Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sunday: Driving Ozona, Tx to Big Bend NP

Sunday we traveled on I-10 again still headed west. Not far out of Ozona is a scenic loop that parallels I-10 but follows the old military road and passes the Fort Lancaster remains. The scenery was lovely off the interstate but we managed to stir a covey of four wild turkeys, which flew immediately in front of the Element. Turkey 4 came very close to impacting the windshield – and we didn’t have a turkey tag for the season. Back along the interstate there were huge windmill farms for electricity production. We continued to Fort Stockton for gas and groceries and turned south towards Big Bend NP. At Marthon we ate lunch at Johnny B’s diner and reached the park at 1:30 PM Sunday. Just outside the park we found a geocache in a yucca bush. There are only virtual caches in the park so we chose to locate a physical cache outside the park.

Our park tour on Sunday consisted of the Persimmon Gap drive (28 miles) which leads to the Panther Junction Ranger Station (purchased park vehicle pass for the week there). The drive in was along the Tornillo Flat, one of the most barren places in the park. Overgrazing by cattle and sheep from ranchers in previous decades has allowed the fertile soil to wash away leaving barren land with little hope for re-establishing the native grasses.

We walked the botanical exhibit (okay in SW TX that is interpreted as cactus, yucca, and agave varieties) at the Ranger Station. Prior to this educational exhibit I had not realized how many varieties of prickly pear cactus existed. The education proved useful on subsequent hikes since we at least knew to look for the different varieties of certain plant groups.

We continued our drive up Green Gulch (trees are thick as the road leaves the desert floor – pines, oaks, junipers) to Panther Pass then into the Chisos Mountain Basin. The Basin is at 5,400 ft elevation and surrounded by the mountains in the Chisos range (~7500 ft). Casa Grande, Emory Peak, Toll Mtn, and Pulliam Ridge ring the Basin. Within the Basin is the Chisos Mountain Lodge (our lodging spot), the restaurant, a ranger station, and a convenience store. On the far side of the Basin is the Window View (a V-shaped opening between the peaks where rainwater draining out of the Basin has cut a deep notch). The Window View trail is a short paved trail that allows viewing of the sunset through the Window. We chatted with some nice folks from San Francisco as we watched the sunset.