Section 9: Presidio to Rio Grande Village
In an attempt to beat the heat we did what we haven’t done once on this trip and got up early. There are plenty of people in the world who manage this trick but it is a real struggle for both of us. It was still dark and cold but we forced ourselves into motion. We didn’t speak, knowing that the slightest disagreement would turn into an furious brawl at this hour of the morning. The sun was just peeking through by the time we left and half an hour later the sweat was already dripping. It’s not even the heat, it’s the humidity. Brutal.
The road stretched ahead for miles winding up and around the huge mesa-like slabs that surrounded us. The vistas are so enormous out here. The kind of beauty that staggers you with its massiveness. You can see where you are headed from miles away and the road has only the occasional car. It’s easy to see why this is such a popular motorcycle route.
Closed Canyon was a sweet little geologic feature along our route this morning! It’s a tall, gaping incision in the mountains. The road was a quarter mile from its entrance and we couldn't resist a quick dash over to take a peek. The sculpted rock funneled into a gradually narrowing channel down to the river. The cool air from last night clung to the orange walls. What a pleasure.
We stopped under the shade of a bridge to take a rest and struggled to leave. We were starting to panic about the next several days - we had several people meeting us and our timeline for getting to them was looking more and more impossible. We had recently learned that the Big Bend IT system was down and only a few locations were able to issue backcountry permits. You have to show up within 24 hours of the beginning of your trip and the location was over 50 miles away from where we would be. We are either going to have to go in without a permit (NOT a good idea) or somehow hitch up to the visitors center and then back all while still fitting in a full day of hiking. It’s a lot to figure out and we were feeling the stress.
Back out into the sun. Uphill. Hot. Sweaty. We hiked somewhere in between our many thoughts. With so much on our minds we could barely remember we had miles to make. It’s hard to look around or have much of a personality when you’re trudging uphill in a sauna but we saw enough to be impressed. The river supports a lush, brilliant green ecosystem (although it’s still almost entirely invasives). Spring is at its peak. Some of the shades of green are so outrageous they look artificial. What a special place. Visit the state park next time you’re out here. You won’t be disappointed!
Another stop for a break, this time under a cement tipi that had been erected to shelter a picnic area. Best shade of the week, if not the whole trip! The edges were high enough you could see out and a perfect breeze wafted through continuously. It was also a social spot and we chatted with several tourists that wandered by to take pictures.
The first guy reminded us that we were in the middle of nowhere with no vehicle. Ya don't say?
A woman and man on their way back from Big Bend came by, and we grilled them for info on Santa Elena Canyon, our next stop. They had good things to say, most importantly that it’s a popular swimming area and that the roads are gentle enough for budget rental cars (good news for anyone meeting us). Then we pounced on a lady clearly hoping to eat her lunch in peace. We guessed she was a hiking enthusiast by her bumper stickers and thought she might have some info on the permits. She confirmed what we already knew, that there were no shortcuts to getting the permits, but she did have some advice on trails and water. She even offered a ride into town but we weren’t desperate enough yet to be ready to skip. Not sure what we were going to do, we ate more food than we should and drank way more of our dwindling water supply than was smart. Don’t care. We will drown our sorrows with water.
After the worst of the noon heat had passed we decided to keep walking and try and hitch tomorrow to get our permits. We haven’t been hiking for several hours in the afternoon anyway, and we might as well try and be productive during that time and go get a permit. Neither of us are looking forward to the prospect of hitching over such a long distance. At one point a Jeep passed then returned to ask if we needed a ride. Mike and his wife Jimmy were concerned about us and offered several bottles of water, which we rushed to accept. Thank you! We walked a couple hours until sunset then found a ridge to pitch the tent. We were rewarded for our efforts by a phenomenal sunset. It just gets prettier and prettier out here.