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Trip Report Big Bend NP, the undiscovered secret of Texas

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Okay, we get this little "ski break" early February each year and I'm not much of a skier so I'm always struggling to find a place to go. Most places in February are either too rainy (West coast), too cold (Midwest/Northeast/upper South), or too crowded (New Orleans Mardi Gras, Arizona, South Florida). It seems there is no place that is warm, sunny, and not crowded!

But I only had to look internally, inside the state of Texas. You see, we have this very large National Park in the Southwest portion of the state, which receives very little precipitation year round, and averages 70-80 degree winter weather. It also receives among the least visitors of any of the National Parks. So I can get warm weather but no crowds in February? Well the Fodors Guide to the National Parks of the West said so and guess what? They were right.

We stayed at The Casitas at Far Flung Outdoor Center in Terlingua, TX. Terlingua is a former quicksilver (mercury) mining town turned ghost town turned tourist town. It's a town that has always been based on its land, whether from mineral extraction (then) to geologic appreciation (now). I rented two casitas for us, the ones we got were log cabins. They were just built in Nov 2013, everything is brand new, the walls are all cedar and the floor is pine. These accommodations are the best to be had in the whole area by far.

After a 8 hour drive from Austin, we arrived just in time to catch the later part of the Superbowl. After that, time for some shut eye for the big day which was tomorrow.

Now, here is a little secret. I have one son from a prior marriage and my fiance' has three sons from a prior marriage. I had planned months in advance that the Big Bend trip was going to be the time for me to propose to her. As you can see, I said she is now my fiance' so it must have happened, and it did!

I had researched where to propose to her and I was debating about whether "The Window" or Santa Elena Canyon would be better. Since she prefers looking up to down and prefers shade to sun, I figured Santa Elena Canyone would be a wiser choice and I was right.

The first day, we entered into the Park. The landscape there is very similar to Death Valley from the West entrance to around a mile from the Rio Grande. There is everything from consolidated ash piles to lava rocks to canyons to desert scrub. Some of the vistas are undescribeably beautiful. This is all along Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive by the way. Along the way I spotted the view of the Window from below (the next day would be the Window View from above) and I began to think that perhaps Santa Elena Canyon would not be the most scenic. But I was wrong.

At the Sotol Vista, I could see Santa Elena Canyon from there and I could tell that it would be a great hike. This was at least 5-10 miles away from the Canyon as the crow flies.

As we lowered in elevation towards the Rio Grande, the vegetation changed, first to scrublike plants, then to small Cottonwood trees and finally to large trees at the campground.

The Rio Grande was flowing, but very slowly. According to park rangers the Rio Grande usually doesn't have much flow except during the occasional storm during monsoon season in July and August. That is actually the best time to float the river, but at that time the heat is very intense and makes hiking the low elevations all but impossible.

For us, it was in the 80's along the Rio Grande, hey you can't beat 80 degrees in February! We started the hike at the trail head and it very quickly comes to a dry creek bed that is impassable during rains of monsoon season. At this time of year it is just sandy and you can go right up to the river. I touched the water but I had heard of pollution so I didn't let the kids go into the river or anything.

From there, the trail has a set of switchbacks to climb a cliff along the river. Then it descends back alongside the Rio Grande into the shade. It is 10-15 degrees cooler in the shade. There are bamboo shoot and many other tropical plants as the climate is warm all year and the steady supply of river water ensures the greenery.

I was debating about which area to propose, but I finally found a spot where there is a rock that abuts into a portion of the river and the rear portion of it has a view of the entire canyon. This was going to be the spot!

So, I told one of her sons to pull out the Assis (a kind of pad) and start taping as I had something important to say.

I got on one knee and then proposed. She was surprised and wasn't expecting it but she accepted (we had talked about it plenty of times).

--- to be continued...

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