Sunday, March 12, 2017

Heading Back to Camp
After exploring along Ross Maxwell and Old Maverick Roads, we were happy to be heading back to the campground and our home away from home.  And, the time of day was such that we got to enjoy the setting sun.
Back to Camp
As we drove along the main road in Big Bend, we could see the beginning of the sunset lighting up the walls of Boquillas Canyon.  The upper skies were still a cool blue, but the canyon walls were taking on a warm tone.
Tunnel to Rio Grande Village
Our campground was in what was called Rio Grande Village in Big Bend.  Every time we left to explore the park, we would drive thru this tunnel.  It was nice to capture it during the wonderful lighting that occurs before sunset.
Evening Sky
Once we got back to camp, I walked out to the road to capture this sunset.  A beautiful end to a great day!

Vistas along Ross Maxwell Road
There were a number of beautiful sights along Ross Maxwell Road. 
Sotol Vista View
This view is considered one of the best in Big Bend.  The view looks south toward Mexico and the Rio Grande, about 14 miles away.  The mountains in the far distance are located in Mexico, and the US-Mexico border is along the ridge that’s sort of mid-way between those Mexican mountains, and the ones in the foreground.  If you look closely, you can see a sort of “notch” in the ridgeline – that’s the Santa Elena Canyon.  Looks tiny in this image, but it’s not!
Burro Mesa Pouroff
A bit further down the road, there’s a short road that leads to the Burro Mesa Pouroff.  A pouroff is a dry waterfall, altho if there’s enough rainfall, it can turn into a true waterfall!  For now, we just have some lovely vegetation!
Mule Ears Distance View
In the images above and below, you can see the formation called Mule Ears.  These were formed by dikes that erosion has sculpted into this formation.  These peaks have been important landmarks to travelers between the Rio Grande and Chisos Mountains.  There is a spring about a mile northwest of the peaks, and a trail leading to it.  However, as you can tell from the long shot, above, it would have been more of a hike than Jeff & I were up for!
Mule Ears Closer View
Tuff Canyon West View
Tuff Canyon was created when Blue Creek cut a narrow canyon in the soft grey rock, called tuff.  It is compressed volcanic ash.  This view makes this part of the canyon seem rather wide.  However, a walk over to the other side presents a different picture.
Tuff Canyon East View
On the east side of the canyon, the walls are much closer together and the canyon is much narrower.  The ash making up the walls of the canyon have been cemented together by pressure from overlying layers.  They were later exposed by erosion.
Santa Elena Canyon
And, here we are – 14 miles (as the crow flies) from where we began back at the Sotol Vista View!  It actually took us more than 14 miles to get here, since we were in a Jeep, and not flying!  This has to be one of the most beautiful natural borders I’ve ever seen.  As you look at this image, the right side (where we were standing) is in the US. However, just across the Terlingua Creek (which flows into the Rio Grande River), lies Mexico.  The canyon walls on the left are in Mexico.  The walls are very high and so this is a very effective border between the countries.  Information states that the walls of the canyon are higher than 3 Washington Monuments, placed on top of each other!  We were cautioned, tho, not to cross the creek.  The land on the other side is Mexico, and this is not a recognized border crossing.  There were a number of people at this location – otherwise, I’m sure Jeff would have crossed the creek, just to be contrary! 
Castolon – On Ross Maxwell Road
The village of Castolon, on Ross Maxwell Road, has an interesting history, and I thought was worth its own blog posting.  It is located toward the formal end of Ross Maxwell Road, just before it turns into Old Maverick Road.
Old Window in Castolon
The location of Castolon was first settled in 1901 by Cipriano Hernandez, who farmed the area, and who built the original Castolon Store, which is now known as the Alvino House.  The above image is of one of the windows in that house.
Old Post Office in Castolon
The Castolon area was on the site of a US Army encampment, to house units patrolling the US-Mexican border.  This area was attracting Mexicans fleeing Mexico during the Mexican Revolution of 1910.  However, by the time the camp was completed, the revolution was over and the area quiet.  The Army never occupied the buildings.  So, instead of housing Army units, the buildings were used for a trading post and a base for farming cotton.  This old post office is in what is now the general store in Castolon. 
Oldest House in Castolon
The images shown above and below are both of what is the oldest building in Castolon, and is located below the buildings that the Army built.  This old building held both an old store and cafĂ©/residence.  It’s hard to tell which is which, but I believe the image below, may be from the residence, and is a yard where perhaps their burro may have been kept.
Adobe Yard
Past Lives on Ross Maxwell Road
One day at Big Bend National Park, Jeff and I drove down a scenic road that also had some deserted cabins along it – sort of snippets of past lives on Ross Maxwell Road before it was part of Big Bend.  We’ll get to the scenery later, but for now we’ll focus on the past lives…..
Remains of Adobe Home on Sam Nail Ranch
Sam Nail and his brother, Jim, moved into this area, between the Chisos Mountains and Burro Mesa, in 1916.  A one-story adobe house, the remains of with you see here, was built following the techniques of the Mexican-Americans along the river.  Altho they are no longer visible, there was a well, garden and small holding pen, used to hold a cow, chickens and horses.
Walking on Sam Nail Ranch
Sam and Jim lived in the house alone for two years, when Sam married Miss Nena Burnam.  They continued to live here, raised their family, and ranch several sections that they owned and other areas that they leased. 
Luna’s Jacal
Technically, Luna’s Jacal (he-kaal, with the accent on the second syllable), is on a dirt road called Old Maverick Road that Ross Maxwell Road runs into, so I’m just including it in this blog.  Gilberto Luna lived in this house for many years, farming the dry Alamo Creek drainage by using the technique of floodplain farming.  He out-lived several wives and had numerous children.  He died in 1947 at the age of 108.
Inside the Jacal
You can’t tell it by this image, but this is an extremely low ceiling building.  Jeff walked into it and was bent almost double!  Either Luna was a pretty short guy, or he (and his family) didn’t mind walking bent over!
Ocotillo Roof
The roof of this building was made from the branches of the ocotillo plant/shrub.  Notice the huge barbs/thorns!  If you didn’t walk bent over enough, not only would you hit your head or back, but you’d also get stuck pretty badly!
Thomas Hernandez Ruin
There was one other set of ruins that we came across driving on Old Maverick Road, beneath a cliff of Pena Mountain.  The ruins (above and below) are the ruins of Thomas Hernandez, who farmed the flat along the road.  The ruins are a house (top image) and a shed (lower image).  Nothing else is really given about Mr. Hernandez.
More Hernandez Ruins
Nature Trail in Big Bend
Not far from where we were camping, there was a nature trail.  One morning, I decided to explore it.  Altho I was a bit disappointed that the promised pond was not really able to be seen, due to the overgrown tall, tall grasses growing along its banks, there were some other nice sights to be seen…….
Rio Grande Reflection
For as close as we were to the Rio Grande River at Big Bend, I didn’t actually see the river all that often!  This was one of the few times that I did get to see it, and it’s pretty calm and peaceful (and shallow) at this point.  I loved the nice reflection that I could see in its waters.  Oh, and the other side of the river is Mexico.  No, I didn’t wade across just to be able to say I crossed over into Mexico illegally!  With my luck, I’d be caught, and have more of an adventure than I had bargained for!
Loch Ness Shadow
I thought this piece of driftwood along the banks of the Rio Grande looked rather familiar when I shot it.  Then, when I processed it, I turned the image on its side, and it became apparent the shadow looked a bit like those grainy images I’ve seen of the Loch Ness Monster!  Have I inadvertently solved the long-time mystery?  It’s a floating piece of wood?  LOL!
Morning Grass
As I walked back from the river, I loved the way the sun glowed off the tall grasses that grew in the area.  This shot of the grasses with the mountains in the background is one of my favorite from this walk.
Mexican Contraband
Now, just because I didn’t cross the Rio Grande into Mexico doesn’t mean some folks don’t cross from Mexico to the US!  As I understand it, some folks do each day in order to sell their mini pieces of art.  These were just sitting on a rock along the path, with a jar alongside for people to put money in to pay for them.  I especially thought the little road runners were adorable, but I didn’t have any money with me, and am too honest to just take them.  Sigh……
Abstract Pond Reflection
Altho the grasses kept me from seeing the pond, they did provide some cool reflections in the bit of the pond I could see!  I really loved the soft liquidity of this image.
Golden Grasses
What captured my eye here was how the tops of the grasses just seemed to shimmer in the sunlight.  The height of the grasses made this walk seem all the more solitary, as I really couldn’t tell if there were other folks on the trail until we were immediately upon each other.
Alert Roadrunner
At the end of my walk, I was rewarded with a roadrunner that allowed me to capture an image of him.  They are really such cute birds, and truly do live up to the runner part of their name!  I was pretty lucky to catch this one as he stopped to catch his breath, and check out his surroundings!
Around the Campground
Jeff & I brought our pedal assist bikes on this trip, and a couple of times we took a ride around the campground.  Here are a few views from our temporary home away from home!
We passed a picnic area, and looking at it, reminded me of times past when Jeff & I enjoyed picnics in the Midwest, and before that, picnics that I enjoyed with my family when I was much younger.  It wasn’t so long ago that it necessarily warranted this sepia/vintage touch, but the effect just kind of brought my memory into focus! 
Daytime View
Our campground looked onto the Bouquillas Mountains and Bouquillas Canyon walls.  This is the view of those mountains/wall during the day with the blue skies and lush greenery in the foreground.  The mountains look somewhat grey at this time of day.
Golden Bluffs
And, here is the same view at what I think of as the “golden hour”, as the sun is setting.  The sun’s rays really bring out the different color tones in the walls of the canyon – almost like stripes.  The dark brush in the foreground now appear in silhouette. 
Javelina Grazing
 A number of javelinas would visit the campground area in the evenings to get in a little grazing.  I always thought javelinas were wild boars or hogs of some sort, but they are not part of the pig family and their formal name is peccary. At times have also been referred to as skunk pigs.  I had never seen any before, and found out the reason for that is that they primarily live in Central and South America, an only in the southwest in the US.  They are usually 3-4 feet in length and weigh between 40 -80 pounds.  They were totally unconcerned that campers found them quite the sight to see, as you can tell by the photos above and below!  Only interested in grazing!
Pack of Javelinas

Monday, March 6, 2017

Dinosaur Fossils at Big Bend
If there’s one thing I hadn’t expected to see at Big Bend, it was dinosaur fossils at Big Bend.  However, the area is “home” to several different types of dinosaurs.  Some of the most amazing ones to me were the fossils of marine animals and fish!  It seems that much of the area of Texas was once a relatively shallow ocean!  Here are just a few of the cool fossils that we saw on our visit to a lovely exhibit area in the park.
Scary Fish
I wouldn’t have wanted to see this guy when he was alive and swimming!  Look at the size of just his head!  His formal name is Xiphactinus (zih-FACK-tih-nuss).  It means “sword ray”.  I think he’s looks at least as scary as a great white shark!  Like I said, this fossil is just his head – in total, he would grow to be about 18 feet long!
Inside His Mouth
I couldn’t resist capturing this image of his mouth, even if my reflection was in the shot.  In a way, I’m a good reference for how big this guy was, tho!  Can you imagine seeing this coming at you?  He lived about 90 million years ago, and fed on smaller fish and sharks.  He was thought to swallow his prey whole, and I can certainly imagine him doing that.  His front teeth and skull parts were found here in Big Bend. 
Turtle Dinosaur
So, let’s just say I moved from the large and scary to the almost cute!  This guy seems little by comparison and looks much like the turtles we have today.  I’m guessing this fossil was about 3 feet long, which is larger than the turtles we tend to see in the US, but is smaller than the ones we saw down in the Galapagos, so his size was not intimidating to me!
Pterodactyl Skull
This guy wasn’t a fish, but what I think of as a bird dinosaur.  His skull was really big – again, I’m guessing, but I’d put it at about 4-5 feet long.  I remember seeing pterodactyls in movies, etc., when I was a kid, and they just didn’t seem quite this big.
Pterodactyl in Flight
I couldn’t quite get all of this guy in my shot, even with my wide lens!  His wingspan was about 35 feet!  I don’t know how long he was, but he took up the entire ceiling space of the room we were in, and it was a very large room!  It seems semi-creepy to have him hovering over my head as we checked out the other fossils in this room!
Dinosaur Teeth Texture
I don’t even know what dinosaur this came from, but I believe they were his teeth imbedded into some rock where they fossilized.  I just thought the texture of them in the rock was very cool, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this found its way into some future art project of mine!
Fossil Digging Grounds
When we left the building that held the fossils, we walked up a bit of a trail to an area that gave us a view of the area where much of the digging occurred.  And, just in case you were curious, the big guy who began this post was found in the far cliff face in this image.
Glenn Spring Road
On the way back from the Mariscal Mine area, we took another off-road called Glenn Spring Road   Altho we never saw Glenn Spring, we did see some lovely sights!
Rock Layers
One of the sights I thought was pretty interesting was this view of what seem to be rock layers built up over time along the side of the road.  It wasn’t really close to the mine area, so I know it wasn’t from any sort of mine deposits, so I guess it’s just some sort of natural formation found in this area.  However, this was the only place that I saw this on our Big Bend travels.  A natural mystery!
Along Glenn Spring Road
I found the colors along this road to be really refreshing.  I guess the reason I felt this way was because the green of the shrubs and plants at times looked so vibrant, it just seemed to give me energy!
Grasses and Mountains
Here’s another example of that.  The greens in the foreground were very vibrant, especially when contrasted with the darker colors of the mountains in the background.  Those may have been part of the Chisos Mountains in the background.  Another thing that was fascinating to me was the colors of the mountains.  There seemed to be very subtle color variations in the rocks forming the mountains.  Maybe that was the effect created by the morning sun.
Mountains and Bedrock
One of the other interesting contrasts on this road was the one between the mountains in the background and the bedrock that we saw at points in the foreground.  I was especially intrigued by the blue and purple colors found in the bedrock – again, seemingly in layers.  If I were a geologist, I could explain the reason to you, but, unfortunately, I’m not!  So, I can only point out the artistic beauty in them!
Where to next?
I began this series of blog posts with one of the shadow of our Jeep – so it seems only normal to end with an image of our Jeep as we stopped to explore this area.  And, where to next on our explorations of Big Bend National Park?  Stay tuned!

Mariscal Mine
We followed River Road as far as Mariscal Mine.  The road beyond the mine became extremely rough and our off-road abilities probably wouldn’t hold up to the extreme conditions of the road as it continued.  But, luckily, the road was in good enough condition to allow us to see this very cool deserted mine area.  Altho this mine is known as the Mariscal Mine today, in the past, it was also known as the Lindsey Mine, Ellis Mine and Vivianna Mine.
Mariscal Mine Operations
This was a good view of the overall mine operations, at least as they exist today.  Cinnabar ore (used to make mercury) was discovered in the mountain that the mine is situated on back in the early 1900s.  This mine was responsible for the production of about one quarter of all the mercury produced in the US between 1900 and 1943.  The area where I was standing when I took this image was the location of the homes that the miners lived in (not visible in this image).  They were very plain and square, and I’m guessing belonged to the lowest level worker. 
As I headed up the path toward the main mine operations, I noticed a round structure off on the left of the path.  As I photographed it, I wondered if it were some sort of catchment area.  However, I noticed that the inside of the structure wasn’t smooth and non-porous enough to hold any sort of liquid, like water.  As it turns out, this was an old brick kiln.  As we’ll see in just a bit, this kiln was most likely used to fire bricks used to build a furnace that processed the ore to extract the mercury.  As I walked further down the path, I did come across stacks of bricks in the area, mostly broken at this point.
As I continued up the path, I came across some stone buildings, in various stages of falling apart.  I was taken by the view thru this window, up closer to the actual mining operations.  I do love this old building ruins, and couldn’t resist capturing a few images of them.
Two Windows
Here’s another view of another of the deserted stone buildings.  I found out that these stone buildings, built by the Vivianna Mine owners, perhaps built as homes for some of the managers and supervisors of the mine, were never occupied.  The time the mine was known as the Vivianna Mine was toward the very end of its functional existence.
Mine up the Hill
I was beginning to get a better view of the mine shafts that still stand as I moved up the path.  I always find it interesting how nature tends to reclaim her territory once man tires of using her environment and moves on.  The prickly pear cacti seem very happy in their reclaimed space.
I was very curious about these 4 circular formations in the slab of concrete.  It appears there were once 6, but these 4 are all that’s left.  I believe these are the remains of condensers.  I think the ore was processed here to extract the mercury from the ore that was mined.
Scott Furnace
Here are the remains of the Scott furnace, and the mine shafts in the background.  And, I can now see what the kiln was used for.  The broken bricks that I mentioned above were all just below the remains of this furnace. 
Fossil at the Mine
On the way back down the path, returning to our Jeep, a fellow explorer spotted this wonderful fossil in the stones on the path.  I don’t know what it’s a fossil of, but love the texture in the piece.  I like to think of it as a piece of art in this relic of past industry.