"I killed it! Look. Don't step on it," he said, and I saw the wasp twitching in the accumulated dirt on the cement below his feet.
|View from the Ranch|
We were sheltering underneath the open porch of the Homer Wilson Ranch house during the heat of the day. We had just spent the morning crossing the desert floor to get there, and our stuff was scattered around in the shade, drying out and airing out. We had been in Big Bend National Park for three days, and hiking the Outer Mountain Loop for two of them, and we hadn't seen any wildlife in the backcountry besides wasps and flies, who were desperate for our salt and sweat. After hiking the cooler part of the daylight hours with little shade, I could see why the animals all waited until dusk to prowl around. Almost anywhere we stopped to get out of the heat, whether it was near a rare clump of trees or the cool space beneath a cliff, the wasps were abundant and curious.
|First full day of desert hiking|
The Outer Mountain Loop begins in the Chisos Mountain Basin at 5,400 feet. In 33 miles, it winds up and out of the basin, through forests of juniper, pinyon pine, maple, and oak, down a canyon named after a rock formation shaped like an upside-down boot, across a small slice of the Chihuahuan desert, through sandy dry washes, and back up into the Chisos again. Rarely have I seen such a wide array of scenery in such a short amount of time.
Homer Wilson Ranch is an old line camp used for herds of sheep before this area became a National Park. It lies about 22 miles into the Loop, and most people stash water in a bear box a little ways up a hill from the ranch. We had purposefully overestimated the amount of water we needed on this hike. After retrieving our four gallons, we used the extra to wash off the sweat and desert dirt and cook dinner. Sitting in the shade, relatively clean and cool, we marveled at the simple things that made us happy. Water and shade. That's all we needed to be content.
As well as seeing little wildlife, we also saw no hikers along the trail for most of the trip. After our last night camped on a high point between two dry washes, with rust colored rock pillars in front of us and the sun setting into Santa Elena Canyon behind us, we climbed back up into the mountains. It was Saturday, and plenty of overnighters were out.
|View Appreciation Time|
Pack size and energy level were the main differences between us and the other hikers. While they were trudging up to the rim of the basin, we were almost skipping down the hill after climbing about 2,500 feet out of the desert. We were asked if we were day hikers. When we replied that we were finishing up the loop, we got incredulous looks - "With those packs?" Our packs were at least half the size of other backpackers. We explained that we had spent the last year shaving down weight and size so that we could hike the Pacific Crest Trail. One guy insisted that there was no way we would make it with that little stuff, "because there are so many weather conditions you have to deal with out there." Chris and I laughed later that he didn't know that, along with other essentials, I had my full PCT array in my pack, despite being in the desert where it wouldn't rain for months and the nights were so warm I slept outside of my sleeping bag. I had a full rain jacket and pants, as well as a tent, a 20 degree sleeping bag, a jacket, a down vest, an empty water bottle taking up unneeded space, extra food, a thermal top and bottoms, mountaineering socks in case my feet got cold, and an extra shirt and pair of shorts. All this on top of about a half gallon of water I still had for the rest of the 3 miles until the end of the trail. And I had thought my pack felt heavy.
|Hooray we're done!|
Anyway, this practice hike was a success, and it gave us a taste, however small, of hiking in the desert.
Highlights of the trip:
The Chisos (first mountains we've seen in a while)
Bagging Emory Peak
Blue Creek Canyon
Santa Elena Canyon
Afternoon at Homer Wilson Ranch
And finally, the town of Marathon, which I don't have any pictures of, but which really seemed like home, despite the fact that we only spent about two hours there eating breakfast. I would recommend Marathon Coffee. The ladies there are so nice. We sat outside, eating our Ranch Hand breakfast combos, listening to snippets of good natured conversations and laughter. It made me so happy.