21 December 2012

Big Bend

As I write this, I am avoiding packing. This winter has become extremely busy very quickly. I just returned from a week long trip to western Texas and New Mexico last night, and leave tomorrow morning for Colorado and points beyond. This is my one day of respite and recovery, and I have thoroughly enjoyed it, but do feel the urge to wander coursing through my veins. I am ready to get back in the field, and this week out west definitely whet my appetite for adventure.

I will surmise the first portion of our trip in this post, the voyage to Big Bend National Park in far western Texas.

I went with eight companions: six students from the LSU Veterinary School led by my esteemed colleague Micheal J. Hilferty (please check out his amazing site here!), a doctor, and a fellow undergrad who is a geologist. Together, we met in the pouring rain on December tenth and headed west to the promised land.

The first day consisted of 9 guys with gear crammed into one van. I'll let you fill in the details from this day for yourself.

The second day, however, was a canoe trip down the Rio Grande River along the Texas-Coahuila border through an area known as Hot Springs Canyon. We met our guides just as the sun was rising over the Chisos Mountains and headed out to the river. On our way, we flushed Scaled Quail, Lark Buntings, Black-throated Sparrows and even got the chance to get personal with a Pyrrhuloxia at a roadside stop.

Afterwards, we headed down to the river and cast off, ready to explore the canyons. One of the best birds of the day was the second bird I put my binoculars on - sheltered on the Mexican side of the river was a young Snow Goose.

The Snow Goose as seen from our canoes, hiding along the edge of the reeds.

As we continued on, we came to what the canyon is truly famous for - the hot springs. These springs occur in several areas along this part of the canyon, and are related to the same forces that once formed the imposing Chisos Mountains for which Big Bend is so well known. In the section of river we were in, we got the chance to swim in some riverside pools and watch as the water spilled out of the ground.

One of the many hot springs emerging from the mud, crystal clear with colonies of algae.

As we drifted eastward, the rock outcroppings became more imposing. Marsh Wrens, Canyon Wrens, and Rock Wrens inhabited their own riverside niche habitats, as Black, Say's and Eastern Phoebes flycatched from their own preferred perches. A Peregrine Falcon flew down the main canyon before us, and turtles watched us from the bank.

Eventually, we found ourselves near Rio Grande Village where we hiked up to the rim of Hot Springs Canyon. The walk around was pretty nice, as I heard a Verdin call, Yellow-rumped Warblers foraged in the cottonwoods as Golden-fronted Woodpeckers flew about, and I even found a surprise Black-throated Gray Warbler! At the end of the hike, the view was definitely worth it.

Hot Springs Canyon, Big Bend National Park, Texas

From here, we floated the rest of the way to Rio Grande Village and unloaded our canoes, preparing for our backpacking trip into the Chisos Basin that night.

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