(Mariscal Mine)

One of the best things about Big Bend is that there are hardly any safety rails. The only warning signs mark high clearance and 4 wheel drive vehicles on the less traveled roads. Once you’ve passed these signs, you’re on your own. Except at Mariscal Mine (which produced 1/4 of the U.S. mercury until WWII) where the old shafts have metal grates over them. This must be about how much rescuing they are willing to do. They don’t want to come tow you out of the 50 mile dirt and rock road with washed out parts, about half-way along which is the mine. And they don’t want to spelunk to get you out of oxygen deprived, toxic shafts. But they are willing to send a helicopter to find you if you get lost or hurt, and they trust the kind of person who would drive at least 8 hours to a remote, rugged desert to look out for himself and know his capabilities. It’s very refreshing. The denser the population, the more rules there needs to be I suppose. Big Bend is one of the least visited, but most revisited National Parks in the U.S. Solitude is one of their advertising points.

Geology is another. The sparse vegetation allows you to look 500 million years into the past. For 300 million years it was under the ocean. Texas was then pushed up by a northern shift of continents creating the Ouachita mountains that presently go up to southwest Arkansas. Then shallow saltwater came back with crustatceans that you can see in the limestone in the east side of the park on the cliffs on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande, one of the newest river systems in the U.S. This is because the U.S. side fell 5000 feet down by earthquakes. Indeed the limestone varied striations on our side appear in the lowlands like parts of a broken plate. Some limestone walls still stand on our side in the three canyons the river flows through that I can’t wait to kayak or canoe, however soon.

(zoom in to see the canoe for scale. Objects are much larger than they appear)

100 million years ago, the western continental shift squeezed the Rockies up, and Mariscal mountain on the southern end of the park is the southern-most point of the Rockies in the U.S. Then 42 million yeas ago, volcanic erruptions created the almost 8000 foot dramatically beautiful and wooded Chisos mountains in the center of the park.

In addition to the fault line that produced the canyons, cliffs, volcanic erruptions, and the Rio Grande River, Big Bend is also along the northern edge of the Chihuahuan desert, and the southern end of a cooler temperate zone which accounts for an unusual variety of plants and animals, including black bears and mountain lions. March is the most crowded month because of the friendly temperatures and the blooming of cactus, wildflowers, and the Big Bend species of Texas Bluebonnets that are twice as big as elsewhere in the state. It is truly an overwhelming place to be. I didn’t take as many pictures this year as I posted so many bluebonnets and scenic pictures on Facebook last year. George and the mine were new additions to this trip.