Mules Ears

The problem with sunrises at Big Bend is that there are rarely clouds in the sky so all of my sunrise photos have been clear sky with hopes of some color on the horizon provided by the constant dust layer in the atmosphere. And even with the lack of clouds, I thought that I could at least get some good silhouettes of the jagged cliffs against the pre-dawn horizon. So, I headed to the Mule Ears trail as I knew that there were some nice overlooks facing the Mule Ears against the eastern sky, though I hadn’t planned out where exactly the sun would rise. Below is a close-up of the Mule Ears well before sunrise.

The Mule Ears wait for the dawn at Big Bend National Park

With late sunrises this time of year, I had plenty of time to plan out my composition for when the sun did peek over the distant mountains. From the overlook that is maybe 100 yards from the parking area, I found that I could see the hiking trail lead off into the distance and I thought this would make a great composition for the sunrise. I took the image below from the side of the hill that leads up to the overlook. The trail comes out of the lower left corner and heads out across the desert toward the Mule Ears. I stopped down to f/16 to maximize the sunburst effect as well as the sensor dust effect.

The sun crests the mountains at dawn on the Mule Ears Trail at Big Bend National Park

In editing, I put a some negative dehaze around the sun as it was a little harsh. I also worked on the highlights across the landscape and of course corrected about a dozen dust spots in the sky. Any dust on the sensor or lens tends to really show up with a stopped down aperture; they usually aren’t difficult to correct in Lightroom, but they are annoying. I guess I need to clean my sensor.

As the sun shone over the horizon, it quickly began to light up some desert plants near me. Before sunrise, I had planned to swing my tripod 90 degrees to the right and shoot these plants in the day’s first light. I think that this scene looks good in the first light, but after a few minutes I find that it gets far too bright and you lose most of the contrast in the scene. This is looking generally south and you can see the cliffs of Mexico that lie on the opposite side of the Rio Grande in the distance.

Desert plants in the early morning sun on the Mules Ears trail at Big Bend National Park

I wandered down the trail for a few more tries, but I found that it was getting too bright to accomplish what I wanted with the cacti. On a clear morning out there, the sun can quickly overwhelm everything and saturate the already warm colored stones and cliffs with far too much yellow. I haven’t had this problem in greener areas during golden hour.

After this I headed down to an overlook from which I had photographed before to see if there was much of a pano opportunity. The ever-present dusty haze in the distance can add some depth to a mountain scene and I enjoy how this photographs. I took this hand-held panorama, but it is not as dramatic as panos that I have taken here in the past as it was a clearer day. But below is the pano for your consideration.

Lastly on this morning, I took the opportunity to go down the River Road. The River Road is rough and unpaved and actually goes through several dry creek beds. This is a high-clearance 4WD vehicle road and I had never taken it before. But, I have a 4WD pick-up now so I wanted to have a little fun and see what was out there.

What was out there was a windy road that involved climbing up and down rocky hills and going across sandy dry creek beds, definitely not something you would want to do in a regular car or crossover. You eventually get out to some primitive camping sites along the river and get to enjoy some real solitude. The campsites are equipped with a metal storage bin for food and that is it. I think it might be nice to camp out there and enjoy some real quiet and a beautifully dark night sky sometime.

A prickly pear cactus against the desert mountains in Big Bend National Park

You can take this rough road all along the river to the other side of the park, but that seemed like a couple of hours worth of driving, so I headed back out to the paved scenic highway and continued my day. Thanks for reading along.

Primitive campground on the US-Mexico border in Big Bend National Park

20 thoughts on “Mules Ears

    1. I appreciate your nice comments. The desert is beautiful, but I think in short doses. At the end of a day hiking out there, I can feel the layer of dust on my skin. I don’t think that I’d want to live out there.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. I love desert life. The photos you take of Big Bend look a lot like the area I live in, so I think if I lived in Texas, I’d want to live in the Big Bend area. My favorite photo is the desert plants in the early morning. But I also like the shot of the truck. Looks like it has good clearance, and those tires seem designed for some rough roads.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. I was pleased with the way the picture with the cacti in the foreground turned out. Sometimes it is hard to tell when I am there shooting, but when I got back to my computer, I spent a lot of time with that picture.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I probably would get car sick with the windy roads but glad that you had fun on them.
    Wonderful shots. The desert plants in the early morning sun is my favorite one. Beautiful.
    Octopus Hill, Mules Ears, anxious to find out animal is going to be next. πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

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