A View Through the Window
July 6, 2012
Never have I felt small as I did standing in the Chisos Basin of Big Bend National Park as the day began turning to dark. The park is located in the far Western corner of Texas, down where the Rio Grande makes its big bend through the Great Chihuahuan Desert. Mexico is only a stone’s throw away and, on some days, you can straddle the muddy little stream – one foot on U. S. soil, one foot on a foreign country. We ought to be friends. We aren’t that far apart.
Big Bend is not an easy place to find although it’s larger than the state of Rhode Island. It’s not an easy place to leave.
Big Bend is not on the way to anywhere. Nobody stops simply because they happen to be out on a leisurely afternoon drive and wander by. You have to be looking for the Park and willing to drive a long way out of your way to get there. It’s worth the trouble.
If you fly commercial airlines, you have to land in either Midland or El Paso, rent a car, and head toward parts unknown. Both cities are several hours from The Bend. Drive along U. S. 90, and when you reach Marathon, you still have to turn left and drive a slow eighty miles to reach the Park. Go as far as Alpine, and, when you turn left, it’s another hundred and twenty miles to Big Bend.
That’s why the National Park just may be the most unspoiled, untainted, and pristine travel destination in America. Those who work that hard to get there work just as hard to keep the mountains, desert, and valleys as pretty and clean as the land was when they arrived.
The desert looks pretty much like a desert, but, in the spring and summer, more than two thousand wildflowers blanket the harsh terrain. I’ve even seen honeysuckle, orchids, and ferns growing at the base of a waterfall. The desert has its secrets.
The mountains are foreboding. A lot of them are more than a mile high, which few people expect to find in Texas. I’m told that when the world was covered by water, these were the reefs. That’s why each of the cliffs and mountainsides is carved so differently, why you find seashells scattered across the top of the high country.
It’s a strange land, the Big Bend is.
We checked in late in the day, and already the last rays of sunlight were hitting the wind-carved palisades in the cliffs surrounding the Chisos Basin. In the moonlight, the palisades appear to be ghostly robed figures huddled against the mountains. That’s why the early day Indians called the mountains Chisos. Chisos was their word for ghosts.
When the light was gone, we looked through The Window, a great natural carving between the mountains. It opened up a blue-toned view that carried our gaze out across the blue mist of distant mountain ranges until the night swallowed up the landscape.
The sight was hypnotic. It was the only photograph I’ve ever taken that didn’t need a frame.
The Window, surrounded by the shade of night, became its own frame.