Sunday, January 3, 2016

Big Bend National Park

We visited Big Bend National Park after our San Antonio trip. It's about 6 hours away in a remote area, along the border with Mexico. We had printed out our 4th grader's pass to go to the National Parks for free through August, so didn't need to pay the entry fee. Additionally, they gave us a card that works for other places as well. Saved us $25 just on these two days. Hopefully, we will get more use out of this! Be sure to print the pass before you go--lesson learned the hard way in Jamestown for us.

You can actually cross into Mexico on certain days of the week at one border patrol point with a passport or passport card. We planned on doing this, but didn't get the kids' passport cards. Also, because of the weather issues later, it seemed like it wasn't going to happen. They use cameras to digitally send the image of you and the passport over to a manned border crossing where  they allow you across the border. You can then cross the river and walk into a small Mexican town. You have to return by 5 when they shut down the cameras or stay the night in Mexico. It sounded like fun, but must not have been in the plans with the weather and such.

 


We learned about mountain lions and other animals in one of the visitor centers. While there have been very rare mountain lion sightings in Indiana and we see a animal study of one frequently at the nature center, we haven't been up close to one before. 

Loved this heart shaped cactus. We're always looking for shapes in nature! 

 

We took a nearby hike up in the higher elevation, opting for a mild to moderate hike as we had people from 3-67 on our hike with various health issues. I was blindly following the group, taking in the view. It might have been easy to misstep off the path into dangerous areas down below. In cases like this (and on federally protected lands), it's important to stay on the path.

There were lots of rocks and outcroppings. The geology of the area is really neat. 


What great brothers! 



We found scat and various plants. As part of the Jr. Ranger program, the kids needed to learn about various plants and their uses. I know plants in our area, not in Texas, so this was all new to me as well.
 

A group of 14 takes up most of the trail!


There were beautiful views along the hike. 



Hiking with a three-year-old can be tiring. He's getting too big for the backpack carrier and can walk a lot. I guess with the last kid I would still bring the backpack so that I could put him in when he got tired. He's getting heavy!

Not the best pics, but we saw 4 black bear cubs! Carsten and I learned about black bears at Nature Preschool this last semester. Fun to see them in real life (from the safety of our car!). 


We stayed in nearby Terlingua, waking up to once in a lifetime snow the next morning! Short sleeves the day before and snow with coats the next day! We asked one of the rangers about it and she said it NEVER snows at Big Bend. Wow! The snow was actually pretty thick! We stayed back at the motel for a couple of hours until roads could be cleared better. They were mostly fine when we went out mid morning. 

 

How many people get to see Big Bend dusted with snow? What a treat!


Parts had more snow than others. 


The desert plants we got to know yesterday were now covered in snow!

In one visitor center, there was a huge femur bone to explore. We watched a video about the park and browsed books in the bookstore. The boys worked on their Jr. Ranger booklets the day before and while we were driving around in the car and stopping at various places. The ranger took time to go through their books, ask them about their experiences, and let them share what they drew and wrote. It's nice they make a big deal out of it.!
 


After they fulfilled the requirements, the boys were sworn in as Jr. Rangers, committed to keeping the park clean, protecting the natural resources, and leaving things better than they were found. Plus, they got a new badge!


Our snow day was a lot different than the warm day just before.

Clouds covered some of the rock formations. Snow covered the area. 


As the sun came out, snow began to melt, exposing the rock outcroppings. We found more shapes in nature in another visitor center manned by a park volunteer. Sounds like he'd like to stay there as long as he can! 


There was a table of natural elements at this visitor's center. We explored plant remnants, skulls, bones, antlers, fossils, rocks, artifacts, and more. As we looked at and talked about the antler, my three-year-old offered that antlers fall off and horns stay on. The volunteer was impressed. Nature preschool win! 


I liked these rubbermaid containers and laminated cards on the various specimens. 


It was nice to have so many specimens out to investigate, including this javelina skull! It's an herbivore (check out the back teeth), but uses the larger tusks/teeth up front as defense. Pretty cool. While they look similar to pigs, they aren't really related. We didn't see any at the park, yet did see about 20 at a rest area the next day. 


We even found grinding stones!


There were throw backs to earlier settlers. 


And more traditional looking buildings. 


We had to go down to check out the Rio Grande and the view the rock formations up close.

It was so interesting how the snow persisted on the slanted parts of the rocks. To think this river is all that separates us politically, geographically, and culturally from Mexico is interesting!

How cool to see the deep gorge the river cut from the rocks! 


Loved seeing all the river rocks! How colorful! 


What a neat visit! 


We drove through the scenic drive of Big Bend, so were able to see many great places in just a few hours of driving. 



As we left, clouds hung above the van; however, the sun found places to break through. It reminded me that we can find spots of happiness through the clouds and storms. It also looked like three distinct levels of light, reminding me of the Plan of Salvation. 


That afternoon, we visited the nearby "ghost town" area of Terlingua. They skies continued their display while we passed by ruins and little snowmen. 


My son took this picture--nice sky with all the Texas trucks!


More snow people! The rock building was the restroom, separated from the restaurant. We even found bits of ice! We had a great Mexican dinner after a long wait. The curio shop next door was fun!

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