Chisos Basin was our destination on Monday March 23. This area is characterized by jagged mountains, and it rises to 7,832 feet at Emory Peak. Because of the higher elevation, temperatures in Chisos Basin can be twenty degrees different than the lower desert areas of the park. For this reason the vegetation shifts to more shrubs and small evergreens.
Once again we enjoyed a fine outdoor breakfast prepared by Jane and then departed for Chisos Basin. It was nearly a 30 mile drive until we pulled into a parking lot at the Emory Peak trailhead. On Sunday we surveyed the hiking trail options in the area and chose the Window hike, as it was a moderate distance of 4.4 miles round trip. The trail began near campsite 51 within the Chisos Basin Campground, but we were uncertain about the parking availability, so we snagged an open spot at the Emory Peak lot across from the campground.
The Window hike turned out to be one of our favorites in Big Bend. It was unusual as we began at a higher elevation than our turnaround point, thus our return hike was a gradual uphill. Normally in Colorado we climb on the outbound segment, and descend on the return. Monday was the second day since the Saturday storm, and temperatures continued on an upward trajectory. We covered ourselves with a liberal dose of sunscreen and carried plenty of water. Roughly half way through our outbound segment, the canyon narrowed, and this created more shade. In addition a spring brought some water to the surface in the gully along the trail, and we noticed more taller trees and shrubs which supplemented the shade.
One plant that was very prevalent in this area was the agave. I recognized them since they are succulents that display a large cluster of thick fleshy leaves that typically bend and taper to a point. All the leaves originate near the center of the plant and just above the ground. The most striking aspect of these plants was the periodic appearance of dead agave plants with a huge flower stalk arising from the center. The stalk was typically eight to ten feet tall, and the flower heads branched in a ninety degree direction from the main stem near the tip. When I first saw them, I thought they were small trees similar to a sumac. Later we visited the Chisos Basin Visitor Center, and the helpful ranger there told us that the agave plants bloom after fifteen years of growth and then die. Apparently they are the botanic equivalent to salmon, and reproduction causes death.
As we approached the Window, the canyon narrowed and a small volume of water trickled through the rocky gully. Trail construction experts built a series of steps that allowed us to safely climb up and down the large rocks that angled steeply to the narrow canyon floor. Finally we reached the Window which was a 20′ X 30′ opening at the end of the canyon where one could look westward at a vast panorama of west Texas desert. The Big Bend newspaper guide referred to this geologic phenomenon as a pour-off, and a park ranger explained this to be a dry waterfall.
On our return hike we paused by a large log in a shaded spot to eat our lunches. As we enjoyed our snacks and the momentary rest, Cheri and Howard approached. They told us they were planning to hike the Lost Mine trail, but apparently the parking lot was full, so they elected to do the Window. We chatted for a bit, and Howard pointed out some small birds with a black crest and allowed us to use his binoculars to observe. Unlike the brightly colored birds we observed on Sunday, this species sported a black crest and deep gray body feathers. Clearly these feathered creatures favored the more classy formal wear of the bird kingdom.
We stopped at the Chisos Basin Visitor Center and asked the ranger some questions, and then we departed for Rio Grande Village. On the morning drive, Jane spotted folks just outside Panther Junction holding their mobile phones to their ears, so we stopped there to check email and retrieve messages. Jane caught up on March Madness results and as we were driving away, her phone rang, and it was Amy checking in from Portland. I executed a U-turn, and we returned to the parking lot where we knew we could sustain a strong signal.
The remainder of Monday was spent relaxing at the campsite and avoiding the strong rays of the sun. Monday was a fun day as we experienced a different part of the park that exhibited different plants and a distinct micro climate.