Visiting the Big Bend – Part One

We just returned from a glorious trip to the Big Bend area of Texas.  That is the place where the Rio Grande makes that bend from flowing southeast to flowing northeasterly.  In that Vee shaped area is the Big Bend National Park, and adjacently, Big Bend Ranch State Park.  It is a harsh, isolated, but beautiful environment.  There you will find the wild Rio Grande cutting through narrow canyons with cliffs up to 2,ooo feet high.  The Chisos Mountain range is the center piece of the national park, with high peaks laced with hiking trails and home to black bear, mountain lions, and other wildlife.

This is where Ann and I, along with our dear friends from Tennesse, spent five wonderful days.  In this post, and part 2, I am going to show you some of the scenic land, along with some of the avian activity.  I will, for the most part, let my photos do the talking. They are random highlights from our adventure, and in no particular order.  Also, click on any image to see enlargements.

This is a view of the Chisos Mountains from about twenty miles.

Road to the Chisos

Road to the Chisos

A Cactus Wren looking for meal in the bark of a desert plant.

Cactus Wren

Cactus Wren

Greater Roadrunners abound in the area.

Greater Roadrunner

Greater Roadrunner

Along the Rio Grande is a trail that leads to a natural hot springs bath, built back in the early 1900’s by J. O. Langford.  He was seeking relief for his own ailing health.  The original rock walls are still in place, and tourists can sit and dip their feet or slip on a bathing suit and go all the way.

Indian Pictographs

Indian Pictographs

Hwy 170, of which a portion is in Big Bend Ranch State Park, is known as one of the most beautiful scenic drives in the country.  The following two images are from that highway.  Across the river, of course, is Mexico.

Along the Rio Grande

Along the Rio Grande

Colorado Canyon

Colorado Canyon

A Say’s Phoebe perches on an ocotillo branch.

Say's Phoebe

Say’s Phoebe

When driving through the Big Bend stay alert.  You may see a scene like this sneak up on you.  A Red-tailed Hawk, having lunch in some high rock croppings.

Red-tailed Hawk at lunch.

Red-tailed Hawk at lunch.

I hope you are enjoying our journey, so far.  I am working at processing more of my photos from the trip and will be publishing Part Two in a few days.  Watch for it!!




Big Bend Rafting and other stuff…..

As you all know, the Big Bend area of Texas is far and away one of Ann’s and my favorite places to spend time.  Last week we spent four days there again.  We again stayed at the Casitas at Far Flung Outdoor Center, in Study Butte.  They are the best outfitters for the rafting, jeep tours, and other activities in the Big Bend.  Before I get into trouble, I want to emphasize that is just my own opinion.

View from porch of our cabin at Far Flung Outdoor Center.

View from porch of our cabin at Far Flung Outdoor Center.  Long lens used.

You already saw some of my images of some birds from the trip, but I also was able to get a few more landscape photos as well.  The area was as greenest as I have ever seen in the many years that we have visited.  The above photo was taken in the evening as the sun was setting from my far right.  It is a view from the porch of our Casita, albeit with a very long lens.

One photo that I left out yesterday I would like to insert here.  This man, Joseph, a park service employee, has the job of traveling around the Basin in the Chisos Mountains cleaning out the composting toilets.  The boxes on his pack horses have HUMANURE  painted on them.  A thankless but necessary job, I am sure.  I spotted him while I was scoping out some birds with my 500mm lens.  He was riding towards me about 200 yards away.

Joseph, collecting from the trail toilets.

Joseph, collecting from the trail toilets.

Here are a couple more of my favorite landscapes from our trip.

Sotol and Santiago Peak - Big Bend National Park

Sotol and Santiago Peak – Big Bend National Park

"Dawn Sun on Distant Mountain" - Big Bend National Park

“Dawn Sun on Distant Mountain” – Big Bend National Park

On Thursday morning, we decided to take a half-day rafting trip that Far Flung has as one of their scheduled activities.  We load up and head up-stream to a river put-in area called Grassy Banks.  It is about 10 miles west of Lajitas.  We launch there, then float back to Lajitas, where we are met by the Far Flung crew to load up for the trip back to Study Butte.

Tim, our guide getting the raft ready to launch.  Notice fast moving water of the Rio Grande.

Tim, our guide getting the raft ready to launch. Notice fast moving water of the Rio Grande.

Ann getting into her life jacket.

Ann getting into her life jacket.

Away we go!

Away we go!

The ride wasn’t as dangerous as some of the trips that go through the canyons, but nevertheless I had to hang on to my cameras, grab the side of the raft, and try to keep my balance.  I managed to get a few shots from the raft, though.  Even with the Image Stabilization feature of my Canon lenses, it still was difficult to keep some images in focus.

One view from the raft.

One view from the raft.

Goats high on a bluff on Mexican side of the river.

Goats high on a bluff on Mexican side of the river.

Turkey Vulture warming wings for morning flight.

Turkey Vulture warming wings for morning flight.

After the float trip, we were happy to spend the rest of the day on the porch of our canyon sipping refreshments and watching the surrounding scenery and seeing the quail, rabbits, birds that play around the cabins.  What a great time we had.  Be sure and click on the images to see some nice enlargements.

New photos of the Big Bend

Ann and I arrived home Friday afternoon after a very enjoyable to our favorite area, the Big Bend country of Texas.  We saw 55 species of birds, including a new lifer, the Crissal Thrasher.  We also took a break from birding, and took a raft trip on the Rio Grande which I will talk about in a future post.  Here are some of the bird images I manage to get.

Red-tailed Hawk - enjoying an early morning sunrise.

Peregrine Falcon – enjoying an early morning sunrise, Big Bend National Park.

Wilson's Warbler Trying to hide in the brush at Cottonwood Campground.

Wilson’s Warbler
Trying to hide in the brush at Cottonwood Campground, Big Bend National Park.

Vermilion Flycatcher - at Cottonwood Campground in Big Bend National Park

Vermilion Flycatcher – at Cottonwood Campground in Big Bend National Park.

Greater Roadrunner - on fence post near Marathon, Texas.

Greater Roadrunner – on fence post near Marathon, Texas.

Loggerhead Shrike - on ocotillo plant, Big Bend National Park.

Loggerhead Shrike – on ocotillo plant, Big Bend National Park.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird - female- at Far Flung Outdoor Center, Study Butte, Texas.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird – female- at Far Flung Outdoor Center, Study Butte, Texas.

Cactus Wren - at Far Flung Outdoor Center, Study Butte, Texas.

Cactus Wren – at Far Flung Outdoor Center, Study Butte, Texas.

Cactus Wren on Prickly Pear cactus, Far Flung Outdoor Center, Study Butte, Texas.

Cactus Wren on Prickly Pear cactus, Far Flung Outdoor Center, Study Butte, Texas.

I hope you enjoyed the photos as much as I enjoyed obtainng them.  Click on any image to see an enlargement.  More photos coming in future posts.

Bob’s Best of the Big Bend

When I noticed that Far Flung Family Center was asking for people to submit favorite photos of the Big Bend for their Facebook page, I thought I’d post a few of my own favorite images from my past visits to that magnificent area.  This place is dear to Ann’s and my own heart.  We visit there around twice a year, and always find new thrills.  These photos are not of birds, but some of my own favorite images from Big Bend National Park

Rio Grande with Santa Elena Canyon in background

Rio Grande with Santa Elena Canyon in background

Above is one of my favorite images in Big Bend National Park.  We were on the Ross Maxwell Highway heading down towards the eastern entrance to Santa Elena Canyon.  Aproximately five miles before reaching the canyon proper, the Rio Grande makes a bend towards the highway.  I used a wide angle setting on my 24-105mm zoom that was attached to my Canon EOS 7D.  With that, I was able to compose the picture to include the canyon in the background in the upper right.

Santa Elena Canyon

Santa Elena Canyon

This is the eastern delta of Santa Elena Canyon.  The Rio Grande comes out of the canyon here on it’s journey to the Gulf coast.  As you can see in the picture, the water is running pretty shallow at the time of this photo.  You can see some canoers  getting ready to paddle upstream into the canyon.  The walls soar upwards to 1,500 feet, and you might see Peregrine Falcons flying overhead, as they nest in these cliffs.

Indian Paintbrush

Mountain Paintbrush

One of the wildflowers that you might see in the Big Bend is this Mountain Paintbrush.  I love the vibrant, glowing reds of the blossoms.  Mountain Bluebonnets are plentiful here in the spring, also.

Desert Storm

Desert Storm

A desert rainstorm can pop up anytime, with cooling rains.  Those tall desert plants in the foreground are Ocotillo.  They are tall with glowing, fiery red blossoms on the tips of the stalks.  We have two in our yard at home that are about 18 feet tall.

Mountains in the Mist

Mountains in the Mist

This is an image that was taken on a really, really wet day, early in the year.  Heavy, water laden clouds were everywhere.  The mountains of the Chisos range were peeking about the lower clouds.  I was having difficulty keeping my cameras dry, so I was photographing from the car window.  That is not a difficult task, however.  Fortunately, traffic was very light, mostly because of the obvious bad weather.

Desert Butte

Desert Butte

On drier days, this is a very familiar sight in Big Bend National Park.  Great vistas of mountains and buttes.  In such an environment a person has trouble in deciding which way to aim the camera.

Bobcat photographed near Rio Grande Village Campground.

Bobcat photographed near Rio Grande Village Campground.

Wildlife abounds Big Bend National Park.  High in the Chisos are approximately thirty black bears.  Throughout the rest of the park are bobcat, deer, rabbit, birds, hawks, small varmints, not to mention about two dozen or more mountain lions roam.  Recently, desert long-horned goats have been introduced to the area.

I was fortunate to photograph the Bobcat near the Rio Grand Village Campground in the eastern part of the park, near Boquillas Canyon.  As I drove through the deserted campground, he, or she, leaped from the brush and promptly sat down near a tree.  I used my 100-400mm lens from the car for the photo, before it loped off, nearly in the path of a hunting coyote.

Mule Ears Peak at dusk.

Mule Ears Peak at dusk.

Another of my favorite images from the park, is the photo of the Mule Ears Peaks, taken near dusk.

I hope you have enjoyed this pictures and narratives.  Prints are available for sale if you are interested.  Just contact me for particulars.  Click on any image to see an enlargement.

Visiting Big Bend Country

In my previous post, I wrote about the Acorn Woodpeckers that we saw during our visit.  With this writing, I would like to talk more about the trip itself.  To appreciate it more you must know where the Big Bend country is.  In far southwest Texas, the Rio Grande bends southeastward away from El Paso.  Then it abruptly makes a sharp bend and travels northeast.  That vast area in between contains Big Bend National Park.  The park and surrounding areas north and west is what we call simply the Big Bend.

The land there is raw, desolate, seemingly forbidden.  Mountains, canyons, isolated areas where it is dangerous to go unprepared.  But, having said all of that, it is also awesomely beautiful.  Ann and I made our first trip there in the mid 1980s.  We had already lived in Texas since 1961, but had never ventured there.  We had no idea that such a place existed in the state.  We were struck by the beauty, isolation, and the ever-changing views when driving through the area.

Mt. Casa Grande

It is said that on the busiest day in Big Bend NP, it is still not as busy as the Smoky Mountains NP on their slowest day.  At over 800,000 acres it is one of the largest in the park system.  But it is also one of the least visited.  Definitely one of Texas’ best kept secrets.  On our recent trip, at one point Ann and I encountered four other cars, yes, that’s right four other cars traveling behind each other.  Ann remarked that it was a traffic jam.  Although that is what actually happened, including Ann’s quote, we may have exaggerated.  But you certainly have the feeling sometimes that you are only person there.

The purpose for our trip was to go birding, do bird photography and just enjoy the quite solitude.  We have our favorite places to visit.  The ruins of San Nail’s ranch for one.  There are a few adobe walls still standing and the park service has kept the windmill in good repair.  Otherwise it it pretty well overrun with mesquite, creosote bush, etc.  Some large cottonwood trees make for good birding there.

Red-tailed Hawk

We also like to go to Rio Grande Village RV park on the east side of the park.  It is adjacent to Boquillas Canyon.  There is a delightful nature trail with a boardwalk over a wetlands area.

The “Window” formation, Chisos Mountains, Big Bend National Park.

A must place to see is the Chisos Mountains Basin, high in the Chisos Mountains.  You must take a spectacular drive up through Green Gulch, over the pass, then drop down into the area that is called the Basin.  There the altitude is at 5,000 feet, surrounded by mountain peaks.  A lodge is located there where you can book rooms for your stay.  From your room you may, repeat may, see deer, bear, mountain lions, and various species of birds.

For our lodging we stayed at the Casitas at Far Flung Outdoor Center.  It is located in Study Butte, outside the western entrance to the park. There you can book rafting or canoe trips through the canyons, Jeep tours, ATV trips, etc.  But to stay there you are not required to participate in any of those activities.  In the past, though, Ann and I have rafted the Rio Grande, and also took a couple of the Jeep tours.

Santa Elena Canyon

The restaurant facilities in Study Butte or Terlingua, are limited but all offer excellent food.  One of our favorites is the La Kiva.  We ate there one evening, feasting on one of the best T-bone steaks I have ever tasted.  Margaritas were only a dollar at the time we ate, which was somewhere between 5 and 7PM.

In my next post I will get back to more bird photos, and birding tales.

Yearning for the Big Bend

As most of you know, the Big Bend country of west Texas is my favorite of all favorite places.  Ann and I generally make at least two trips per year to that area.  Usually once in the spring, then another during the fall months.  We try to time the journeys to coincide with the spring and fall bird migrations.

So here we are in mid-summer.  Our fall trip isn’t scheduled until late September we have another couple of months to wait.  We have plans to visit Marathon, Texas on September 23 and stay at the old Gage Hotel.  While there we will bird at the Gage Gardens and Post Park.  A lot of good birds visit each location, so hopefully I can get some new photographs along with maybe seeing some new lifers.

Great Roadrunner

On Monday September 24 the real fun starts.  We will be staying at the Far Flung Casitas until Friday morning.  Located in Terlingua/Study Butte area these beautiful little cabins are the best places to rest between “play times”.  They are centrally located for day trips in any direction.

Rio Grande with Santa Elena Canyon in background

Big Bend National Park is just a few miles east.  Going south and west along the El Camino Del Rio, (River Road), Hwy. 170, is probably one of the top ten scenic drives in the country.  To the north lies the city of Alpine, home of Sul Ross University.  Further west of Alpine is the city of Marfa, where you can see the eerie “Marfa Lights“.  There is a road that heads south from a point just west of Marfa that takes you on a spectacular down through Pinto Canyon and around the Chinati Mountains.

Sora photographed at Rio Grande Village, Big Bend National Park.

Getting back to our personal plans, we intend to do a lot of birding in Big Bend National Park.  Rio Grande Village RV Park is one our favorite places to see a lot of birds.  There is where you can try a great nature trail that winds through a wetland with a boardwalk, then up to some high points for some great scenic views.

Bobcat photographed at Rio Grande Village, Big Bend National Park

The Sam Neil Ranch ruins provides great birding opportunities.  The old windmill still works, pumping some water through this seemingly little oasis.  Watch out for marauding Javelinas.  Similarily, a few miles away is Dugout Wells, another shaded area where birds and an occasional Bobcat hang out.

Red-tailed Hawk – Big Bend National Park

We also have plans for a guided birding trip provided by Mark Flippo, a  bird expert of the Big Bend region, and hopefully a drive to Carolyn Ohl-Johnson’s Christmas Mountains Oasis.  Click her link  to read more about her personal birding area.

So now you can understand why we are in a restless mode right now.  After reading this post, you may be inclined to join us.  Click on any photo to see an enlargement.  Some of the images may be found in my new book, which I am shamelessly promoting every chance I get.  Click this link to preview and/or purchase a copy.  Or contact me at

Return from Big Bend – Part II

It is great to be back.  However, I am ready to go again.  I just don’t get enough of the Big Bend area of west Texas.  But here we are back in San Angelo again.  I noticed that while I was gone I had visitors to my blog from three more countries.  Up to 127 now.  I didn’t realize how many countries there are.  Also I have had 53,245 hits.  Rats, I was going to give a prize for the 52, 674th hit.  Missed that.  Okay, we’ll think about a prize for whoever gets hit number 55,183.  🙂

So anyway, after we stayed in a motel at Marathon, Texas on Sunday night, we headed south to Big Bend National Park on Monday morning.  The park entrance is about 30 miles south of Marathon, then it is another 50 miles or so the park headquarters.  BBNP is a huge park.  About 800,000 acres.  At the park headquarters at Panther Junction, we visited the ‘facility’, then checked the nature trail nearby to see if there was any wildlife.  It was quiet except for a Canyon Towhee scurrying through the cacti.

We then headed to the Rio Grande Village campground which is about 40 miles east of the headquarters.  Did I tell you that BBNP is a huge park?  We weren’t planning on camping there but it is a hot spot for birding.  There is also a great nature trail and a really neat wetlands area.  The nature trail takes you through native vegetation of various cacti and other desert plants, and eventually up atop a butte with a magnificent view of the Rio Grande River and the village of Boquillasa across in Mexico.

Mexican village of Boquillas with massive Boquillas Canyon in the background. Photographed from the nature trail in Rio Grande Village in Big Bend National Park on the American side of the river.

In Rio Grande Village campground, the “snowbirds” were beginning to leave.  That is what we call the people from the north who fill up the campground in the winter with their motor homes and RVs.  With them leaving there are more open spaces to roam around to look for birds and wildlife.  We saw several birds, including a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher (Polioptila melanura) that was another ‘lifer’ for me. Number 243, thank you very much.  I had reported it originally as a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, but my good friend Linda White alertly caught my error, after she examined some of my other images of the bird.  We also saw a Great Blue Heron in the wetlands area of the nature trail.

The above Curve-billed Thrasher was photographed near the park headquarters near Panther Junction.  He was perched atop a dead Agave century plant singing his heart out.

This Brewer’s Blackbird was photographed at the motel in Marathon, Texas, early in the morning before we left.  The early morning sun accentuated the irredescence of his colors.  More tomorow.

Scenes from the Big Bend

In the photos for this post, I wasn’t going after asthetically perfection.  These are just a few images from the area that I thought you would enjoy.  They are snap shots of a desolate, remote part of TexasTerlingua Ghost Town and Study Butte are really one and the same.  Two remote desert communities that run together with no visible boundary.  Just a few hundred people inhabit the area.  But having said that, they do have a school, bank, church, medical clinic, etc.  Personally, I love the area for what it is.  A place to go and just lay back and forget your troubles.

One distinct thing about the place.  You can drive around and see things of unusual nature.  You wonder where they came from, what possessed people to come up with things.  You never know what you will see around the next bend in the road.

Old ghost town ruins

Old ghost town ruins

Old ruins near Study Butte

Remnants of another time, a bygone era.  In the early 1900s a mercury, or quicksilver mine existed in the area.  Today all that is left is ruins of old buildings, piles of slag once removed from the ore, and signs of rusting equipment scattered here and there.

Terlingua ghost town sculpture

This is the result of some enterprising sculptor being creative in the desert.  In and around the Terlingua Ghost Town are small art studios or galleries.  I use those terms loosely, as many of the artists just moved into some of the adobe ruins, or an old van and done some renovation.  I don’t know what the above sculpture above represents.  Perhaps, a dragon-fly with it’s 6-foot wingspan,  or a giant mosquito, of which there are very few in the desert, or maybe just an imaginery bug.  Anyway, it is just planted there in the sand.

An abandoned home??

This is an old abandon house trailer and pickup truck.  They are still attached together.  They both need a little work.

Red-tailed Hawk

A Red-tailed Hawk flies overhead.

Desert Sotol

A familiar sight in the desert.  The sotol standing vigil with the gap of the Santa Elena Canyon in the far distance.

Balanced Rock at the Hoodoos

Along Highway 170, by the Rio Grande River, there is an area of eroded formations called the Hoodoos.  This 10-foot diameter balanced rock looks like it is nearly ready to fall into the river.  Look carefully and you can see daylight underneath.

Passing Wind

Don’t ask.  I have no idea what it is supposed to be either.  There are sails furled on those masts.  To the right is an old conning tower from a submarine. (or maybe a replica).  A large number 643 painted on the side.  There is a camper trailer parked to the side.  I have never seen an individual on the premises.  It is located on the road that passes by the Terlingua ghost town.

Terlingua Ghost Town cemetery

This old cemetery at the Terlingua ghost town has grave sites dating back to during the 1800s.  It is still in use today.

Greater Roadrunner

A Greater Roadrunner, or chapparal, on a rare patch of grass.  He doesn’t seem to know what is going on either.  Time to move on.

I hope you enjoyed this selection of photos from far southwest Texas.  Click on any image to see an enlargement.  For more photos from the Big Bend and other images, click on my Flickr logo on right side of this page.

Finally, some Vermilion Flycatcher images

Where did summer go.  Yesterday morning the temperature here in San Angelo got down to 38 degrees.  It was been cold all day.  Had to turn the heat back on.  What the heck is going on?  But, as we say out here in west Texas, just hang around and things will change.  The forecast for the coming weekend is the mid nineties.

The title of this post reflects the frustrations that I have had the past three years in trying to photograph those tiny creatures.  I have seen them before, don’t get me wrong, but I have never been able to get my lens locked on to them for a good picture.  But that changed last week on our trip to the Big Bend National Park.

The two following photos are the results of that endeavor.  The Vermilion Flycatcher (Pyrocephalus rubinus) in the top picture is the male.  The second one is the female.  Both are tiny, shy birds.  They are possibly relatives of the phoebes.  These images were captured at Rio Grande Village Campground in the park.  I mounted my Canon 7D on a tripod with my 500mm and 1.4 teleconverter.  Standing under some trees I had a good view of the birds flitting around.

Vermilion Flycatcher - male

Vermilion Flycatcher - female

In other news, I decided to enter an art show put on by the San Angelo Art Club.  Their club consists mostly of paint artists, but twice a year they have an “Anything Goes, Almost” show and artists of all mediums are invited to enter.  They have a competition and give out cash prizes and ribbons for each medium.  Maybe I can get lucky.  I dropped off two of my latest creations this morning.  If I do win anything, you will be among the first to know.

So, I bid you adios from this post.  Click on the images to see enlargements.

Birding Big Bend Again March 2011 – Part II

I thought that for this part I would just show you a bunch of photos from the trip.  No bird photos, but some “touristy” images.

We were staying at The Lajitas House, a bed and breakfast type of house that we rented for our stay.  It is located on a bluff overlooking the Rio Grande River.  This first picture is looking upriver from our patio.  Mexico is on the left, of course.

Rio Grande looking upstream from our patio.

The second image is looking across the river towards a little Mexican village.

Looking south across the Rio Grande River

Number three is looking north from our patio.

Looking north or to our right from our patio.

Our patio, where we sat enjoying the sunsets, sipping margaritas, and just relaxing.

The patio of The Lajitas House

Image number five – it doesn’t get any better than this. 🙂

Another view from the patio.

This view is from high in the southern part of the Chisos Mountains.  The cleft in the distant cliffs is Santa Elena Canyon, about 30 miles away.

Looking south from high in the Chisos Mountains

Next photograph is of a line shack on Homer Wilson’s Blue Creek Ranch.  Behind it is Sentinel Peak.

Homer Wilson's line shack below Sentinel Peak

This tunnel is on the highway that leads to Boquillas Canyon and Rio Grande RV campsite on the east side of Big Bend National Park.

Tunnel east of Panther Junction park headquarters.

About twelve miles north of Lajitas on highway 170 is the ghost town of Terlingua.  Someone had made this junk sculpture and mounted it on a post.  A whimsical replication of a wasp, I would say. 🙂

Junk sculpture at Terlingua ghost town.

How about a beautiful sunset shot from our patio.  As I said before, it doesn’t get any better than this.

Sunset from patio of The Lajitas House

I hope you enjoyed these photos as much as I enjoyed taking them.  Click on any image for an enlargement.