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  • J.F. Rowan

Big Bend National Park - Part 2 of 3

Our view of Nugent Mountain.

The second day we leave our first campsite in Big Bend, “Nine Point Draw” and head to our second campsite called, “Nugent Mountain One.” On the way, we plan on stopping at the Panther Junction Visitor Center for the third time to inquire about other sites that might be available in order to extend our stay. We originally planned on staying about ten days or so, but we’ve only been able to get a total of 5 days confirmed between two different sites, “Nugent Mountain One” (2 days) and another spot called “Paint Gap” (For three days). “Nine Point Draw” was a lucky pull for our first night in place of staying Rio Grande Village. The process to get backcountry sites, at least to us, seems a bit archaic and frustrating. Even though the “ledger” says there will be a spot available say, in three days, you have no ability to reserve it. It’s outside of the 48hr reserve time, and you must come back and try again within the 48-hour parameter. This sounds confusing because I just told you that we have 5 nights worth of sites, yet I can't book any others. Yea, now you know how we feel. There are so few openings and so many people here that we are starting to get the feeling that our overall stay will be less than 10 days. As it turns out when we arrive at the visitors center, we do see spots opening up but as mentioned earlier, they are all outside of the 48hr time frame and if we want to reserve them, then we must return tomorrow or the next day, to try again.

Backcountry camp permits, Big Bend National Park

Or official backcountry permits.

The first day, we logged over sixty miles (In addition to the 190 miles it took just to get there) just to get one spot for less than twenty-four hours. When you leave the visitors center, you may be going to a spot that might take as long as 4 hours (miles of unimproved roads) to get to depending on location. Then, you might face the possibility of traveling another 4 hours the next day just to return to the center to find another spot.

With hat in hand, we leave for the Nugent Mountain Campsite. Working our way along the access road, it’s obvious the views will be gorgeous. As we round what will be the final bend before our campsite, Yvette let’s out a combination gasp-bark-yell that basically tells me to stop, immediately. Along a hill (small mountain) next to our access road, she spots what we think are a type of mountain sheep or goat, twelve in all. She grabs the video camera for some footage and inches farther along the road to help get a better angle. As it turns out, it’s a mammal called Audad (aw-dad) which was imported (not confirmed) from Iran years ago for the purposes of hunting. We make our way into camp and I grab my camera from the back seat and work my way closer to them trying to stay out of sight. Everything in the desert is designed to bite you. If the scorpions, spiders or snakes don’t get you, the several species of cactus will. I’m able to get a few shots off before the herd moves away, all the while clinging to the side of rocks like its some kind of live photoshop experiment.

Aoudad or Barberry Sheep. Not a native species to North America.

Aoudad or Barberry Sheep. Not a native species to North America.

A great start to our second campsite. Nugent mountain's altitude might not be record breaking but in context with the other mountains around it, the view is just stunning. The fading light of the day changes the look every minute. It’s hard to get the routine chores of camp life done when you stop every 5 minutes to just stare at the landscape. Nightfall and again we are treated to a spectacular sunset and star-filled sky. Dinner is light, and after a few hours of media work, it’s off to bed. I feel like we are on “Amish” time now.

Breakfast. Newberry South Carolina Onion Sausage and eggs with sinach and peppers.

Morning comes and we’re up before the dawn. The desert morning views can be stunning and this morning proves the point. Colors and contrast make for great photos and I take advantage of it in between flipping bacon outside using the Turtleback trailer kitchen. Yvette wrangles the eggs in the coach and brews the tea. This has become my favorite time of the day. A ritual we seemed to have gotten into every day since we started. We come to gather, my bacon (or on special occasions, sausage) in hand, and her with her scrambled egg with spinach and tomato (or whatever) and we plan the day while watching the desert sunrise.

Road from Nugent Mountain Campsite to Pine Canyon Trailhead-About an hours drive.

We decided on a trail called Pine Canyon. The trailhead was five miles away on the same access road as our campsite. The road, as advised by our free map, would only be passable by vehicles with “high clearance” and “4wd”. We unhook the trailer begin up the road in the Tiger. (To see footage of this and the Vlog that goes with it, click HERE.) It’s not a road you can drive 35 mph on. More like 5 mph. It’s narrow and rocky. If you meet someone going the opposite direction, someone is going to have to back up because there is little room to pass. You keep an eye out for a dust trail ahead, a hint someone might be coming. You then pull over and wait. I take the stance that I’d rather wait then be the one that has to negotiate around some else. It takes us an hour to drive about 4 miles to the trailhead. The parking area is small, barely enough room to turn around. I park leaving what I hope is enough room for someone else, but so far we are the only ones at the trailhead. Not much information given here, just a small placard on a rock that tells us we will hike in 2 miles and ascend about 1000 feet. We are starting at about 5500 feet.

Pine Canyon Trailhead. Two more miles on foot.

The trail leads into a basin at the south side of the Chisos Mountains. We walk slowly taking in the view as we go. We love to track and observe any animal sign so it’s slower than most people hike but we're loving every minute. Coyote scat, deer tracks, scrape on the sides of trees, it’s all here. The higher we climb the landscape changes, the vegetation changes, it’s breathtaking if I dare to be cliche.

As we accend into the canyon, the vegitation changes. This is the south side of the Chisos Mountains.

Years ago, when I was in the Air Force, my job took me to Travis AFB in California for a couple of weeks. During a day off, several of us decided to plan a road trip that would include Yosemite National Park. Three of us, perhaps one whom may be reading this now, stopped at an overlook in an area I believe was called either Granite Canyon, or Yosemite Canyon. The view from that point was of an entire canyon that was mainly in granite with juniper and pine poking out f the cracks where ever it could get a hold. I sat at the overlook and with great sincerity tell you that at that moment, I knew this would be the place I would go to die if the decision could be in my hands. It would be the one place I would and could be at peace when the tall guy dressed in black with the sickle finally came to claim my soul. I bring this up now only because when we reached the top of the trail I saw what I knew would be that same spot. I can’t, and frankly won’t try to explain why except to say that I truly felt that it would be the place that I’d want to last see before the final cut, the final fade to black.

The air is clean and sharp. There is only the sound of my own hearbeat and the breeze.

Out of the desert, you rise and find a basin of pines, with a meandering trail cloaked in small pine shrubs and rock. The air is like nothing else on this planet. Clean, sharp and fragrant. We breath deep as if we’re taking this air with us when we leave. It takes us half as long to get back down the mountain, 3 hours in all. back in the truck and another hour drive to camp. We sleep like we have been up a week. I dream that night of so many things, I could fill a book. But our time here is done. The last day we load up and prep to move yet again, to our new camp, “Paint Gap One.”

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