Sunday, April 15, 2018

February 24 - Day 10 in Big Bend National Park - Tuff Canyon and a sunset

While researching things to do in Big Bend and the surrounding area, Cindy came across something called the Terlingua Ghost Town. Terlingua is a small town not too far from the west entrance of the park. We decided to make that our first stop of the day and also planned to eat our big meal of the day in that area so we wouldn't have to cook later at the camp site. Terlingua isn't a very big place, but it took us a while to find the ghost town. When we did, we discovered it was no more than a tourist trap and not the photo op that we thought it would be. The general store there did have a lot of souvenirs and local merchandise if that's what you happen to be looking for. We did find an excellent local Tex-Mex cafe called the Chili Pepper, so the trip wasn't a total bust. The waitress also gave us an excellent tip about a spot in the park that isn't on the maps called Cattail Falls. More on that in a future post. Near the west entrance to the park is one of the standard national park signs, so we stopped on the way back in to get a picture. I had the 10 second timer on and caught Cindy holding her hat just as a gust of wind was trying to blow it away.

Next on the list of activities for the day was a short hike to 2 old homesteads on the Dorgan-Sublett Trail which is in the SW area of the park in the Santa Elena Canyon area. Apparently the Dorgan and Sublett families had a fairly large farming operation in the area in the early 1900's. The first stop on the trail is what's left of one of the old farm houses, but I didn't find it interesting enough to take a picture. Surely this would be a good spot for a lizard to hang out, though. If there was one, it saw me coming and ran for cover. The next building on the trail was where the farm hands lived. No cold blooded creatures here either, but some mean looking wasps had taken up residence. The trail ends at what's left of the Dorgan house with nice views of valley.

view of the Santa Elena Canyon
Golden Paper Wasps

valley view with the Rio Grande River
another valley view
the Dorgan house

Our next stop was just up the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive for the short hike into Tuff Canyon. The whitish rock making up the walls of the canyon is called tuff, which is welded volcanic ash. The hike begins with view points down into the small canyon, then descends into the canyon itself. As we got to the bottom of the trail just before the canyon, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. "Nobody move!!" It was a little lizard trying desperately not to be seen. Slow movements getting the camera ready - don't look it in the eye! - snap, snap, snap, and I finally have my first reptile shot! I had no idea what it was and didn't care if it was the most common lizard around.

Greater Earless Lizard  (Cophosaurus texanus)
Feeling quite satisfied, we continued hiking up the wash into the canyon. This canyon didn't have the 'wow' factor that the Santa Elena Canyon had, but it was still very interesting. There were numerous holes of various sizes hollowed out of the walls - I'm assuming from water gushing down through the canyon over the years. I was able to get into one which held a large rock that wasn't prone to erosion.

note Cindy in the picture for perspective

From here we went back to the campground to get cleaned up, then headed back out again in hopes of catching a colorful sunset. The place we chose was just a few miles up the road and had views to the west plus a view of the Sierra del Carmen mountains to the east. We were hoping the late afternoon light would look good on the mountains. The sunset wasn't quite what we hoped for. As the sun set, the clouds dissipated and became focused closer to the horizon, but that area was very colorful. It was still really pretty and a great way to end the day!

looking towards Sierra del Carmen


  1. LIZARD!!!! I'm so excited! I knew the little boogers couldn't hide from you the entire trip! :)
    I love the way you provide so much interesting information. If one were so lucky as to be heading to Big Bend for camping and hiking and ran across your blog first - wow, what a treasure trove of goodies to have on hand!!