Big Bend is Remote

 

Who knew Texas had so much to offer? As a native (east) Texan, I never traveled farther west than Lubbock and farther south than Padre Island. I'm not sure why, perhaps I just didn't know anyone who lived in far west Texas. But when my wife and I planned our move (and my return) to Texas, one of the things that excited us the most was our (relatively) close proximity to Big Bend National Park. Our trip took us first to San Antonio where we biked to all of the historic Spanish Missions. Side note, if you care about your body I recommend you avoid the city bikes for such a long ride. On a hot day, they will make a 20 mile bike ride feel like 200! After a couple of days we headed west on HW90 toward the desert.

One thing you need to understand about Big Bend and the surrounding area is that it is remote. Big Bend, Marfa, Marathon, and Alpine are all smack in the middle of the Chihuahuan Desert. All of the plants and animals are perfectly adapted to the harsh environment, but you are not. The better you prepare the happier you will be when you get there. Sun protection and plenty of water should be close-by at all times or else the park can be deadly. Wildlife is everywhere in the park and most are skittish but its best to be aware and never approach wild animals. A long lens is key here, you do not want to be the person walking up to a black bear to get a selfie, it won't end well, pack a telephoto lens and keep your distance. All that being said, prepare to see natural beauty on an unimaginable scale.

 

 On the southern end of the park facing the Santa Elena mountains of Mexico. Mamiya RZ67, Kodak Ektar 100 film.

On the southern end of the park facing the Santa Elena mountains of Mexico. Mamiya RZ67, Kodak Ektar 100 film.

 The Chisos Basin en-route to the Window. Mamiya RZ67, Kodak Tri-x film.

The Chisos Basin en-route to the Window. Mamiya RZ67, Kodak Tri-x film.

 The view though the window. A shortish hike from the Chisos Basin visitor's center. Mamiya RZ67, Kodak Tri-x film.

The view though the window. A shortish hike from the Chisos Basin visitor's center. Mamiya RZ67, Kodak Tri-x film.

 Rangers are a big part of what makes the National Parks great. Ranger Brian took us on an unforgettable sunrise hike to Balanced Rock. Mamiya RZ67, Kodak Tri-x film.

Rangers are a big part of what makes the National Parks great. Ranger Brian took us on an unforgettable sunrise hike to Balanced Rock. Mamiya RZ67, Kodak Tri-x film.

 Clouds Passing over the Chisos Mountains Mamiya RZ67. Kodak Tri-x film.

Clouds Passing over the Chisos Mountains Mamiya RZ67. Kodak Tri-x film.

 Dark skies over Big Bend, in the absence of light pollution exposures like this one are a cinch. Nikon digital.

Dark skies over Big Bend, in the absence of light pollution exposures like this one are a cinch. Nikon digital.

Focus: Southwestern US.

My wife and I love our trips to the American Southwest and prior to going we have a tendency to immerse ourselves in literature about the area. Before our last trip, we read (together aloud) Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire, and I got into Edward S. Curtis' pictures of the North American Indian and fantasized about finding one of Curtis' prints in a thrift store. Here are some images from these trips and I encourage anyone who enjoys dark skies at night, incredible geology and fascinating history to go.

 Kasha-Katuwe Tent rocks outside Santa Fe, NM on Cochiti Pueblo/BLM lands.

Kasha-Katuwe Tent rocks outside Santa Fe, NM on Cochiti Pueblo/BLM lands.

 Evening in Arches National Park. Silhouette of Balanced Rock.

Evening in Arches National Park. Silhouette of Balanced Rock.

 Juniper Tree in Arches National Park.

Juniper Tree in Arches National Park.

 Evening at Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park.

Evening at Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park.

 Moon over Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park. Though a similar version appears on this website,  this 35mm frame highlights the cliff itself. 

Moon over Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde National Park. Though a similar version appears on this website,  this 35mm frame highlights the cliff itself. 

 Channeling Ansel Adams at San Francisco de Assisi Mission Church   in Taos. The pigeons being cooperative in this particular moment.

Channeling Ansel Adams at San Francisco de Assisi Mission Church in Taos. The pigeons being cooperative in this particular moment.

 San Francisco de Assisi Mission Church. Taos, NM

San Francisco de Assisi Mission Church. Taos, NM

No mammoths in Mammoth Cave.

In reading the etymology of "mammoth" I quickly learned that the word meaning "huge," is derived from the description of huge tusks found in Siberia. You can delve deeper into the word origins but the important thing to remember is that there were no mammoths in Mammoth Cave. On offer instead is the longest cave system on the planet. With mind boggling inner spaces and passageways wider than most streets on the east coast, Mammoth Cave is. Also, plenty of lovely hiking paths as well as canoeing along the aptly named Green River. Kentucky is beautiful and the roads are a pleasure to drive on, just watch out for random firework displays and police roadblocks.