Perseid Meteor Shower in Big Bend. Sort of.

In August I made the plan to go out to Big Bend National Park to see the Perseid Meteor Shower. With the darkest skies in Texas, Big Bend National Park is one of the best locations to see it, and the peak of the shower was supposed to be over a weekend. I remember hearing about it in the past, and it was always during the week and the best time to see it was at 3 am. Being a college student, the last thing I needed to do was stay up all night watching a meteor shower when I had class the next morning, so like the responsible adult I am, I skipped out on it. But this year was different, and I made time to specifically stay up late and get shots of the meteor shower. Of course, Hubby doesn’t need a reason to go out to Big Bend, so we loaded up and headed out West. My family has land at about the half-way point in Rocksprings, so we headed out after work on Friday and got to the land around midnight.

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Doe in Rocksprings

The next morning we headed out to Fort Davis, Texas, where we were camping for our first full night in Davis Mountains State Park. We went through Alpine first and it was pouring down rain, with water running down the streets and pooling in low areas. It was pretty unexpected seeing as how it’s the desert! We checked out what had changed around town since we moved away, had dinner in Alpine and drinks at Harry’s Tinaja, our old waterhole. It was a pretty dead night in town because the collegiate rodeo was going on, so everyone was out at the rodeo grounds. Because it was so quiet, we sat and talked with Harry, himself. It was one of my favorite parts of the trip. We talked about how we missed living there and how we were thinking of buying land in the desert, and he told us how he remembered us as biology students. It was great!

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After the cold front blew in. Mitre Peak – Fort Davis

Over night the temperature dropped to the low 70s. I couldn’t believe it! It was mid-August and it looked like a blustery winter day! Luckily I was prepared and brought a light jacket. I would have been miserable if I hadn’t, but I learned early on, living in this area, that you always bring another layer. The first time I went to Alpine to look at the campus and see if this was where I wanted to go to school was in June and a cold front blew in while we were there, dropping to the 60s! I had only packed shorts and t-shirts, so I had to buy a sweatshirt in the Sul Ross gift shop so I wouldn’t die. Lesson learned!

Birding in Fort Davis is always a treat. We saw some great variety that I have missed not living in West Texas anymore. Blue Grosbeaks, Painted Buntings, a Western Tanager, Black-headed Grosbeaks, American Goldfinches, several woodpeckers…all amazing additions to our 2016 Bird List.

Heading down to Big Bend National Park, we drove through Marfa and then through Alpine again. Between Marfa and Alpine are rolling prairies where we saw a huge male Pronghorn watching over his harem of females. A young male was standing by, and I guess the large male got tired of him lurking, because he suddenly got up and started chasing the young male all over the place! Then, heading closer to Alpine, we saw a dark coyote running across the road. The coyotes closer to town are hunted, so this guy didn’t waste any time getting to the other side and taking cover.

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Young male Pronghorn, watching the harem of females
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Getting chased off by the much larger male

We stayed at an RV park in Terlingua called BJ’s RV park. We were the only people staying there, so it was so quiet. We got set up at the RV park and went into the Terlingua Ghost Town. If you don’t know about the Ghost Town, you are missing out on some…interesting stuff. There is a wide variety of people there, from artists who are looking to the desert for inspiration, to original occupants when it was a mining town, to people who want to be left alone by the government. The thing to do is go to the general store and have a beer on the porch, listening to the locals playing guitar on the porch and sing.

Now, seeing as how the whole reason for our trip was to see and photograph the Perseid Meteor Shower, you can understand that the trip started out a little disappointing. Cloudy and rainy is not quite ideal weather for a meteor shower. We had planned on basically sleeping all day and photographing/hiking at night but since it was so cloudy at night and cool during the day, we decided to make the best of it and hike/drive through the desert during the day and not worry about the stars which were hidden anyway.

We got up SUPER early the first day in Terlingua and drove into the park before sunrise. We drove down the Old Maverick Road to Santa Elena Canyon. Sunrise in the desert, after the clouds started to clear, was spectacular. We added a few more bird species to our list, and then headed up to Panther Junction, where the Visitors Center is located. On the way we saw a rattle snake and a red coyote. Since coyotes are normally gray, it definitely caught our attention. It wouldn’t surprise me if it was actually mixed with some of the local Terlingua dogs.

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Sunrise on the Old Maverick Road
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Red coyote – short coat and pointed ears
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Trying to get a better look at us – Scruffy, gray coat and rounded ears
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Curious and beautiful – Petite size with a smooth, gray coat

We saw a total of 4 coyotes on this trip, and each sighting was better than the last! The fourth one we saw let us get so close, and s/he just stood there, watching us. It’s easy to tell that the coyotes in and around the park aren’t hunted – they were just as curious about us!

I’ve already forgotten a lot of the details of the trip, which is such a bummer. Part of the reason I write my blog posts is to go back and read them for myself, but when it’s months before I can find to the time to write it up, details are lost. Because of that, I have started keeping a travel journal so I can go back and refer to the details later. Too bad I didn’t start with this trip!

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You can’t see me!
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…Can you?