Saturday, March 26, 2011

Ross Maxwell Drive- Big Bend

This is a 30-mile drive which runs south in Big Bend, and is quite scenic. It skirts the western flanks of the Chisos Mountains and drops to the Rio Grande floodplain. The drive features historic sites as well as a number of classical geologic features. The historic sites included a couple of ranches and an old military outpost. Settlers and ranchers lived in Big Bend in the early years of the last century. At the Sam Neil Ranch there is still some evidence of an old pecan and fig orchard. The windmill is still there and continues to pump out water. Another ranch, the buildings of which are still there, can be seen from Soltol Vista Ridge. It once had cattle, sheep and goats at different times of its existence. Sotol and other grasses provided food for the livestock to graze on.
Tuff Canyon was our second short hike of the day. It primarily involved walking on a path above the canyon which led to overlooks on the canyon rim. In the past a creek cut out a narrow canyon in the soft gray rock, called tuff, which is volcanic ash. Fragments of the ash have been cemented together by pressure from overlaying layers and later exposed by erosion.
Our drive continued from the canyon through white tuff beds and black basaltic boulders. In one area there are lava necks.They are lava which has been cooled and harden in the vents from which the lava probably flowed. We saw the most spectacular of these necks, it looks like a petrified tree. The lava neck can be seen in the center of the picture below.
Our drive ended at Santa Elena Canyon where we took a mile hike into the canyon pictured below.
 A canyon wren greeted us with his distinctive call. We later saw some of those wrens hopping around on the canyon ledges. It was a hot walk into the canyon, but as we walked further we found the canyon shaded and cool. We hung over the boulders there to cool ourselves down. The rocky cliffs of the canyon arise dramatically 1,500 feet up from the Rio Grande, (we were told that the canyon is 3x larger than the Washington Monument). The rest of our drive took us through land dotted with rock formations which reminded us of the Bad Lands. It had been a long day but we felt that we had seen a lot on the drive.

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