Big Bend National Park, TX
The Window Trail, Basin Loop, Santa Elena Canyon Trail
Leslie, Scott and I headed into Big Bend during an unseasonably warm week in October (lucky us) and found it was well above 90 degrees near the Rio Grande. The park itself is so large that travel within its bounds is a long undertaking, and when we finally reached our campsite the first night, we were promptly greeted by a scorpion and some large bugs falling from the bushes above us. So we quickly found another site. The next morning we packed up and headed for the Chisos Basin to set up camp in the cooler mountains. Luckily our new site also came with a great view of Casa Grande.
The number of butterflies in the park was astounding. Every drive felt a little like a game with no winner, because there was no way to avoid collecting dozens of them on the windshield and grill. We came across entire orange and yellow clouds of them on the Window Trail, which turned out to be a beautiful walk along and through a stream, ending at the point where the stream poured off through the Window formation. The next day we ventured into Santa Elena Canyon, which proved easier in theory than execution. The trail begins with a required river crossing, and at the time of our visit there was truly no good option for accomplishing that feat. Ultimately our choices narrowed to wading through hip deep, opaque water and mud (in which we saw a snake appear and disappear,) cross through similar mud and bushwhack through the underbrush to the trail, or cross at a dry point, scramble up a sheer and crumbling hillside and then bushwhack even further. We tried a combination of the latter two choices, and ended up covered in a variety of caked mud and scratches, but were relatively unscathed. The canyon itself was refreshingly cool and pleasant, but the crossing felt a little overkill.
Finally, our view of the night sky on our last night in the park was the clearest I've ever experienced. The Milky Way was visible to the naked eye, and in the span between sunset and moonrise, the sky was awash with stars.