After so many short “pansy” hikes, Suzanne was desperate to get in at least one hike at Big Bend National Park that would be up to her preferred level of difficulty. Being the “photographer who hikes (if I must) to to a good photo op,” I was feeling quite happy with all the cool rock pictures I’d gotten on my big 2 1/4-mile Grapevine Hills hike the day before, but I had to admit that my hiking legs had still yet to really get tested much this week either, so we agreed to try the moderate 4 1/2-mile Window Trail for our final day at Big Bend.
Even though skies were overcast, it was predicted to get pretty hot down at the Rio Grande Village campground, so we decided to drive my View to the trailhead so Millie could enjoy the cooler mountain temperatures in the parking lot while we hiked.
On our way out of the campground, I finally got a picture of a roadrunner! We had been seeing them dart across the roads during many of our drives, but they were always too fast to photograph!
We got to the trailhead shortly after noontime, and left Millie doing her usual “ear-splitting wail” from the driver’s seat as Suzanne and I walked away (fortunately, she stops this foolishness and goes to take a nap once I’m finally out of her shouting range)!
The Window Trail is officially listed as a 5 1/2 mile hike, but most people start it at the Chisos Basin campground which shaves a mile off the hike (and more importantly, almost half of the elevation gain we’d have to climb on the return trip).
With our lunches and water bottles packed, hiking boots and poles ready, we started down the trail. The cloudy skies were not going to get me many great photos today, so about the only thing I could do to amuse myself was whine and complain about the ho-hum lighting, and the continuing downward trail (that, frankly, was making me nervous that I’d not be able to hike back up it)!
Through it all, Suzanne seemed to have the patience of a saint (or else some really deep bite marks on her lip). I’m sure she was now greatly looking forward to her solo hikes the next week when she could get rid of her whiney hiking partner and finally enjoy some peace and solitude!
After seeing all the common prickly pear cactus and large blue agave along the first part of the trail, we started approaching the canyon walls and some larger trees. Things were now starting to look a bit more interesting! We took each others photos as we walked.
The bottom of this valley is the lowest point in the whole Chisos Mountain Basin at 4500 feet. Although rain is still rare here, if it ever does rain, it rolls down the mountains (that completely ring this ancient caldera) and makes its way to the “pour-off” at the end of the trail.
As a result, there is greener plant life here along the canyon floor than many other Chisos trails, including these gorgeous lavender Texas Mountain Laurel trees that were attracting quite a few bees and butterflies!
As we got closer to the end of the trail, some of the trees and shrubs still had their yellow Fall colors, while others were starting to don fresh new Spring green leaves.
“The Window” pour-off is a v-shaped slot between two large mountain walls that sits many hundred feet above the desert floor that surrounds this Chisos Mountain range. As we approached the Window, the winds began to increase significantly. Water pour-offs apparently also make very strong wind tunnels for all the Western desert winds whipping up to meet the Chisos!
As we reached the very edge of the Window, the rock floor was polished so smooth that it looked as if it was still wet. Nope, not wet, just slick as hell! We knew we were on the edge of a cliff, but could not see the bottom directly below us (nor did we wish to slide any closer to that edge to look!). But this link shows what The Window looks like from the other side…pretty incredible!
I got as close to the edge as I dared for these photos with “the big camera”--
But then it was time to high-tail it away from that ledge! With the super-strong winds, I was sure glad I brought my wide-brimmed hat with the chin strap for this hike!
After literally being “blown away” by The Window, Suzanne and I headed back up the trail to a nice bench to eat our lunches and rest up for the couple hours of uphill climbing ahead. Surprisingly, the return trip wasn’t all that bad! I guess a week of all those little pansy hikes had sufficiently limbered up my leg muscles (or maybe my old joints just prefer climbing up rather than down), but I felt like David slaying Goliath and that I could conquer just about anything by the end of this hike!
We returned to the View right on-time to feed Millie her dinner, and tried to determine what next to do with our last evening. The skies were still cloudy but they were thinning a bit towards the West. Would this finally be the night we’d see a decent sunset from the Chisos overlook?
This was now our third evening at the Basin. Every night previously, about the only good photos either one of us had gotten was of each other trying to take photos!
Sunset was still a few more hours away, so Suzanne suggested heading over to the Chisos Basin Lodge to take a look around. The Lodge’s large restaurant smelled pretty appetizing, and after our hike, we were famished! We were seated with a terrific view of The Window where we’d just hiked from, and our dinners turned out to be quite tasty!
By the time we returned to Millie in the View, the sky was still pretty gray, but there did seem to be a small clearing beneath the cloud layer. Perhaps the sun would pop out for the last few minutes of the day? I decided to grab my tripod and head over to the vista. Suzanne said she’d come join me in awhile if it looked any more interesting.
Within about 5 minutes of my walk, colors began to explode across the sky in all directions! I had to run the last few yards downhill (with my camera on its tripod) to get to the right vantage point before the light was lost!
As I began shooting, I saw Suzanne racing down the trail with her camera! Glad we could both see these last few thrilling minutes of light to end our terrific week!
I think I finally now understand why Suzanne (and so many others) become addicted to hiking—the long, slow dance with nature followed by a feeling of complete exhausted elation at the end of a difficult trek. It’s very, VERY good to be reminded (and reminded often) that your body really can far exceed what your mind ever thinks is physically possible!
Thank you, my friend, for sharing this life-enriching, inspirational secret sauce with me! I hope we can do even bigger and better hikes together the next time we meet!