The Wonder of West Texas
Day One – Our small group headed out in the evening after a sit-down pizza feed in our condo. It was a lovely evening drive, with an uncharacteristic cloud cover. Our spiritual guide Christian asked us fun “getting-to-know-you” questions, such as first concert/best concert and what is your spirit animal. After an hour’s drive, we ran down a gravel road to the trailhead for Balanced Rock, an iconic rock formation that draws many visitors every year. Christian, one of the kindest and most thought-provoking humans I’ve met, introduced the concept of “Thresholds” being the beginning of a personal pilgrimage. He asked us to think about what we want to leave behind (toxic relationships, unhealthy living, low self-esteem, excessive social media) and what we want to bring, or go towards – a new job, a new purpose, a new life story. To mark the beginning of this pilgrimage, we each walked through the eye of the Balanced Rock formation, symbolically leaving behind our baggage, and we were given meditation beads. We finished the evening off with a run back to the car, then back to the lodge for the night.
The next morning after a leisurely breakfast, we headed out for a 10-mile adventure in Big Bend State Park, adjacent to the National Park, on the West Contrabando Trail, which gifted us with prickly pear cactus with its red-dye producing insects the cochineal, several varieties of barrel cacti, the candelilla plant (from which candle wax is derived and at one time sold on the black market at prices comparable with minded mercury), sages and ocotillo cactus (which was still lush and flowering in places due to the longer than average monsoon season). We rolled through several washes where Liza spotted a lovely fossil of a leaf. Rock formations and soil types seemed to change with each turn in the trail, and I keenly kept my eyes and ears open for the wild burros that live there. Heavy rain the day before had apparently had them on the move for drier land, as there were heavy hoof prints and abundant fresh donkey poo, but alas, they remained elusive. About five miles in, we ate our packed lunches al fresco at an old, abandoned mercury mine and had fun exploring the remains and looking down into the mine shaft, feeling warm air coming up from the deep earth.
It was brisk but dry, and we were soon warmed up and on our way for the second half of the trail run, but not without a stop to observe a walking stick bug crossing the trail. Apparently, it had only one thing on its mind, and that was to get to the other side, as it began walking up the leg of our guest Mike who was standing in the direct path.
Following cairns and old iron signposts, we ambled onto another abandoned mine site, this one with barely a trace left behind, and then onto the end of our loop. With the bliss that follows a good run, we snacked from the back of the van, then piled in and drove back to the lodge for a proper lunch and optional napping.
Restored from the morning adventure, we took a short drive to “Closed Canyon” a slot canyon, for a meditative walk, admiring the tall walls and the plants that somehow managed to get what they need protruding from the hard rocks. With the recent rain, there were a few pools of water, and the cloudy weather made for pleasant conditions. At the end of the trail, we sat and read some inspiring poetry gathered by Christian; we spent time in quiet meditation before heading back.
Dinner was at the lodge and full of good food, good stories, and good laughs, all the way to the dessert of Dr. Pepper Cake!?!
A hike was the plan for the following day, beginning at Chisos Basin Visitor Center. The late monsoon season gave us glorious wildflowers and greenery not often seen this time of year. We hiked conversationally, circumnavigating Emory Peak (the tallest peak in the park), and made our way to Bootleg Canyon. The flowers and greenery made me forget we were in the desert. We climbed out of the canyon and sat on the edge, eating our lunches with a great expanse before us. When it was time to go, we made a 30-minute vow of silence to practice mindfulness and listen to our surroundings.
Many, many switchbacks later, we arrived back at the Visitor Center. Liza quickly had us seated at a picnic table, with all the snacks and beverages. A local roadrunner made an appearance, but no coyote was in pursuit! We visited the two gift shops, made some fun purchases, and then headed to our favorite taco joint in Terlingua. We all opted for the five-taco special, with all the options, including “nopales” or cactus. After such a long day, bedtime was more than welcome.
The next morning, we took a drive towards Santa Elena Canyon, some of us running the final four miles to the river. Because of the late monsoon season, the Rio Grande was higher than normal, although in this section it was quite low. After enjoying our views, we made our way to another hidden oasis in the desert, Cattail Falls, with a microclimate allowing for a variety of plants not seen in the exposed terrain of most of the desert. Without a word, we spread ourselves out, took a seat, and sat in contemplative silence. A leisurely hike, then a jog back to the car, and we were ready for a Texas BBQ! The down-to-earth, order-at-the-counter, sit-on-the-patio restaurant with live local musicians was the perfect cap to a perfect day. As darkness fell upon us, we took a somber stroll into the historic Terlingua cemetery and into the old stone Terlingua church. The night sky was clear and brilliant with stars.
On our final morning, we returned to Balanced Rock, for a full circle of our days in the desert, our meditation beads on our wrists to remind us of our new journey, keeping us on the path towards our goals, and leaving behind that which does not serve us.