Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Basin

The most unique and beautiful spot in Big Bend, at least for my money, is the Basin. Now, true desert rats will probably disagree and argue that the lower elevations of the area offer the greatest beauty if you know how and where to look for it. And Donna and I both love the desert and understand their sentiments. You have to love the desert to have lived in West Texas as long as we have.

But the Basin is special and offers an environment unlike almost anything else in Texas. Besides the Basin, you can probably only find this type of environment in selected areas of the Davis Mountains and Guadalupe Mountains.

To reach the Basin, turn south off the main park road just 3 miles west of Panther Junction, the headquarters for Big Bend National Park. At first, the road is like other park roads, but you soon notice that you are climbing steadily. Lower peaks begin to close on both sides of the road, and after a few miles, real trees begin to appear. There are 2 or 3 places where you can stop for photo opportunities along this route.

There aren't many places in Texas where you will see a sign like this. This is the approach road to the Basin. Notice there are no trees near the road.
Casa Grande looming ahead. Note tree growth along roadside. The farther up we go, the more numerous and taller the trees. Compare this picture to the previous one. This one is just a mile or so farther along than the previous one.
The ascent gets a bit steeper and the curves sharper the farther you go. After the first switchback, you crest over the rim  and begin to descend into the Basin. The Basin is formed by a series of mountains that ring a depression. I'm not a geologist, but my understanding is that the area had volcanic activity between 17 and 38 million years ago. Regardless, the Basin is actually a depression in the center of this ring of mountains, all part of the Chisos Mountain range. Some of the taller peaks in this ring are:
  • Emory Peak -- 7,825 feet
  • Toll Mountain -- 7,415 feet
  • Casa Grande -- 7,325 feet
  • Ward Mountain -- 6,890 feet
The elevation of the Basin proper is 5,401 feet.

Emory Peak at 7825 ft is the tallest point in the Chisos Mountains and Big Bend
In my mind, there are 2 great photo ops in the Basin. The first is the Window. The Window is a V notch in the ring of mountains surrounding the Basin, and it is the only outlet for runoff water from the Basin. The V notch does form a window with spectacular views towards the west. It has the lowest elevation in the Basin at 4,600 feet.

Donna and the Window

The second photo op is Casa Grande, an imposing mountain that looms above the Basin. It is the most recognizable of the mountains in the area.

Casa Grande looms over the Basin at 7325 ft.
Numerous facilities and amenities are available in the Basin. The Chisos Mountain Lodge offers various types of motel rooms and cottages. I don't know if things have changed, but when I worked this area several years ago, there were no TVs or phones in the rooms.

There is also a convenience store offering basic items. The Chisos Mountain Lodge Restaurant serves up some very good food. It also offers one of the most spectacular views from the dining room of any place in Texas.

The Chisos Mountain Lodge Restaurant at the Basin

View of the Window from our table in the Chisos Mountains Dining Room
There is also a campground in the Basin. However, because of the challenging road, longer trailers and RVs are discouraged from using this campground. Even so, we did see a couple of longer rigs in the campground. I would not care to pull a trailer up that road. Numerous trailheads also originate in the Basin, offering hikers a variety of opportunities to explore this high country. Take animal warnings seriously as bears and mountain lions do make this area home.

If you plan to visit the Basin, be forewarned that it is a different environment and climate from the lower elevations of the park. During warmer months, it provides a welcome relief; during cooler months, it can be colder. On our trip, temps in the Basin were about 15 degrees lower than along the main park road. I've been in the Basin before during spring when the lower elevations had 90 degree temps with sunny skies, but the Basin was misty with temps in the lower 50s or upper 40s. Dress appropriately.

From left to right, motel rooms, convenience store, and ranger station.

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