>The View from Here

December 7, 2009 at 7:01 am (Uncategorized)


You can see a long way in the desert.

Panther Junction, the park HQ and where I live, is 800 feet in elevation higher than Persimmon Gap, where I work, and the Chisos Mountains Basin is 1700 feet higher than PJ. So at night when I drive home I can see car headlights that are probably15 to 20 miles away as the crow flies. It’s disorienting to see those bright lights halfway down the Chisos Mountains, exiting the Basin like jet planes lining up to land. Even the faint lights at Panther Junction seem incongruous from so far away on a road where I might meet three vehicles in 40 minutes.

Looking toward Panther Junction late afternoon.

Mornings and evenings are when the best light happens, the “golden hour” in photographer language, being that time of day around sunrise and sunset. The light is golden, low enough for shadowy texture, and as the sun sets, the landscape glows red, then pink. Pure magic.

The “golden hour”

Despite being hundreds of miles from cities and industry, Big Bend’s visibility has been marred by haze over the years, but that sometimes adds its own charm. Layers of hills and mountains grow succeedingly faint, filtered by a veil that renders a picturesque tableaux of line and form.
Driving down to Rio Grande Village just after sunrise is jaw-dropping; a waterfall of light falls from the Sierra del Carmen into the lower foothills, almost too bright to apprehend.

Layers of mountains at first light, going east to Rio Grande Village

One morning another park employee and I leapfrogged every few miles to photograph an extraordinary sunrise that shot cherry red flames over the landscape. Punching the clock be damned. There’s a “happening” here, and it won’t be seen on rerun.

“It pisses God off if you pass by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice.” -Shug in Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple.”

First light at Panther Junction

Ocotillo in HQ parking lot

A few minutes later

I call dispatch at 6 pm to say “Persimmon Gap Entrance Station is now out of service.” If I have finished early with my closing routine, I watch the sun dip behind the distant mountains from the picture window at the visitor center. Each day since I started working here, the sun sets about a minute later each day. By 6 it’s already gone. I say goodbye to Locoweed the crazy thrasher tapping at the window (more on him later) and set the alarm.

Looking back at Chisos Mountains that morning

Sometimes I see a great sunset on the drive home. I usually encounter an animal that causes me to hit the brakes – javelina, cottontails, jackrabbits, a great horned owl, deer. The speed limit in the park is 45 mph and it pisses me off when some tourist zooms by me at 65 mph. Wildlife be damned.

A November sunset with ocotillo

One night as I drove home I tuned into one of the three radio stations that barely come in at night, 1080 AM in Dallas. “There’s a backup at such-and-such and the commute will take 30 minutes from Point A to Point B” intoned the traffic reporter. I watched the red clouds tint the mountains and saw nothing but creosote bush and mountains for miles, and smiled.

More sunrises

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