When I began writing this series, I had no idea the words would just keep on flowing beyond a single post. But, hey, that’s OK. I’ve enjoyed the writing, and we finally made it to that point in the story where I get to talk about my favorite little town along the “Grand and Turbid River to the North.” A town I actually never set foot in.
It was, as you may guess from the titles, Boquillas del Carmen otherwise known as Boquillas !!!
Now, there are a number of areas in the States that are “Big Sky Country.” And Big Bend is one of those places.* Where the horizons stretch on forever. A vast expanse. It’s difficult to tell where the Earth ends and the Sky begins.
It is a mirage within a mirage.
The only thing offering a tethering to the ground in Big Bend are the Chisos Mountains. They break the joint between skyline and chaparral and provide definition. They restore the sense of gravity that would otherwise vanish completely.
In these places we get that duality of striking beauty mixed with the desolate and dangerous. It’s enchanting and alluring here, but there is deception because if you’re not careful you could easily die from the elements.
I was climbing higher, but my body still seemed reasonably acclimated. For the past four months I had hiked in elevations ranging from being on the beaches of the Pacific Ocean up to 9000 feet above sea level. My breathing was slightly taxed, but the air was cooling and becoming soothing, almost methylating, as I lumbered higher through the perfumes of Rose-Fruited Junipers, Honey Mesquites, Scrub Oak, Piñon Pine, Texas Madrone, and Manzanitas. Their redolence encircling the trail as I approached 6850 feet, a 1200-foot elevation gain from where the trailhead began.
The desert floor beneath me stretches to eternity. You can easily see 100 miles or more across the horizon in all directions from the top of the Lost Mine Trail in the Chisos Mountains. The innumerable red, orange, brown, and lavender hues paint the mountainous landscape.
A watercolor wonderland.
Sky Islands floating above what seems like a completely barren reddish-yellow-beige terrain. But that view of what’s beneath is as deceiving as this mountain range is enchanting.
Regardless if this cordillera derived its name from the Native American word “Chisos,” meaning “ghost” or “spirit,” or if “Chisos” came from the Castilian “hechizos,” meaning “enchantment,” you’ll feel an enduring presence in these mountains. The Ancestors are still here in this once favored stronghold of the Mescalero, Apache, and the Comanche. Sharing space and time with the Black Bears, Roadrunners, Javelinas, Ravens, Mule Deer, Mountain Lions, Hawks and Vultures, Coyotes, Horned and Earless Lizards, Rattlesnakes, and Tarantulas.
The boats fully loaded and with us all onboard, our departure eased out slowly from Lee’s Ferry. We gracefully slid under the Navaho Bridges (Between Mile Markers 4 and 5), watching the California Condors perch on the bridges’ substructures.
Transplanted here in an attempt to help seed their survival, Gymnogyps californianus, were slowly clawing their way back from the brink of extinction. About forty years ago, there were only twenty-two in existence. These magnificent birds, sporting wingspans of ten feet, glide effortlessly on the thermals. And their numbers have now rebounded to about 500 today, spread out in Arizona, Utah, California, and Baja Mexico.
But it wouldn’t be long before this incredible peacefulness would be interrupted with the rapids, with names like, Badger Creek, Soap Creek, Brown’s Riffle, Sheer Wall, Redneck, and North Canyon. Some were simply named for mile-markers, like 23-Mile Rapid and 23.5 Mile-Rapid.