2021-01-06, Winding Up My Stay in Big Bend

Sunrise on the Chisos Mountains - Scenery
My pre-dawn launch exit from Rio Grande Village in Big Bend provided an opportunity to witness the first light on the almost 8,000′ Chisos Mountains.

It was a week I’ll remember fondly. As I drove out of New Mexico late last December, I had doubts about being able to pull off a stay inside Big Bend National Park. The park has limited camping spaces, and there is a high demand during normal times, but with the pandemic, the supply dwindled, while the demand was even higher. An unexpected cold winter storm chased enough fair-weather campers from their reserved camping spaces and opened up an opportunity for me to enjoy the friendly confines of this huge, amazing part of our planet.

Last Wednesday I scouted the area surrounding the southeastern section of the park where I stayed in the Rio Grande Village. I found a location called Boquillas Canyon, where, like Santa Elena Canyon, the Rio Grande sliced through a hard limestone mountain range on its exit from Big Bend, making its way to the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a wild river ride for the intrepid river running kayak or rafting enthusiast, but it wasn’t my time to endure the three or four-day expedition. From what I’ve read, it is a helluva trip.

Hermit Thrush - Catharus guttatus
These birds dwelled in the understory of the thick thorny brush in this oasis. Dug Out Wells is located between Panther Junction in the north and Rio Grande Village to the south. Originally established as a rest area for weary desert travelers in the early 1900s, the water now serves birds and wildlife.

Half-way between the Panther Gate Visitor Center to the north, and the Rio Grande Village is an oasis called Dug Out Wells. In the early 1900s, homesteaders installed a well and wind pump, creating a shady rest and relief for desert travelers replenishing supplies from towns to the north. The pump continues to this day, bringing water to the surface, nourishing trees, wildlife and the souls of nature loving visitors.

Thursday, on my exit from Big Bend, I stopped for a second visit to this oasis. While driving there, I enjoyed a sunrise as it painted its warm tones over the sky island of the Chisos Mountains with its golden rays. I suspect winter is not the best time to experience birds at Dug Out Wells. My money would go on a spring visit, when migrating birds heading north over the desert would drop in for refreshments before continuing on their journey. Still, those hardy winter birds toughing it out in this arid desert were fun to meet.

Exiting the park, I drove north to Marathon, where I stayed when I planned to enter the park a week earlier, but the winter snow storm shut down the roads. I’d hoped to visit a couple of small parks near town before I headed to Big Bend. Last spring I visited Gage Gardens in the middle of Marathon and I enjoyed it very much. The second place I’d hoped to visit was Post Park, five miles south of town. With last week’s snowstorm, visiting these places became an untenable proposition. Now, a week later under sunnier skies, I wanted to try again to visit these parks. I learned that winter was not a great time for birding at either location. However, driving south to Post Park, I found a herd of Pronghorn in a field west of the road. On my drive south, I found them resting and ruminating far from the road, but as I drove back north, they stirred and approached the road at about half the distance of their resting place, and I collected some worthwhile images.

The call of south Texas was strong, so I pointed my chariot east and planned to stop in Langtry Texas, the historic home of the Judge Roy Bean, with a visitor center and a cactus garden I hoped would be a magnet for local winter birds. That report will have to wait until my next post. After reaching Dryden Texas, I’d had enough of the road for the day and I spent the night at a roadside picnic stop. I’m always on the lookout for local birds, and I met a few friends there and captured a couple of images. During the past two days I’d collected a sunrise on the Chisos Mountains and birds that included Black-Tailed Gnatcatchers, Cactus Wrens, Curve-Billed Thrashers, a Gray Vireo (I believe), a Hermit Thrush, Northern Cardinals, Northern Mockingbirds, Verdin, White-Crowned Sparrows, and those Pronghorns.

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