BIG BEND PORTAL, 2011
Text and Photography 41
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:
Its 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
fleeingat 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 acresabout 1,251 square
milesin which to become easily lost and eventually
perish. And thats 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
dayunless 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
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
(its either that or youre left with the
advice of chunking rocksa defense in which I
dont 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
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 Ive 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
doesnt emit an odor until cooked). Be sure to cook,
eat and dispose of your food away from your campso
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
Of course youll 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 foolsand 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 GPSso that I wouldnt walk
in circlesand 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
The beauty of Big Bend can be brutal if you arent
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.