Note: Left click on any photo to enlarge.
We arose fairly early on Monday morning, determined to enjoy some of the Chisos Basin sites (and sights) before leaving for San Antonio. The Basin Loop Trail provided a perfect start to the day, and we were headed there by 7:00, just as the sun was rising. Despite Mike's misgivings about my shortcut to the trail, remembered from my honeymoon thirty-two years earlier, we located the trail just past the old stone cottages, which date from WPA days. The trail makes a loop of about 1.75 miles and connects the beginnings of the Pinnacles Trail (which is where we started) and the Laguna Meadows Trail. It gave us a good view of the Window (which is framed by Carter Peak on the left and Vernon Bailey Peak on the right), as seen above with Zoltan and Mike, and of the mountains which ring the Basin.
A Rufous-Sided Towhee entertained us for a while, or perhaps we were its morning diversion.
We spent a leisurely ninety minutes on the hike, and were rewarded towards the end with this view of the sun rising over Toll Mountain and Casa Grande behind us (note the shadows) and striking the Window and the Chihuahuan Desert beyond. The short hike left us ready for some food. The breakfast buffet at the Lodge Restaurant hit the spot, after which we packed our gear and checked out of the motel room.
We then drove down to the Basin Campground parking lot, and walked the short distance from the lot to the trailhead for the Window Trail. From there, the trail descends through Oak Creek Canyon, dropping about 450 feet in elevation over a distance of 2.2 miles to our destination - the pour-off at the Window. We started down the trail around 10:00. Here is Mike on the trail, with a century plant above him and Carter Peak in the background.
A colorful grasshopper along the trail. Where the dirt was softer on the trail, we saw tracks for a much larger animal, either a mountain lion or a black bear.
Above us were the moon, Vernon Bailey Peak, and a century plant.
Here we are at the end of the trail, with the narrow pour-off at the Window just a few steps behind us. It had taken us about an hour and a quarter to reach the Window. This is the sole drainage for all of the Chisos Basin. Although dry when we arrived, there are times when a waterfall will descend from here.
The view through the Window.
After spending about thirty minutes enjoying the view, occasional solitude (two fellows from Louisiana were there when we arrived, and a young German couple joined us after those two had left), and a snack, we headed back up the trail. As you can see from the photo above, the trail is very well maintained, particularly towards the end where it runs along (and sometimes in) Oak Creek.
There were occasional small pools of water, and even a few tiny waterfalls, along this bottom part of the trail.
About a quarter mile back up the Window Trail, the Oak Spring Trail branches off and climbs up the north side of the Window along the shoulder of Vernon Bailey Peak. I had started up this trail more than thirteen years earlier when I had last visited Big Bend with the family, but had turned back after just a few minutes because of wifely reminders about time constraints. Now I was determined to proceed at least far enough to catch a view of the desert floor beyond the Window, although I was under strict orders from Mike as to when his truck would be departing the Basin on its way back to San Antonio (hopefully with me in it). Since I didn't have a watch, I had to rely upon my wilderness experience and old Native American tricks to determine the time from the angle of the sun, the shadows on the distant mountain ranges, the grunting of javelinas, the scurrying of lizards, and the lack of moss on the desert plants. As a last resort, I instead went deep into my digital camera's settings to see the time and date, only to discover that it was thirteen months behind. So I hurried a little faster as I climbed up the Oak Spring Trail.
The view west as the trail curved around the shoulder of Vernon Bailey Peak was as nice as I had hoped.
With the Window directly below me to the left, the look south afforded me a view of the Mesa de Aguila and its counterpart on the Mexican side of the river, Sierra Ponce. It is across this uplifted fault block that the Rio Grande has carved the impressive Santa Elena Canyon. I believe that the mesa is the second-to-last, darker ridge line on the horizon, shown in these two photos. I also thought I spotted a gap in the mesa, the entrance to the canyon. That feature is not quite visible in the photos.
This is the view looking back to the east and into the Basin. The line running along the bottom of the photo from the left to the center is Oak Spring Trail. I had ventured off the trail to get as close as possible to a point directly above the Window.
As I climbed back up the Window Trail, I took this last photo of Casa Grande.
A Roadrunner scurried along in front of me as I walked through the campground after leaving the Window Trail.
When I reached the campground parking lot a good half hour before the deadline, I discovered that Mike and Zoltan had already retrieved the boat trailer from where we had left it at the Lodge and were ready to head home. Their patience was most admirable.
Note: For an additional 20 photos of our last day in Big Bend, click on this link to my Flickr page, then select "Slideshow."