Finishing the Marufo Vega Trail and Admitting Defeat
Day Five Camping and Hiking in Big Bend National Park
Woke up hot, sticky and dusted with a fine layer of sand. I didn’t get a good night’s rest at all. Tossed and turned all night. The wind whipped the walls of the tent around and I had to tuck myself deep into my sleeping bag to keep from getting the grit in my eyes and mouth. When we woke up, we opened the doors of the tent, the air having gone still somewhere in the predawn hours and the humidity set in. There were tracks from the horses all around our tent. We packed up, trying our best to shake the sand from everything before stuffing it into our backpacks.
We made our way back up to the trail, walked until we came to a cliff overlooking the river. Backpacks came off, stove came out and water boiled to make a breakfast of oatmeal. There was sand in everything.
We sat, watching the river as we ate, taking our time. The sun was still behind a mesa and the air, although still and humid, was chilly. We packed up and hoisted our packs up again, setting off on the trail as it followed the small cliff, the river remaining in view.
The trail began to climb, and wound closer to the mesas to our right. The river moving farther and farther away from us. Within an hour, the Rio Grande was out of sight once again and we were hiking on a steady incline.
Maybe it was the night of poor sleep. Or maybe the 40+ pounds I had lashed to my back. It could have been the half an hour of unceasing downhill climbing. Whatever the cause, my hip started to bother me. My right hip, the one that hurts from time to time, or sometimes chooses not to work at all.
The sudden onset of stiffness slowed me down. I took ample opportunities to pause, sip from my water—somehow there was still sand in my bite valve, but I was no longer bothered by such things—have a handful of trail mix, or just look around and appreciate the scenery. The farther we walked, the steeper the trail got, the hotter it got and the more my hip hurt. Soon enough I was using both hands on my hiking pole, pressing more of my weight into it, groaning as I lagged behind Ian.
Part of the problem was certainly the weight of my backpack. And, moreso, where it was located. At the beginning of the trail, I had 3 liters up against my back, which makes 6.6 pounds. Another 2 liters were tucked into each of the side pockets, 4.4 pounds each. An additional 2 liters, 4.4 pounds, was tucked into the back pouch of my bag, furthest away from my back. Over the course of the day before I drank just over a liter and a half from the bladder against my back. I used roughly 1 liter for cooking and washing from the bottle at the back of the back. After walking a for a couple hours, we sat down so I could rest my hip and I emptied one of my bottles into the bladder. I had sucked down a liter already, though I was still way below the recommended 1 liter per hour of activity. I had to drink more water. With my bag all closed up again, I tightened it it all up and started following Ian up the mountain again.
I had a rule for myself on this trip. I didn’t want to spend my time taking photos of the most incredible, beautiful, breathtaking views and sights. And while some of what I managed to capture on camera is incredible, none of the moments are those that meant the most to me in any given moment. As a result, I didn’t take too many pictures today.
Well, I took a lot of pictures, but they are all of the same four things.
As the day got hotter, I began to feel like the heat was part of what was slowing me down. So I stripped out of my pants and took the lead hiking up a shallow incline. Hardly ten minutes had passed before there was a sharp sting just under my knee. I stopped short and looked down to find a large bee curled up on my leg, stinger plunged into my skin. I swapped it away and pulled the stinger out, cursing it as I flicked it away.
I continued without pants for another hour, until the terrain leveled out a little and the spiky bushes and weird alien trees (ocotillo) began to grow thicker and closer to the trail.
By the time we made it to our lunch spot from the previous day we knew we had to scrap our initial plan for the following days. My hip was now causing me quite a bit of pain and Ian had taken on more of the water I was carrying. Starting the Chisos Mountain Outer Loop today was not an option. So we would need to go to a ranger station and switch out campsites for the night. But, we decided that we had earned a meal at the Chisos Basin Lodge.
We finished the hike by 2pm, dirty, hot, smelly, sweaty and sunburnt (despite liberal use of sunscreen). We stopped just long enough to take a picture at the trailhead and walked across the street to the car. With the car unlocked, we threw our packs in, took off our boots and headed around the park to the basin lodge.
Riding into the basin for the first time brought us on some twisty mountain roads heading upwards and then back down. The basin is much more lush than the rest of the park, almost as green as the banks of the river. There is the lodge in the basin, as well as a pull-in campground and, between the two, a ranger station. We parked and walked up to the lodge first. We were seated and proceeded to investigate the menu, contemplating our first meal to arrive on a plate in a few days.
We ordered, enjoyed sodas and ice cold waters, took our time eating, loving each and every bite. After lunch, Ian went to the ranger station to change our plans while I checked out the lodge store. When we met back up by the car, we opened up the map and discussed the new plan. Two rest days were in order, then we would take two days to the Basin Loop. That way we could keep our final campsite on the southwest rim. But tonight… Tonight we head out of the park to a campground called Stillwell Ranch. It’s a big property with RV and tent camping on FM2627. We got a tent site and went back to the ranch store. We took quick showers, just rinsing off, really, cooked our dinner and headed back to the tent.
Coyotes howled in the night. I tried to capture some photos of the stars, but the moon was too bright and none of them really came out. The air was cool and dry, however, so we left the rainfly off the tent. It was nice to fall asleep in a stable tent on flat ground again.
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