Text and Photography • 41 images

Copyright © 2011, 2014 by DL Tolleson. All Rights Reserved. No part of this material or any of the images may be reproduced in any form or by any means without written permission from the author/photographer/artist.


Once submerged beneath an in-land sea, Big Bend National Park is in a far-flung corner of Texas and is the result of volcanic activity as well as the up-thrusting of colliding fault lines. Here is found flat deserts, rolling hills, mountains, basins and building-sized boulders cast about as though the Almighty had been shooting marbles. A very few early American structures are still standing here and Indian rock art is prevalent in select areas. Under sunny skies and indigo nights of glittering starlight, Big Bend is well-described by the official Texas tourism slogan that boasted, “Texas: It’s like a whole other country.”

Nowhere is that more appropriately applied than to the diversity of Big Bend.

Surviving Big Bend: This is a land that can be as deadly as it is enjoyable. There is a “main,” two-lane paved road that runs east and west for almost the entire length of the park and four two-lane paved roads that connect to it. At any point alongside these thoroughfares, a person can park a car, walk a mere mile into the desert or mountains, become disoriented and die.

Exposure to extreme temperature swings can lead to a death by hypothermia and dehydration. You can cross paths with a bear or lion and make the mistake of fleeing—at which point you become prey. At one moment a person can be without a drop of water and in the next moment swept away in the runoff of a flash flood.

All of this can happen within a mile or less of your car. There are 801,163 acres—about 1,251 square miles—in which to become easily lost and eventually perish. And that’s just within the boundaries of the National Park. Beyond this, and to the south, is the desert of Mexico. In fact, to all points of the compass Big Bend National Park is surrounded by an inhospitable and deadly panorama of beauty extending for hundreds of square miles more.

How to prepare? Dress for success: Wear clothing that can endure the rugged environment and protect against extreme conditions. Short sleeves are fine in the heat of the day—unless you are thirsting to death and blistering in the sun. Likewise, short-sleeves are not a defense against dropping temperatures (especially after sundown) or the brushes, thorns, thistles and underbrush you might find yourself navigating. The same is true for wearing shorts.

Never assume you are taking just a little day trip by foot. That may be your intention, but you might find yourself in a struggle for survival.

I wear khakis of military design (purchased from a military re-seller local to my area). They are durable, cool in the heat and good enough in the cold. I recommend long sleeves as they can be rolled-up if needed.

Even in the summer I keep a light leather jacket with me to protect against back country plant life and the occasional unexpected slip down abrasive terrain. At night, that jacket is handy. I actually have a larger leather jacket that fits over the lighter jacket and this provides warmth when in camp.

Footwear: I wear a heavy pair of Redwing leather boots that protect against ankle injury as well as adverse hiking conditions. Socks should be breathable but thick enough to prevent foot movement in your footgear. Again, I turn to Redwing and their cotton, medium-weight extended length (over the calf) socks. With 15% stretch nylon these are durable and will stay up over even the most muscular of calves.

Headwear: I wear a 100% beaver fedora. It shades me from the sun and insures I retain body heat in the cold. It handles the rain well and can take a beating. I recommend having ear muffs and a toboggan, as well. A toboggan is great for staying warm while sleeping.

Supplies to carry during hikes and trips: I carry an 18-foot whip as a sound deterrent to wild animals (it’s either that or you’re left with the advice of chunking rocks—a defense in which I don’t have a lot of faith). The whip is for hikes into regions far from trails and posted attractions.

I always carry a supply of water that can be stretched-out for a few days, if need be. In my shoulder bag I carry enough trail mix to sustain me for a few days. I carry two sets of leather gloves, a backup compass, a high-intensity Mag flashlight, a couple of small flashlights, a lighter, matches in a waterproof container, extra batteries and a park map. (My map is a 1980s era topo map with trails illustrated, weatherproofed and tear-proof. Newer maps do not show a few of the details that the park service wants to protect from vandals.)

Attached to the outside of my shoulder bag are various clips, nylon cord, a GPS (designed for hiking into the unknown), my main compass and a collapsible walking cane.

In-Camp supplies: Have a sturdy tent with floor protection; Water; A small stove (I use a Fold & Go that I’ve modified); Plenty of fuel for your stove; A sub-zero rated sleeping bag; Plenty of food (prepackaged freeze dried food is probably the best as it doesn’t emit an odor until cooked). Be sure to cook, eat and dispose of your food away from your camp—so as not to invite unwanted guest, (like bears, for example); A medical kit (I even have a lower-leg Aircast Boot for immobilizing the toes-to-calf region) and crutches.

Of course you’ll also have your toiletries, but my point here is to illustrate the preparation necessary to comfortably survive adverse events and conditions.

Now, before you wave all this off as excessive preparation, allow me to demonstrate otherwise. In 2012 a couple of, “experienced,” Big Bend National Park visitors had to leave the park due to the government shut-down. With vacation time remaining, they visited the nearby Big Bend State Park. They parked their car and while wearing shorts and tee shirts struck out on a short day hike. It was days later when the husband managed to find help and was able to get his lost wife rescued. Where did they find her? Within a mile of their car and suffering from extreme exposure. They survived only because God protects children and fools—and they were not children.

In 2010 I was several miles into the desert when sundown left me unable to discern the surrounding landmarks. I then turned on my GPS—so that I wouldn’t walk in circles—and used my compass. After about four hours I walked out of the desert and onto that main two-lane road I mentioned at the outset above. At that point, using a combination of the GPS and map revealed my exact location.

The beauty of Big Bend can be brutal if you aren’t prepared and in the silence of the desert, no one will hear a plea for help.

So, as I learned in Scouting: Always be prepared.

The Photographs below are from a visit to Big Bend in mid-to-late October of 2011. Click an image to see more.


Morning Mist To Marathon, No. 1B

Marathon To Marathon, No. 2B

Marathon To Marathon, No. 18B

Marathon To Marathon, No. 23B

Marathon To Marathon, No. 28B

Overlooking Terlingua, No. B

Terlingua Hillside, No. 2B

Ghost Town at Sundown, No. 3B

Ghost Town Grave, No. B

Southwest View of Chisos, No. B

Rocky Terrain, No. B

The Anvil, No. 5B

The Anvil Wears a Fedora, No. 1B

The Red Buffalo, No. 1B

Red Buffalo and Fedora, No. 6B

West Entry, No. B

Night Approaches, No. 1B

Eye See, No. 1B

Eye See, No. 2B

Eye See, No. 3B

Along Pine Canyon, No. B

Pine Canyon Pour-off, No. 3B

Trail View, No. 2B

Out of Pine Canyon, No. 1B

Green, No. 4B

Almost Soto Vista, No. 5B

Almost Soto Vista, No. 6B

Ruffled Feathers, No. C

Roadrunner, No. C

Canyon Lizard, No.4B

Sunset @ Santa Elena, No. 1B

Santa Elena Entry, No. 2B

Santa Elena Trail, No. B

Canyon Floor Fedora, No. B

Santa Elena on The Rio Grande, No. B

Into Santa Elena Canyon, No. 3B

Fragmentos de Alfarería... No. 5B

Shadow Self, No. B

Tuff Canyon, 1B

Sun Baked, No. B

October 21, 2011 @ 6:38 PM CDT
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