When I arrived at Big Bend, half of the National Park, as well as the River running through it, remained closed to us humans due to COVID. But, nearby Big Bend Ranch State Park, and the section of the River running through it, were still running wild and free. No restrictions. And as I have learned in the past, one of the best vantage points to take in such alluring scenery is on the River that runs through it.
I had booked a day-trip and was joined by two other passengers to embark on a leisurely Oar Raft tour meandering through the River’s Colorado Canyon.
While most of my adventures involve hiking, or utilizing some other mode of travel like river rafting or horseback riding, through the wilderness, another very important part of this exploration, and of every escapade of mine, is a perusal through, and the translation of, the words describing the back country I’m reconnoitering. (Whew! That was a big sentence.) The words themselves can relay vital pieces of history or give you some historical context.
Or not. 😊
Imagine the interplay that must exist between the languages of the Anglos, Latinos, and literally hundreds of Native American tribes that roamed this part of the country in what is now branded as “Texas.” Sometimes the words surrender their meanings with a little coaxing. Other times, not so much. For example, despite, or maybe because of, the numbers of nomadic peoples who utilized this area spanning hundreds of years without permanently settling here, the Spaniards had dubbed it “El Despoblado,” “the uninhabited or deserted land.”
And save for some wildlife, at this moment in time, it certainly looks pretty deserted to me.
Of course, even more fun than parsing out the language is listening to the River Rats spin their tales of local folklore. This telling is no different than good stories around the campfire, and the Paddle or Oar Captains consider it a necessary part of the rafting experience. Of which, I highly approve. I love sitting back and taking in the local history while floating through the Canyons.
And the Rio Grande would be no exception.
Now this River could be called a lazy one compared to the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. And not to confuse things, but I’d be floating through “Colorado Canyon” while on this “Furious, Turbid River of the North.” The operative word being “Colorado” that simply means “red” or “dirty” — the most basic description of Colorado Canyons’ walls.
The “Brave” River is also not always lethargic. There are rapids up to Class IIIs on our route, and the River’s depth varies anywhere from a wadable knee-high to sixty feet deep. So, while those conditions don’t sound particularly dangerous, there was always the risk of that “dump truck” effect in the boulder-laden whitewater, where the raft can be uplifted on its side far enough to dump everyone and everything out of the raft, then re-right itself, and float on down the River without you.
But I could tell by the experience displayed by our Oar Captain, that she wasn’t going to let that happen.
Colorado Canyon has a certain magic about it. The majority of the canyons in this area cut by the Rio Grande are composed of limestone and the power of the River eroded straight through that limestone leaving behind sheer vertical walls. But Colorado Canyon has a completely different composition. It seems that the landscape of this area was first built by volcanic lava flows and clouds of magma and ash that spewed from volcanic vents in the not-so-distant Sierra Rica (Rich Mountains) and the Bofecillos Mountains that settled as a top layer.
BTW, parsing out “Bofecillos,” gives us multiple translations because “bofe” could mean “lights” or “lungs” and cillios means “small” or “little” so we could have “little lungs” or “small lights.” But that doesn’t seem to fit with describing a mountain range. A slight expansion of the word to “Bosquecillos” meaning “small wood” or “little forest” or “little grove” is, perhaps, better descriptive of the vegetation growing in this mountain range. But then again, Bosquecillo also means “corpse,” so maybe this mountain range was named after the discovery of a “little corpse.” And soon I’ll be talking about another mountain range named after a death or deaths.
Death does seem to be a common theme is this desolate land.
And see what I mean about coaxing meaning from words. 😊
At any rate, because of its different composition including rich minerals, Colorado Canyon is not just known for its multifarious “Rojo Como la Sangre” (Red Like Her Blood) cliffs with the “Xocolatl-colored” (Chocolate-Colored) River running through it, it is also known for being a veritable hanging gardens, punctuated with Yuccas, Cacti, and Agaves of all varieties, as well as a rich tree and shrub population on the banks of the River including Cottonwood, Texas Lantana, Gooding’s Willow, Peachleaf Willow, Silver Buffaloberry, Coyote Willow, False Indigo Bush, Salt Cedar (Tamarisk), and Russian Olive.
This riparian biome is a bird watchers paradise as well, and we would see no shortage of Herons, Rose-Throated Bicards, Green Kingfishers, Mexican Grackles, Couch’s Kingbirds, and Chihuahuan Ravens.
Hopefully having now placed you in that twelve-foot “Balsa de Río” (River Raft) with the four of us, it’s time to drift back to the local history.
We might actually make it to the title village – Boquillas – in our next chapter. 😊
To be continued . . .
Photos: All photos are of my trip down this wonderful River.
The First Post in this Series is “Boquillas !!!“.