Getting muddy in Big Bend

Trip Start Aug 18, 2008
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Trip End Oct 01, 2008


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Flag of United States  , Texas
Sunday, September 14, 2008

With the hurricane still ravaging east Texas, we decided to stick to our original plan (in spite of expected bad weather) and head to Big Bend National Park, in the southwestern corner of Texas. This 'original plan' called for a pleasant canoe trip on the Rio Grande, which forms the border between Texas and Mexico. But after some record rainfall, a scheduled water release from a Mexican river to supply water to Texas, and a broken dam somewhere upstream, the Rio Grande was not its usual placid self. It was a record 20 feet higher than normal (running at 30,000 cubic feet per second), with floods almost a mile wide and all of the riverside campgrounds flooded out. We popped into a river outfitter to get some advice, since we knew already that canoeing was out of the question, and decided to head out for a raft trip as soon as a local company would take us out. As it turned out, we weren't able to get on the river for a few days, so we had some time to kill in one of America's largest but least visited national parks.

Our first stop was our campground, in the Chisos Mountains, which made it surprisingly cool compared to the surrounding desert in the rest of the park. When we arrived, we picked a site with a view of a waterfall cascading down one of the mountainsides, which we later learned was a very rare occurrence. Mike rigged up a clever tarp-based rain protection system since our tent isn't particularly great in rain, and we had a great time meeting the local wildlife, including a few scorpions the size of salad plates and a few roadrunners (which looked nothing like the Warner Brothers cartoon).

The next day, we decided to explore the park a bit, and since there weren't really any wheelchair accessible trails, we had to do it by car. No problem, we thought, let's try an unpaved bit of road that the ranger recommended. After about 15 miles of adventurous, rocky, muddy terrain, our luck ran out and we reached a flooded section that we couldn't cross without risking being the idiots that the rangers have to come and rescue. So we looked at our map and found a different stretch of road to try and take us back to the main road--again, we reached a section of the road that we thought we couldn't cross. A wash had come through and completely wiped out the road, leaving a ledge about 3 feet high on both sides. Looking at the road, though, we decided to give it a try, since our plucky little Ford Escape seemed to be faring surprisingly well. After about 4 tries with nothing but spinning wheels, we turned around and gave up. But after about 20 yards, we decided to give it one more try. Mike got out and tried to kick out a path in the dirt, then got back in and gave it one last try. After a scary moment where we saw nothing but sky, the car made it over the hump and landed on the road above. You should have seen our celebration!

The best part, though, was that just before we tried it, I turned to Mike and said, "Are we being clever or stupid?" His answer was "both". So I guess in the end, we were clever, stupid and lucky, because we made it out the other end and drove another 10 miles or so until we found ourselves back on a paved road.
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