It’s February, the weather is in the 80’s (above normal, even for the Big Bend), so let’s go take a hike!
My high school buddy, Walt, is in town and we’re heading out for a day hike through a small region in Big Bend Ranch State Park, a remote state park in the Texas Parks system. Accompanying us are friends and family that have hiked with us before.
Let me go on record here that our destination is actually a private landholding within the boundaries of the state park. The trail we’re following is not a designated trail, but a game trail through the state park, to an old historic homestead that is still in private ownership, and we have permission from the landowner to visit the old homestead. Even though the land is within state park boundaries, to be here without permission is trespass.
Following an old ranch road, we divert onto game/horse trails until we intersect a well-defined drainage with flowing water, something rare in the Chihuahua Desert, but more common in Big Bend Ranch State Park due to many springs which flow intermittently in the desert. Along the way to the creek we pass a section of volcanic ash, or tuff, strewn with igneous rocks, which offer a bizarre contrast:As we round the hill we drop into the creek, flowing with crystal clear water:The early bloom has begun:Stands of the Big Bend Bluebonnet, or lupinus havardii, are reaching heights of 3 feet or more in some places:At one point the creek goes beneath the surface, then reappears near the rock intrusion of a “dike” which appears like a vertical wall amid the layers of limestone deposited by an ancient sea which covered Texas at one time:A short way up the drainage we encounter the face of the dike, and a wonderful waterfall cascades some 20 feet down the stone slabs:Time for a short pause for a Kodak moment with my high school friend:Atop a stone pillar near the waterfall are found mortar holes, made by early peoples who were dependent on the water for survival. These holes, made by years of grinding food materials for cooking, are some 12 inches deep: The view of the dike from atop the waterfall is spectacular. These dikes are formed by volcanic lava flows which cool and are left standing as the surrounding tuff and limestone is worn away by eons of erosion: The area is alive with bluebonnets. These are native to Big Bend, not planted along the roadways by Lady Bird Johnson as you find in the hill country. These are miles back into the desert landscape, here growing in the creek bed:Moss grows in places along the watercourse, forming artistic patterns in the water: Not far ahead the creek flows over another dike, another 20+ foot drop with a small waterfall at the top: More bluebonnets along the meandering creek, as we near a large spring, the source of the water: At the spring we find a surprise in the desert…non-native palms, perhaps growing from dates dropped by early settlers: Above the spring is found a circular foundation, perhaps the remains of a native American shelter, or perhaps ceremonial, where there are many flint shards littering the ground, the remains of much flint napping, the making of arrow and spear points: A short distance below the spring lies the remains of the Rios Homestead, probably dating the the early part of the 20th century, where a family clawed out an existence from ranching sheep or goats. Signs of life on a hostile frontier are everywhere: Near the living structures is found a magnificent stone corral. Imagine the time and labor necessary to carry, stack and construct walls, over 3 feet thick in places, with no mortar to hold them in place: A peek inside the main house, a much later type of construction from the first dwellings. Two prism skylights provide light in the rooms during the day. (Keep in mind that this is private property, and we are inside with the permission of the owner): Quite a place to sit and watch the sun set across the mountains: Flowers abound in the early springlike sunshine near the homestead: And so, as we make our way back along the trail to our vehicle, it’s easy to let your mind wander back to the two different times represented by artifacts found on our hike…the early native hunters and growers, and the later homesteaders who lived out daily lives here in the desert. More questions than answers, but certainly an appreciation for the hardy and fearless nature required to persevere here: A final reminder that many such remnants of early habitation remain in our state and national parks. In this case, on unmarked private property. Leave it exactly as you find it.
The experience of discovering artifacts is exciting and special. Do not deprive others of the same experience by removing them. Take only pictures, leave only footprints.