Big Bend National Park
May 14-23, 2000
I did this drawing of Cerro Castellan in Big Bend National Park in 1986 when I was visiting my sister Freddi. My father was a ranger there when I was in grade school, and this vast and wild land remains my spiritual home.
The trip began with a night at the Gardner Hotel in El Paso, in the same room where John Dillinger stayed before he was captured in Tucson.

Isn't that him waving from the second-story window?

It was a six-hour drive from El Paso to Big Bend, across a landscape of blowing gravel and plastic bags. But the payoff was spectacular scenery along the Rio Grande River through Big Bend Ranch State Park.
I camped that night along the shores of the Rio Grande, where the only other campers entertained me by doing wheelies with their ATV until dark, when they turned on a noisy generator which finally ran out of gas at 3:00 a.m. I took a tour of the camp bright and early the next morning, windows down and blasting Bulgarian folk dance music at full volume.
The first hike was a short trek into Closed Canyon, where the tiniest of seasonal streams has somehow slashed its way through an imposing red rock wall.

The canyon exhaled cool, damp air that contrasted sharply with the Rio Grande Valley where the day was already a little warmer than expected.

I completed the second hike of the day, a 3.6-mile round trip to Burro Mesa, at midday in full sun.

I camped that night under cottonwoods that I planted with my classmates 30 years ago. The trees were vibrating with birds, including scarlet tanagers, colima warblers, canyon towhees, cactus wrens and phainopeplas as well as the more common white-winged doves, ravens and enormous turkey buzzards.
I hiked into Santa Elena Canyon in the morning, and then decided to have lunch in Mexico. You can walk across the Rio Grande at almost any point in the park, but in Santa Elena, you can take the "ferry" for $2.00 per person round trip.
It was time to move our tent to higher and cooler ground. I was lucky to nab the absolute last tent site in the Chisos Basin, and made this lovely spot our home for the rest of our stay in Big Bend.
The next morning I made breakfast in the dark, and by dawn we were hiking the Lost Mine Trail, the prettiest hike of the trip.

I enjoyed the cool dry air at the 6850-foot summit, and stayed there long enough to sketch the view.

I hike into Boquillas Canyon that afternoon, and the heat nearly took my breath away. Back at Rio Grande Village, I checked the daily report from the Park Service. It was 105 degrees.

The temperature zoomed to 110 the next day, while I attempted the biggest hike of the trip to the summit of Emory Peak.

The hot springs near Boquillas are only 105 degrees. So the next day I hiked there to "cool off".
I liked the hot springs in Boquillas so much that the next day I drove 400 miles out of the way to visit Chinati Hot Springs, in a narrow canyon at the base of a remote chain of mountains west of Presidio. Except for the roadrunners and the javelinas, I had the place to myself, and spent an idyllic night under the stars in the outdoor "spa."
For the last night of the trip, I stayed at the Gage Hotel in Marathon, where I witnessed a fine late afternoon dust storm.

My desert experience was complete.

Dust storms, blistering heat, drought and dehydration ... what more could you ask of a spring vacation?