May 11, 2015
Four friends, recent graduates and current students from Southwestern University, left Austin on a rainy Monday morning and headed west for Big Bend to join three more of our friends who made the trip the day before. For me this trip wasn’t just a post-graduation trip with friends, it was also a perfect opportunity to do a dry run for my upcoming months spent living in my 2004 Honda Odyssey while I traveled the country. If something wasn’t in my gear that I needed, now was the time for me to find out, before I “hit the road, start looking for the end of that long white line.”
When it wasn’t my turn to drive, I tried to capture what the Hill Country outside of Fredericksburg looks like in early May. But at 65+ mph, all I captured on my phone camera were the blurred colors of the wildflower palette. Purple and yellow wildflowers are everywhere and all the oaks and grasses are very green; such a contrast to the tan, yellow and hardy green scenery later on in the trip. In Big Bend, 360 miles away, the Texas landscape changed from vibrant pastures and meadows in the rolling hills to desert plains and sandy mountains. We roamed out to the edge of cell phone service, and then beyond, out into the modern wilderness of the “out of service area.”
We arrived at K- Bar, where our friends’ tent was already pitched, but there was no sign of them. As we approached the tent, we heard a bang behind us and all three guys lept out of the metal bear box! Even out in the desert plains, black bear encounters are possible. There aren’t any tall trees around to hang food from, so the park service provided a metal storage locker for campers to keep food in. But since this was a primitive site, that was about all that was provided. There was no latrine or outhouse, just the desert expanse and our hand shovel! And of course, our sense of wonder at the expansive, wild landscape.
During our first evening at camp, it rained in this land of very little rain! We were lucky to experience the rare treat of a rainbow over the desert opposite to a magnificent sunset. My camera couldn’t quite handle all this splendor, so my memories are far more vivid than the pictures I’m sharing with you. Sorry, I’m not sorry. No camera can capture the full rejoicing of a recently rained on desert anyway. The rain made the desert resonate with smells. The creosote bush (Larrea tridentata) and cenizos (Leucophyllum frutescens) gave off especially distinctive scents, and dominated the landscape. These shrubs tower over the cacti and crowd out the grasses that covered this dry plain before it was overgrazed by cattle and sheep. We watched the storm move over the Chisos Mountains as the sun set dramatically. You can watch the video here for a 360 degree glimpse of this moment between the sunset and rainbow, a 20 second field trip to the rejuvenating desert.
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See more pictures from our trip to Big Bend here
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Read about tomorrow’s adventure in Santa Elena Canyon
where we touch Mexico and wade in the Rio Grande