15 January 2014

Big Bend National Park: Hot Springs After Hiking, Anyone? (Day 3)

Big Bend National Park: Emory Creek Trail
Magnificent view from about two miles into the Emory Peak Trail

I have done a decent amount of hiking/trail running in the Smokies, the Rockies, on Oahu, HI, in other State/National parks around the country, and even in Ireland.  That's not to say I'm particularly discriminating, but if you're looking for a short day hike that will rank in the top of your memories, try the Emory Peak Trail.  It is about 10 miles round trip, unless you're over confident and go two miles out of the way due to not needing any stinking trail signs, like me.  Yay for extra work outs!  Don't expect to make very good time on the way up, because pretty much everything is uphill with an elevation gain of 2400 feet over 5 miles.  I'm sure people who can run the whole way exist, but I'm certainly not one of them.  I run the flattish parts, and of course the downhill.  That's why I don't have pictures going back down.

Big Bend National Park Mexican Jay
This fearless Mexican Jay flew down beside us and hopped closer and closer, until he decided to get eye level about 3 feet from me.  I felt like a Disney Princess, albeit a very dirty and tired one.

Big Bend National Park Emory Peak Trail Running
Maybe he was just trying to point out how well we matched.

We saw plenty of other birds, and also a young buck on the trail.  None of the animals seemed concerned about our presence.  When we saw the deer, he waited a little while, lost interest, and just sort of wandered away.  There were also a few horseback riders, at least up to the campground.

Once you make it to the peak of the trail you'll have to do a little bit of rock climbing.  It isn't anything major, but it you have a fear of heights it may not be the best thing for you.  There are actually two peaks, and I tightened my shoelaces and went up both of them.  Krishna stayed below due to common sense and the heebie-jeebies, which allowed him to take this picture of me leaning over about 2/3 up the shorter peak.  

Big Bend National Park Emory Peak Summit
Once I made it to the top, I realized I had picked the shorter of the two peaks, so I had to go up the second one too.

Big Bend National Park Chisos Basin from Emory Peak
Aah, that's better.  You can just barely see the Chisos Basin Campground and Visitor Center on the right.

U.S. Cost & Geodetic Survey Marker 1934 Emory Peak Big Bend National Park
This was at the far end of the Emory Peak summit.  You'll find it if you're looking for the best vantage point to take pictures of the Chisos Basin.
Nowadays, the U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey is called the National Geodetic Survey, and, according to Wikipedia, is responsible for the National Spatial Reference System, which is way cooler than it sounds at first.  If you're interested in learning more and possibly being filled with gratitude, check out this page.  I didn't even know it existed until I found this marker and looked it up.  

Krishna and Tyndall at the top of Emory Peak in Big Bend National Park
I'm having a blast, and he's having heebie-jeebies.  I wish he wouldn't worry, but I guess that's just twue wuv.

After taking this picture, we beat a hasty retreat down the mountain and headed to the hot springs.  This time we made it there before sunset!  There is a bit of a drive to the short hot springs trail.  It may make you nervous, wondering "Just how far am I going to have to walk to get to this spring," but don't worry, it is only about half a mile.  As a plus, you can see some ancient pictographs at the top of the cliff if you look closely. 

Big Bend National Park hot springs trail
Not pictured: pictographs.  This is, however, a pretty good preview of the hike you'll encounter on the way to the hot springs.  Flip flops are just fine, but your feet will get sandy on your walk back to the parking lot.

 Also, I discovered that the abandoned buildings have murals that are worth checking out, particularly if you love kitsch.

Big Bend State Park Hot Springs Abandoned Building
These were lodging for the now defunct health retreat's patrons.  Each room has a different mural.

We got to watch the sun set, and as the temperature dropped things got steamier and steamier, interfering with pictures.  We're sitting right by the intake, where the water is the hottest--about 105°F.  The walls of the hot spring keep out the Rio Grande's chilly water.  As you can imagine a desert river would, the water level changes pretty dramatically depending on rainfall, so you will probably have a different experience every trip.  

Big Bend National Park Hot Spring Sunset
This is definitely the best picture spot in the spring.   Also, the warmest.  Score!

The best part about the spring's setup is that once you get too hot, you can go for a cold plunge in the Rio Grande.  It's tough the first time, but it gets easier each time.  

Big Bend State Park Hot Springs Rio Grande Cold Plunge
So cold, but oh, so good--particularly once you get back in the hot water!

We stayed to watch the sky for a long while, and I saw a shooting star!  We would have brought our bottle of champagne with us, but alcohol is prohibited here because of the health risks involved in drinking too much and getting in really hot water.  It is a prudent idea, but I really think we would have been fine if we sat away from the hot water outlet.  We hung out for a while in the spring and met a family from India who were super friendly and entertaining.  It was fun to not be the only white girl around married to a Krishna.

The night was young, but we ended up heading back to camp and having Soto for dinner.  Soto is deliciously spiced Indonesian chicken soup; I highly recommend you try it if you ever get the chance.  We were so warm from the hot spring that we didn't try to cook in the tent this time.  What an improvement!  We brought in the New Year with champagne under the stars.  Despite not being able to drink it in the hot springs as we had planned, I have to say this has been my favorite New Year's celebration to date.  It was health oriented and completely stress free.  Sure, we were sore from the hike, but it was a satisfying kind of sore, mitigated by the mineral water soak.  

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