chookooloonks wild west road trip: big bend national park
I've mentioned before that I have a very troubled relationship with nature; moreover, I generally find road trips pretty tedious. i've certainly been to many beautiful places in my life, but I honestly couldn't think of one that was worth an 8-1/2 trip by car to visit. Plane, yes; car, heavens no.
I couldn't, that is, until our recent trek to Big Bend National Park.
We had saved our second full day in west Texas, Sunday, for Big Bend. The evening before, I checked the weather forecast.
"Dude," I said, staring at my screen. "It's supposed to be 102˚F tomorrow in the park. Which apparently makes us lucky -- normally it's 112˚F."
"Well, that should be fun for you," replied Marcus with a smile. He knows me: my range of comfort generally lies between 70˚F and 85˚F.
"Man, looks like May and June are the hottest months of the year for Big Bend. I don't think we could've planned this worse. I'm not sure I'm going to be able to do a lot of hiking."
"Look, we'll leave at dawn," he reasoned. "We'll get out there while it's still cool, and we'll get a first hike in. Then we'll play it by ear."
It made sense, so Sunday morning, by 6:30 a.m., we were on the road.
"So," said Marcus, on the hour-and-a-half drive south. "What hike are we going to do?"
"Well, I thought we'd do the Santa Elena Canyon Trail," I said. "There's also another hike that people recommend -- the Lost Mine Trail -- but that's a mountain hike, and I've been to the top of mountains before. I've never been in a canyon. And since we're going early, the canyon shouldn't be too hot."
"Sounds like a good plan," he responded.
The scenery continued to change.
As we entered the park, the mountains and valleys before us -- all stark, desert-like -- was positively stunning. We crept higher and higher into the mountains, our ears popping, and occasionally we'd stop to take photographs of the scenery. And then, we began descending -- until finally, we came to the trail head of the Santa Elena Canyon.
"Good God," I breathed, as we got out of the car.
"Seriously," Marcus agreed.
"Who knew this was Texas, right?"
We got our gear (Marcus carrying my camera equipment, bless him), and made our way into the canyon.
About a mile into the canyon, the trail suddenly stopped. Because it was still relatively early, there wasn't anyone there, save for two men we met at the bottom of the trail: one who looked to be in his 50s or so, and another, much younger man.
"How's it going?" I called out.
"Great," grinned the older man. "It's amazing down here, isn't it?"
"It certainly is." I narrowed my eyes. "You don't sound like you're from Texas. I'm guessing ... Louisiana?"
"New Orleans," he smiled, only he pronounced it "Nawlins." I laughed. "I thought so. Man, I love that accent."
Marcus and I introduced ourselves, and we began to talk. Turns out that the younger man was his son -- about 18 years old, and he had just graduated from high school. He had bright eyes and a warm smile, and they were on a father-son camping trip in Big Bend to celebrate his graduation, before heading off to university in the fall.
"Congratulations," I said. "This is a pretty epic trip!"
"It really is," the younger man sighed, looking around him.
At this point, I noticed that everything we were saying was echoing. "The echo sounds really cool, doesn't it?" I said. "HELLO!" I called out, listening to the reverberation.
The younger man smiled. "I know, man, I'm really wishing I had my guitar with me right now."
"You play guitar? I'm wishing you had it with you, too!" I said.
We spoke for about 15 more minutes, and exchanged each other's cell phones so we could grab some phone shots to send back to our families back home (once we found a signal!). Then Marcus and I decided it was time to make our way back out of the canyon.
"Nice meeting you," I said to both men, shaking their hands in turn. "And good luck in college! Give 'em hell."
"Thanks, I will," the son grinned.
We left them both, making our way back up the trail. And at about 100 feet or so on, that's when the magic happened.
As we rounded a small outcropping of rock, Marcus and I suddenly heard singing: a man's voice, tenor, strong and clear, the sound echoing between the Mexican canyon wall on our right and the American one on our left.
"It's the kid!" I whispered to Marcus.
We stopped walking and listened in silence as his voice rose and fell, singing a song I didn't recognize; I assumed it was one of his original compositions. It was so beautiful standing there in the silence, and he sang for about 3 minutes or so. We waited until the last note hanging in the air finally faded away before we erupted into applause.
"That was amazing!" I called out.
There was laughter from the other side of the outcropping. "Thank you!" his voice called back in return.
Naturally, this set the tone for our day -- we spent the rest of the (now considerably hot) morning and part of the early afternoon driving all over Big Bend, taking in its sights and sounds, before heading back to our hotel.
And honestly, that was really the magic of this trip, and the desert: its beauty was matched by the amazing people we met along the way, locals and tourists alike, so willing to share their time and their stories. We felt welcome everywhere we went: by the towns we visited, the scenery, the people. Even the mystery lights came out to play. It was amazing.
And while I've not completely turned into a road-trip kinda girl, I have to admit, I'm starting to see its charm. Because if roadtripping means that you get to stop and connect with beautiful people in remote places, it certainly has its appeal.
Song: Retrograde by James Blake. A couple of days ago my friend Carl turned me onto this song, and as it happens, James Blake's voice is very similar to the voice of the young man we met in the canyon; moreover, this song has a gorgeous haunting sound that is very much like the echo caused by the canyon. It seemed the perfect song to share with you on this post.