On my first evening shooting sunset photos I could see them in the distance catching the last light of the sun and made a plan to find a good place to shoot them on the following night. I found a couple of places that I could easily get to with my car and settled on one that I thought was a bit more scenic. I walked out a bit to where I saw a yucca that I wanted to use for a foreground and set up my tripod.
The below photo shows the Sierra del Carmen from the desert in Big Bend National Park with the setting sun behind me. The distant cliffs rise to over 8000 feet in elevation and are quite prominent from the southern part of the national park.
I also made a panorama of ten photos. These mountains are well positioned to catch the evening sun.
I found it difficult to convey the scale of the mountains in my photos. There is really nothing around for context as the desert is wide and expansive in the foreground. I do like the picture with the yucca.
That was my second day in Big Bend National Park. Thanks for reading and please leave a comment below.