April in Big Bend means summer, plain and simple. It’s hot, with temps down near the border already reaching 100 degrees; it means blooming season for many cactus, so it’s time to get out and explore. The South Rim of the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend National Park is always a good place to start, and other areas just outside the park yield some exciting plant and animal viewing opportunities.
A hike up 2000 feet from the Basin to the South Rim takes me past some colorful spring blooms:
And so an evening on the South Rim, some 4000 feet above the desert floor, means great views. Here the full moon rises over the Sierra del Carmen Mountains across the river in Mexico:Another couple is camping in the high Chisos, quietly soaking in the setting sun:The sun makes a magnificent exit, framed by a wind-blown juniper at 7300 feet:A rising full moon in the quiet of the evening breeze:Next morning a panorama of desert badlands stretches to Mexico 25 miles away:On the way down, I catch a couple of familiar residents, the Arizona Sister butterfly, and a desert lizard:Back off the mountain, Jodie & I are on the hunt for the spring bloom of cactus, beginning in April and continuing into June. Outside the park, we’re astounded to find a Scimitar Oryx (Oryx dammah), an African antelope now listed as “extinct in the wild” roaming near Santiago Peak:The cactus bloom is not nearly as spectacular as in 2014, but we find a few species showing off their colors, such as Engelmann’s Prickly Pear, Claret Cup (Scarlet Hedgehog), and Rainbow Cactus:
We make a stop near the Rio Grande, in Big Bend National Park, and find a Red Racer making for the shade. He’s about 7 feet long, and has beautiful color:Nearby, a Vermillion Flycatcher treats us to his color and song:It’s hard to ignore a flock of Yellow-headed blackbirds when they gather en masse:And so, our swing through the April desert of Big Bend comes to a close with the sun setting behind the Glass Mountains in the Marathon Basin:
Photography and Travel, specifically adventure travel and backpacking in remote North America, give me an excuse to stay outside. If kayaks, bikes, backpacks, Jeeps, archeology, geology and wildlife can be included, all the better. Having spent my life working in the fashion and photography industries, I love the unusual, the spectacular, and the beautiful. God has given us a wonderful world in which to live, and I try to open others’ eyes to its wonders. I have shared nearly 50 years of this indescribable wonder with my wife, Jodie, and we go everywhere together. I hope you will share some of our journey with us.
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4 thoughts on “April in Big Bend”
Great trip! Great pics!
In the past month, I’ve had the chance to spend two days following the Willow City Loop north of Fredericksburg, up near Enchanted Rock. That time taught me a simple but not always obvious lesson: knowing Texas is big and varied isn’t the same as experiencing Texas as big and varied. I came home with a list of twenty new species I’d found (that I could identify) and more that I couldn’t. It was like being in another world — it was being in another world!
The point of saying all that is that I’ve come to realize how many parts of the state — including your area — aren’t just pretty and different and neat. They’re so different that a little learning ahead of time can go a long way toward making a visit enjoyable and worthwhile.
Your photos really make the point. The only thing I know I’ve seen is the prickly pear. I did cross Nevada once when there were cacti in bloom, but I haven’t a clue what they were. That was decades ago, and I didn’ care a bit about the natural world.
Did you find out where the Oryx came from? That’s really quite strange. Around here, we’d just assume it had escaped from someone’s exotic game ranch, but I’m not certain there are a lot of exotic game ranches out that way. Or perhaps there are — it’s a different world, after all!
I love the Willow City Loop, and I need to go back…it’s been years and I’m a better “observer” now. I did it once on a bicycle, and that pace is really the way to see things. I like to quote a paragraph from Edward Abbey in his “Desert Solitaire”:
“In the first place you can’t see anything from a car; you’ve got to get out of the goddamned contraption and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the thornbush and cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail you’ll see something, maybe. ”
Thanks for your comments about my photographs. Coming from such an accomplished photographer as yourself, I consider that a nice compliment.
I do not know how the oryx herd (yes, there are more than one) got to the Big Bend, but since they are native to north Africa, they were obviously brought here and released on a game ranch. West Texas has a large number of game ranches, some for hunting and a rare few for conservation. I intend to ask a Texas Game Warden who lives a couple of blocks from me if she knows how they got here. She might know.
Ranches out here are very large, and it requires a special game fence around all or part of a ranch to keep them from running away, so not everyone is financially able to equip their property for exotics. One such person that you might have heard of is Brad Kelley, who owns the Iron Mountain Ranch just north of Marathon (among others). He is the fourth largest landowner in the U.S. and has been buying up Texas ranches and putting exotics on a few of them. His motive is purely conservation, but the Oryx have been here much longer than Brad Kelley, so I know they did not come from him.
Other ranchers have found that they can make a lot more money from hunting than cattle, so they stock their ranches with both native Texas animals and exotics to provide the well-healed hunter a place to blast away at trophy animals, since 95.8% of Texas is privately owned. Based on the history of the Oryx being hunted to extinction in the wild for their trophy horns, I suspect they were originally brought here for hunting and simply ran away to breed as a wild herd.
Thanks so much for your comments. I love your blogs.
Linda, as a follow-up, it seems that the Oryx was introduced to Texas in 1979 as an exotic game animal on ranches, its numbers growing from 32 animals in 1979 to over 11,000 by 2013. Ranchers were charging about $5000 per gun to hunt the antelopes, until they were placed on the Endangered Species list in 2013, ending the Oryx hunting in Texas. Herds were thinned, but they were left to roam, very well adapted to the dry, arid regions of west Texas. There are now more Oryx in Texas than any other place in the world. Who would have guessed?