Section 9: Presidio to Rio Grande Village
Our tent has been infiltrated by a morning person! Nikki was wide awake and ready to go the second the alarm went off. She made getting up look easy and infused our normal wake-up routine with some much-needed pep and positivity.
Who needs coffee when you have Nikki?
We were also pretty stoked to have a car again. We didn’t bother to pack up much, choosing to dump everything that we wouldn’t be carrying in the trunk. Bluegrass played in the background as we bounced along the road back to where we had left of yesterday. What a thrill! The park ranger had told us to leave vehicles parked off to the side of the road so Nikki backed her rental into a wash. We crossed our fingers that a flash flood wouldn’t carry it away before we returned.
It was a later start than normal and already the day was hot. Nikki has the amazing power to adapt to any circumstance and the heat barely seemed to faze her. What a badass! We’re lucky to have her. She’s also an archaeologist and has a great eye for fossils and artifacts. Even while maintaining a quick pace and engaging conversation she scanned the area for signs, veering of the road mid-sentence only to return moments later hand outstretched with some prehistoric fossilized thing. Most of them were shells and by noon she had already pointed out almost a dozen. On her way into the park (right after she took a picture at the Big Bend entrance using her Pringle can as a tripod) she stopped at the Fossil Discovery Museum. Apparently Big Bend was on the shoreline of the Western Interior Seaway millions of years ago and the largest known flying creature of all time - the pterosaur - was found here!
At one point we needed to cross country to get to a trailhead that would take us into Rio Grande Village. Cross country travel almost always leads to...disagreements between us and we were relieved to pass along the responsibility to Nikki.
What skill does this require? She’s good with maps, and was happy to take the GPS and orient towards the river.
We followed her off the road and into a wide gravel wash with high cliffs and a pool of water at the end. The water was cold and deep and absolutely beautiful after this scorcher of the day. The canyon walls were peppered with tiny swallow nests glued to the overhanging walls. Huge trees reached over us, creating leafy pockets of shade. We followed the water down the canyon towards a parking lot next to the river, watching as the wash transitioned into a lush paradise.
The parking lot signalled a major attraction of Big Bend - the Hot Springs. People and cars swarmed, a jarring sight after the quiet of the morning. We picked our way through, awkwardly waving or smiling at anyone we passed. It always feels like you lose all social skill after only a few days in the backcountry. Most people were dressed in bathing suits and we felt rumpled and awkward in our filthy sweat-stained garb.
At some point someone had sectioned off a pool separating the hot spring from the Rio Grande. We followed the crowd along a path to the river, where at least thirty people lounged, jumping between the tub and the Rio. We hadn’t seen the river in a couple of days but from this point onward we were going to get pretty intimate with its banks, as we attempt to hike directly alongside it. Here it looked very picturesque with groups of large palm trees, yellow flowering shrubs, and grassy banks. The river was a green-blue and Mexico looked peaceful and pastoral across the wavy waters.
The three mile trail joining the hot springs to Rio Grande Village followed the canyon wall, taking us up and above the river by at least 100 feet. The third trail of the trip! Despite the long day, we were giddy at the sight of the water and desert blooms and rock. We watched a few donkeys goof off on the Mexican side and startled a snoozing turtle that slid into the water at our approach. A band of javelinas captured our attention by freezing at our approach, legs poised,
as if our ability to see them depended on how still they could be. Yes we are all total nature geeks but this day was cool!
The Rio Grande gas station marked the end of the hike and we sat down to wait for Fred and Kim, who were driving in that night. Unfortunately the store was closed but it didn’t matter once we discovered the vending machine outside. All of our available dollar bills went to the soda pop fund. Ahhhh. Cold soda and free wifi. Total hiker bliss! Just before dark Fred and Kim drove up in their red pickup and a day that couldn’t be better suddenly was.
They had driven almost 40 hours straight and gamely agreed to another hour to get back to Nikki’s car. Nothing like a parent’s love?
And the love of two pretty amazing people. When we at long last finished the shuttling we were all relieved to collapse into exhausted sleep. What a day!