>Little Bend in the Big Bend

December 4, 2009 at 3:59 am (Uncategorized)


The wind was strong and cold yesterday afternoon as I stood at the top of a small peak in Rio Grande Village, but I was too overwhelmed by the spectacular and lonesome scenery to want to leave my magnificent perch.

The river, by size, is hardly “grande.” In many places you can toss a stone from the Texas shore and hit Mexico. But what it lacks in size it makes up for in the sheer power of water and silt abrading rocks over eons, creating canyons, unveiling volcanic forms extruded from the bowels of the planet and sedimentary fossils deposited in an ancient sea. The result is the “grande” scenery we call Big Bend.

Although the boardwalk at the nature trail in Rio Grande Village was washed away by the flood of 2008, part of the nature trail is still accessible via the service road. It goes past a fenced-in gambusia (mosquito fish) pond of a rare species found only here. As the waters rose last year, park workers managed to save many of these fish, which were bred from the last three representatives of their species. This photo is of another, smaller, pond nearby.

The trail rises to a viewpoint of the autumn-tinged cottonwoods at the campground, with the setting sun behind what is clearly Mexico. But the Sierra del Carmen range to the east, and the hills to the south are also Mexico. How can this be?

Cottonwoods at Rio Grande Village Campground

The answer is evident from the top of the peak, where the little bend of the river is clearly visible. I am on a small peninsula of American soil. The birds don’t care whose soil it is. The Say’s Phoebe flies across on a whim. The Mexicans don’t care. They cross to set up their little souvenir “shops” at strategic points on all of the river trails. But it is a forbidden crossing to law-abiding Americans, since the border here was closed in 2002. One must cross at Presidio or Del Rio to legally visit the small village of Boquillas now.

The sun, veiled by clouds, reaches out yellow fingers to swath first this Mexican peak, then that, with the last golden light. The Sierra del Carmen, with sheer, pale cliff faces, turns red, then cotton candy pink as the sun leaves its last mark of the day. The little houses of Boquillas have already entered the night. The chartreuse, yellow, blue and white structures dim. Nobody has come to check their “donation” jars. It looks like a five dollar bill in one, which threatens to blow away in the gale. Perhaps they have seen my uniform.

Sierra del Carmen range

Earlier I hiked the Boquillas Canyon trail nearby. Both hikes were part of my Special Project Day which some of us get twice a month. It’s a chance to do something different from our usual job. I’m in uniform, of course, and it’s a public relations thing. Many people are bursting with questions. “What is this interesting pattern in this rock?” I don’t know, I say. Ask me about birds and I might have an answer. But with the wind there are few birds visible. “What’s with these little souvenir stands? What are these holes in the rock? (Mortar holes the early inhabitants ground their grains and seeds in.) What tribe of Indians was that? ” I don’t know that either, so I mention the Comanches that used to travel through the area in their autumn raids in Mexico. I must look up the answers so I can answer authoritatively next time.

One couple with long ties to the area saw two Mexican nationals crossing the river, and wondered if one was Victor. I hear a lot about this Victor. I saw his sign once, and a donation jar, for his songs. I have never seen Victor, and hope to hear him sing one day.

Boquillas, Mexico from another vantage point

The little village nestled at the base of the Sierra del Carmen – photo taken last month

But the two men who were now on “our” side of the river didn’t get far. They saw my uniform and “vamanosed.” They stopped to talk to a group of visitors while I studied the river stones and sand patterns. Then the visitors passed me and asked if I wanted them to hang around awhile, in case the men caused problems. Thanks, but I’m sure they will be across the river before I get there. And they were.

Victor’s donation jar in October

Safely on “their” side they waved to me, and I waved back. “What you doing?” one shouted. “Hiking,” I shouted back. “You park ranger?” “Yes.” Then I didn’t see them again.

I talked to 12 people on the Boquillas Canyon trail. There was not another soul on the trail to that lonely peak on the little bend of the river.

Sierra del Carmen last light

The next morning, there was snow.

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