The last plan I had to visit Big Bend National Park was 2021, during the pandemic lockdown. But there was a hitch, when 800 acres of the 800,000-acre park went up in flames. It made news statewide when the upper Chisos Mountains along the famous South Rim started burning. The forest evolved with fire, and yet these sensitive arid areas were off limits to visitors so I steered to Texas’ other great mountain park, the Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
In turn, this last week was a homecoming for me, of sorts, to be able to see the South Rim in all its glory — the views from this sky island stretch across the ribbon of the Rio Grande into most distant Mexico. It was also a first, as since COVID came and the fires burned, I had not been back. The backpacking was awesome, hard and refreshing.
The mountains meanwhile, ranging above 7,500 feet, with spires and cliffs of limestone driven up by ancient volcanic forces, remained very much alive despite the impact of those forest fires. The patchwork of burned areas and charred trees alternated with vibrant vegetation. The coal-black crows seemed painted with the same brush the fires had brought top the landscape. And in the root balls that had survived, yucca put out new spikes, and in the crotch of several fire-damaged oaks, glistening pubic green leaves announced a new season.
For this, I was thankful. Thankful for the mountains and the fresh air, for the good company of an old friend, and for the continued breathtaking beauty of Big Bend. It took me a few years of hanging around to get back, and a few more hours of driving across the state of Texas to get there — not to mention the long hike to the rim. And now, I feel like my mind and spirit are also refreshed. I am grateful for this place, and all the opportunities for growth.