Saturday, April 5, 2008

Bear's Gate

After the Lost Mine hike, we drove to the Visitor's Center, but it was under construction, and there wasn't much to do or interesting souvenirs to buy, although Trudy found a few bookmarks she liked. So we didn't stay there long.

Driving back towards Panther Pass, Trudy was worried we were going to waste the better part of a day if we just went back to the room. She had a point. So we pulled off the road near a locked service gate and walked down the road on the other side to see what we could see.

There were peaks not so far away where Green Gulch fanned out into the desert. And there were slopes of scree that looked promising and hidden canyons here and there that would certainly make a good destination.

The service road came to an end in what appeared to be a gravel yard. On the far side, we saw a a trail leading off into the scrub. We followed it.

The trail was well worn and periodically marked with stone cairns, which gave us confidence. Still, we were in the mountains on a trail that isn't on the maps. So I picked up a big stick, figuring that if we ran into a predator, I might make myself more menacing than I otherwise am. Thus armed, we continued our hike.

The path wound around a bit but headed in the general direction of a dry creek valley that we could see in the distance. The creek issued from a narrow canyon that was hidden from the road, and the trail was evidently heading that way.

Cliffs loomed over us. Pine trees grew on the slopes. At our feet, Prickly Pear and Sotol and Ocotillo sometimes blocked out way, but the path kept going. We followed the it along the edge of the creek valley until we came to the feet of the mountains. A slope of pinkish-red scree lay across our way, and the path seemed to climb up. So we climbed, slipping on the clinking rocks and making a lot of noise.

On the other side of the scree, the trail disappeared into a woods where the creek bed issued from the canyon. The path clearly continued, but brown Oak leaves littered the ground, and it was clear no one had come this way for a long time.

To either side, the walls of Maple Canyon shot up into the blue sky. Somewhere behind the cliffs, the bright sun was shining, but here in the shade of the mountain beneath the canopy of the trees, the light was dim.

I looked down at my feet and saw some poop, which by itself would not have been significant since the trail we had followed was decorated by deer poop all along the way. But this wasn't deer poop. It was black. And it was big.

Trudy and Ben had not followed me into the trees. They were standing on the edge of the scree listening to me tell them what I saw. I told them about the poop and looked further down the trail. I told them of another big pile not two feet beyond the first one. And then I told them of another, just one foot further.

The piles of poop spoke as clearly as words. "Here begins my domain." There was no doubt in my mind: this was Bear's Gate.

I looked around for a few moments, holding firmly onto my stick and then walked to where Trudy and Ben were standing. In spite of the canyon that stood before us and the wonder that a hike in that place might bring, we decided it would be prudent not to continue.

We turned and hiked the mile or so back to the car.

Maple Canyon in the Chisos Mountains
Big Bend National Park

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