Northeast Rim in January

January 24, 2011 at 8:36 am (Big Bend National Park, Big Bend National Park TX, Birds - Big Bend TX, National Parks, Nature, Photography, TX, Wildlife)


Sunrise from Southeast Rim of the High Chisos

The weather forecast was delightful, and the moon would be full.  In two weeks the trail would be closed because of the peregrine falcon nesting season, so I decided on the spur of the moment to stay overnight at Northeast Rim in the High Chisos. 

I ditched my faithful 25-year-old Jansport backpack when I had my yard sale back in Maine, since it was no longer comfortable on my more ample body, and adapted my lovely REI daypack to carry my new Big Agnes 15 degree sleeping bag, the air mattress, and my fat warm jacket.  I borrowed a tent from the Rio Cache at the park, spent an hour struggling with it in my living room so I knew how to set it up, then decided I’d leave it behind because I simply could not jury-rig it onto my daypack with the other stuff.  The chance of precip was nil, so I figured it wasn’t a huge risk.
My daypack adapted for an overnight trip

Teal Jansport on Free Pile (sob!)

I learned my lesson from last year’s day hike to the South Rim, when I returned dehydrated.  I brought lots of water (man was it heavy) and made myself drink every half hour or so.  I’ve always been a slow hiker, even when I was young, thin, and hiked or backpacked every weekend.  But now that I’m, er, a woman of a certain age, it was just a little harder to go from 5400 feet to 7400 feet elevation with enough stuff hanging off my pack to make me look like a bag lady.
I went up the steeper Pinnacles Trail, since I am convinced that the Laguna Meadows Trail is about twice as long as the official markers say, plus I really wanted to see a Mountain Lion.  Many people have had one appear right in front of them, then perch itself serenely on a rock for a photo op on this trail.  I kept looking.  Once again, no luck.
Mexican Jay
I did hear the spotted towhees singing, which was a version of the Eastern Towhee’s “drink your teeeeeaaaaa…” that I hear in Maine.  Even saw my first juncos of the season, about eight of the gray-headed type.  And I discovered that the noisy Mexican Jays can warble.  Several were close to me and their warbles were soft, quiet, and lovely.
I met one of our volunteers about halfway up Pinnacles.  What took me an hour and a half took him about 40 minutes, since he was traveling light and kind of jogging up.  What an animal.  I finished my snack and my sips and trudged gamely upwards.
Arizona Cypress
I converted about a half pound of apple, cheese and water to body mass during lunch at Toll Mt. – the site of The Worst Night of My Life (see Feb 2010 blog) – and continued along the Boot Canyon Trail.
Boot Rock
Boot Rock was backdropped by the desert hills and the Sierra del Carmens, and I soon entered a lush canyon of relict trees from the era when the entire area was more temperate and wet.  Huge Arizona cypress, with their cedar-like bark and tight gray-green cones loomed high, along with large oaks of various species, some evergreen, many sporting brown or orange deciduous leaves long dead, but still reluctant to let go.   This is the place to be in summer when the heat bakes the desert below and makes climbing an exercise in masochism.  But this was winter, and my goal was a few miles away.
Last April, there were many slimy pools of water in the drainage of Boot Spring, but today – thanks to our drought – there was only one.  And perched on a branch over this slime pool was a little bird I first thought was a ruby-crowned kinglet.  But a closer look revealed it was a flycatcher, and it would fly down from its perch to snap up one of the numerous bugs over the pool, and return to await another delectable morsel.  It exhibited a frizzy crown, and pumped its tail slowly up, then down.  When I examined the photographs on my Nikon’s screen, I realized it had a strange looking beak.  Hmmm…
Mystery Flycatcher
There was also a canyon wren at the pool, and after a few minutes chasing bugs and butterflies he hopped back up the rock and gave me two bars of his exquisite song as he left.  The first time I ever heard a canyon wren was in the Havasu Canyon of Arizona, and I thought it sounded like a child’s flute with a stem that you pushed in so the notes kept descending.  Paul Winter incorporates this distinctive song into his “River Run” composition on the “Canyon” album.  It is perhaps the most representative sound of canyon country.
Canyon Wren
I ws at camp in NE4 by 4:45 p.m., nearly 8 hours after I left.  (I allow a mile per hour of backcountry hiking – always have.  Gives time for birding, looking at rocks and plants, taking pictures, and catching my breath.) The moon was already up but couldn’t be seen because of the haze at the horizon, but in no time it was glowing nearly full over the rosy landscape below.  My my my.  I couldn’t have improved on it one bit.
I walked along the SE rim where the views were even better, and watched as the last of the sun touched the soft hills below.  The sun set behind a peak which cast its shadow far into the distance, and even onto the haze above the horizon, as if it were some solid object floating in the sky.


Shadow of a peak rising above the eastern horizon at sunset
My campsite in NE4 was sheltered, which was ideal for someone who had brought no tent.  I dug out my stuff from the bear boxes and fired up the Pocket Rocket stove.  I put a cup of Minute Rice in the boiling water, and let the packet of Indian sauce with peas and mild chunks of cheese warm in the steaming rice.  Then I poured and mixed for a tasty meal.  It was too much for one person, so I put the rest away for breakfast.  After reading “Apollo 13” for awhile, I crawled into Big Agnes and slept under the stars cowgirl style.  I kept reading, my Black Diamond headlamp providing great light until I was sleepy.
I never sleep well on the ground, and though I wasn’t freezing, I wasn’t completely toasty either, even though the temps were probably in the mid to upper 30s.  (It had been below freezing, so I was lucky.)  The moonglow looked green, perhaps because the trees lent a certain color to the usually silvery light, or perhaps I just imagined it, but it was greatly welcome.  I get claustrophobic when I can’t see my hand in front of me. It was windless until probably 2 a.m. when a gentle breeze arose.  I pulled the sleeping bag over my head.  The long dark hours passed in a state of dreaming and semi-wakefulness, and I nearly missed the sunrise.  So I hurried into my boots and made it to the viewpoint as the sun peeked over a hazy landscape.
Standard-issue pinyon pine framing the foreground
Breakfast was leftover Indian food and rice, and Emergen-C powder in my water bottle for vitamins and electrolytes.  I had brought a teabag of Lapsang Souchong but didn’t feel like cleaning out the cooking pot for the water, so I ate some Ghiradelli bittersweet chocolate chips for my caffeine hit.  Packed up camp, and off I went.
I studied the topography below from the Southeast Rim, thinking of the astronauts who could recognize the topography of the moon and all its named landmarks, and wishing I could do the same with what I saw below.  I didn’t have a big enough map with me, but figured I would work harder at it next time.
Dusky Flycatcher
Before I knew it, it was one p.m. and I was sitting on the trail overlooking the slime pond at Boot Canyon again, hoping to spot the crazy flycatcher.  The canyon wren was back, even more beautiful in the filtered light.  Then I heard “Wheep.  Wheep.”  The flycatcher returned, darted for bugs for awhile, then flew away.  At least three pine siskins took up watch in the nearby oak.
As pleasant as it was, I needed to move out, and soon met Joseph the park packer at the corral in Boot Canyon.  He and six mules had been bringing up “water logs” and metal poles for tripods to move rocks so that more water diverters could be put in place.  There are dozens of these on the slopes to keep water from eroding the trail.  If there had only been an extra saddle, I could have hitched a ride down.
Lunch again at Pinnacles, this time sardines and crackers.  Sardines are my emergency larder, but they are excellent protein when working hard.  I like to save them for the last meal before home, since the empty cans are smelly and need double-bagging in freezer bags.  Don’t need no hungry bears following me.
Down Pinnacles, again hoping for a Mountain Lion.  Again skunked.  But I was exhausted, my feet hurt, shoulders sore (though my pack was 10 pounds lighter I think), and I was anxious for a shower.  The last half mile is always the longest.  But thanks to plenty of drinking water, the next day I was up and at ’em – energized and hardly sore at all.   And can you guess which was the first picture I looked for when I downloaded the photographs the next day?
Why, that crazy flycatcher!  Three bird experts hashed it out and decided it was a Dusky Flycatcher, definitely one of the look-alike epidonaxes.  But that bill, it was definitely put on sideways.  The little guy adapted his bug-catching style just fine, thank you.
Closeup of crazy flycatcher’s sideways bill
Just like I adapted to get myself up to Northeast Rim for a lovely moonlit night.All text and photographs on this blog are copyrighted by Cindy McIntyre and may not be used without permission.


  1. Anonymous said,

    >Nice BlogB&K

  2. Mary said,

    >Cindy, Cindy,This is a beautiful example of your wonderful photography. The bird photos are just amazing.Mary, Mary

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