My brother-in-law, nephew, and I had talked for years about getting together for a hiking vacation but our respective schedules never meshed. With my nephew now teaching in Houston, and with none of us having been there before, Big Bend National Park seemed like the obvious choice. Although the week before 4th of July is not the most popular season in Big Bend owing to the high temperatures, it was the time our mutual schedules allowed. By going at this time and doing most of our hiking high in the Chisos (“Chee-sos”) Mountains, we avoided the really high temperatures, had the trails largely to ourselves, and still saw quite a bit of wildlife (Spring is the birding season in the park but there are still plenty of resident species).
This is one of the most remote parks in the continental U.S. and there’s a lot of driving involved to actually get there from any nearest airport. Fortunately, there’s now an excellent microbrewery in Alpine, Texas to ease the burden of too much driving. From Alpine, I headed down to the park at first light to bag Emory Peak (at 7,825 feet, the park’s high point), while the others attempted a sweltering Beau Geste-style hike to Dog Canyon in the lower desert. Distances are somehow bigger in Texas, so, even with an early start from Alpine, I wasn’t able to reach the Chisos Basin – our basecamp at 5,300 feet – and start up the Pinnacles Trail toward the peak until 0900, when the air temperature had already reached 90ºF.
But, by moving at a steady, moderate pace, taking advantage of available shade, and a breeze (and carrying 1.5 gallons of water), I found the hiking really enjoyable despite the heat. The peak soon came into view,
as did several Century Plants that were in full bloom – which is a one shot deal for each plant – “bloom then die” being their fate.
After a decent hike and climb, and a tiny bit of scrambling, I reached Emory’s summit.
From there, I had an amazing view south out over the South Rim into the Rio Grande Valley and Mexico,
and north back into the Chisos Basin, with the trail I’d just ascended clearly visible.
It was cooler on the summit (~80ºF), with a nice breeze, so I lingered there for lunch – but kept an eye on the thunderheads that were building quickly over El Pico in Mexico to the east.
I took the start of clouds building over Emory as a signal to head back to the Basin. The out-and-back hike to the peak is 10 miles, with 2,500 feet of elevation gain and is a highly recommended classic (provided you carry sufficient water and observe the rules for hiking in deserts).
The others arrived in the Basin around 1630 and that night we had a brief, but welcome, thunderstorm that just moistened the Basin (but washed out some roads further to the west).