Overnight at Roy’s Peak the temperature dropped below freezing and the high desert air was as clear and fragile as glass. At dawn, the old homestead and broken windmill were still there, silent reminders that the morning chill for us was but a whisper of the morning chills they had seen. After a hot breakfast, good coffee and a quick break of camp, we were off, along with the sun, to chase the western side of the park – around the Chisos Basin, down through the Burro Mesa and finally, to the edge of the Rio Grande where we would make camp.
The Chisos Basin rises, almost like a crown, in roughly the center of Big Bend. To its east and west, you have high desert, to its south, the riverine world of the Rio Grande. But there is stark difference in the eastern and western deserts. As we rounded the basin to its west, the world fell away to Burro Mesa. Where we had gently risen, and rioted and rolled up to the basin in the high desert on the eastern side, here on the west there is a broad flat Mesa, flanked by the Chisos range to the east, Tulle and Pena mountains to he west, and flat Burro Mesa straight down the middle. As the Chisos give way to the Mesa, odd, white formations like loaves of concrete have formed. They give an added highlight to the landscape as the sun sprays it around 1 pm – like a twinkle in its eye.
Most of the ride south is about everything finding the edge. Falling to the delta region of the Rio Grande. We do the same and are soon turning back east on the River Road West (the river road runs the length of the Rio Grande in the park – this is the section in the west of the park, hence the name). I think we both expected to be tooling along the edge of the river, but thanks to the course changes and floods over time, the river road is behind old bank berms, forests, up previous tributaries, and high above the flood plan – depending either on the mood of the original road builder, or the ravages of nature.
The road itself holds your attention. Flat soft sandy runs turn rutted and rocky without warning, and determining the road from an old riverbed is impossible in some spots. It does, however, follow roughly the path of the river, which gives us the chance to exit at Loop Camp and drive another 1.5 miles or so to the actual river. Our camp is 100 feet above the river on a bluff looking north across Mexico, back to the Park. A hooking loop in the river puts us South of Mexico, but in the US. We have the best view yet of the entire Chisos Range to the north, Elena canyon to the west and the Mariscol range to the east – with Mexico right in the middle.
Following the river is as easy as following the green – probably in more ways than one. In our case, the Rio Grande is a wide, rich green belt dug deep in the waist of a gray, rocky desert. The water in the Rio Grande is so gritty you can actually feel it when you dip your hand in. The canoers say the water hisses against the boat because of the grit. It is this grit that has carved such deep canyons in the Rio Grande Valley – rather than the force of the water, it is its persistence and this grit.
Tonight at loop camp, as we survey a vista of two countries and their dividing edge, we don’t hear the gritty hiss, we only hear the whooshing splash of a small rapids below us. One that will lull us, we hope into a peaceful sleep here on the edge.