For many people, living in the Big Bend Region is a dream. They love the area, but the job market doesn’t allow them to live there full time. People take rides out to the desert on the motorcycles or take RVs to live in for a few days of isolation before heading back to the grind of the city. For others, they couldn’t imagine wanting to live in a desert, where so many things either stink, sting, or stick (e.g. skunks, rattlenakes/bees/wasps/other bitey things, and sticker burrs/goat heads/cactus, etc.) Other people don’t even know that Texas has mountains, and have never even heard of The Big Bend. But, for 6 short years, Hubby and I were able to live in The Big Bend Region while going to college at Sul Ross State University. While we were there we experienced a lot of different things: small town life (i.e. gossip and knowing everyone in town), getting annoyed with tourists for not knowing how to drive their giant rented RVs through town, having javelinas (pronounced
ha-va-lee-na) eat rotten bird seed off the ground in my front yard and having the dog go berserk at 3 am because of it, having an epic battle in the backyard with the dog and a skunk at 5 am, ending up with a very disgusting (but proud of himself) dog and a zombie skunk that wouldn’t die. It was a pretty eventful 6 years.
However, our best experiences were outdoors.
During my undergrad career, I had plans to go to vet school so I majored in Animal Science, but developed the realization that veterinary work was NOT what I wanted to do. I was still interested in it, but no longer felt that medicine was my calling. Hubby majored in Biology and through him I was able to meet the Biology Professors and students, and we both decided to get our Master’s Degrees in Biology.
During this time, Hubby worked on his thesis research and I later worked on mine. It was good timing because we could both help each other out while we weren’t working on our own projects. We both researched different aspects of Black bear in Big Bend National Park (yes, there are bears in Texas *eye roll*). That means that we had a lot of amazing experiences with Black bear and other wildlife while we were looking for the bears. Here is a
map of Big Bend that you can use as reference.
My gallery this week consists of photos taken while working on my research, Hubby’s research, and various other trips we took in the Big Bend Region. Each photo has a description of what we were doing at that time. Enjoy. I know I did.
Fall on the Window Trail, Big Bend National Park
These were the bears that inspired me to do my thesis project. I didn’t have a project picked yet, and my class took a field trip to Big Bend. It was a really good year for bears, and the females have cubs every other year, so there were TONS of cubs around! I told my professor that I just wanted to watch them all day and see what they do, and he said “there’s your thesis project.” I have never been so excited about something in my life. It was like I was a little girl that someone just handed a puppy as a gift. I will always have a special place in my heart for this family of 5.
This was the adult female associated with the family of 5 that inspired my thesis work. This picture was taken before I had a telephoto lens, so I took this by holding the lens up to my binoculars. Not a bad picture for using a little Redneck Engineering!
Black bear in a Madrone tree, quietly hiding from me and hoping I go away. Unfortunately for this bear, I was LOOKING for it, so I wasn’t going away! I found this bear by looking on the ground and seeing tons of broken branches and fresh leaves on the ground. Bears aren’t very careful when they feed, and tend to make a mess when they climb trees. This bear had probably been eating madrone berries all morning, and was resting in the crook of the tree when I wandered up to it.
Sunrise through the canyon. This was a favorite backpacking location of mine. I had good visibility in both directions of the canyon, and bears would frequent this area because there was always water in a pool below. I would sit here for a long time in the morning and in the even, when wildlife is most active, watching for bears, but also seeing tons of birds.
Here I am, overlooking the canyon. This was my view a lot during my research, because the bears were often found in the higher elevations. Wherever the bears were reported, that’s where I went.
This is a bear I was able to see from my perch above the canyon. It was presumably searching for bugs or other tasty treats under rocks.
This is one of the birds that came super close to me while I was waiting for bears above the canyon. This is a female Lucifer Hummingbird that came and hung out with me for a good long while (for a hummingbird). Considering the stick she was sitting on was waving in the wind, this photo came out pretty well!
Sunrise on the Sierra del Carmens, also known as the Sierra Madres. A very iconic mountain range because of the highly visible geologic layers.
Watching a cold front move in as I head back home from a weekend of research
While hiking through the mountains we found a stream. And in that stream, we found this little guy!
Although out of focus, I used this photo as the background during my thesis presentation.
I believe this was the same bear from the previous picture. This is a yearling male that appeared to be under-weight for the upcoming winter. Good thing is, that there is usually food all year long for these bears, and they don’t have a true hibernation, so he probably had good food to eat and fatten up a bit. I was able to get surprisingly close to him because all he cared about was the acorns he was eating as fast as possible.
We had beautiful sunsets over the mountains that would give a beach sunset a run for its money.
While heading back north after a long weekend of research, I slowed down to look for a pair of Golden Eagles. I was told by a wildlife biologist that this was a mated pair, and they frequented this area. Sure enough, as I drove by I saw the pair. I was able to turn the truck around and get out before he decided to fly off and I got this action shot.
Sunset over the Carmens. This photo was taken from the Pine Canyon campground, very far off the main road on a 4×4 only road. Hubby and I were the only ones around for miles. It was incredibly peaceful.
Same sunset. I will probably turn these photos into a panoramic.
Another sunset from Pine Canyon. Every night was had a beautiful sunset.
While searching for bears, we often found evidence that bears had been nearby.
This was the largest bear I saw during my research. I had been watching it for a while while it lazily grazed on acorns while laying under an oak tree. The bear would eat all of the acorns within reach, and then get up, turn around, and lay back down so it could get more acorns. I enjoyed watching this bear for a while until hikers, coming back up the trail, scared the bear by talking (they did not know the bear was near until they saw the bear get up and run away). This is when the bear got, what would be termed in human activity, a head rush. The bear suddenly stopped in mid-stride and slowly sat down. The bear then casually walked away, presumably after the dizzy feeling went away.
Even sun on the mountains.
We ran across this Bull snake while on the trail. It’s easy to see how people can confuse this snake to be a rattlesnake, especially if they don’t take the time to look at the details of this snake, such as its eyes, body length, head shape, and of course, the lack of a rattle.
This is my favorite butterfly species – the Two Tailed Swallowtail. They are fairly common in the Big Bend Region, and a different from the Tiger Swallowtail, which has a wider range.
Hubby in Boot Spring while we are searching for bears.
It is difficult (if not impossible) to determine when an agave is going to bloom, but when they do, they are beautiful. The flowers feed many species of hummingbirds, insects, and even foxes have been seen climbing the stalks to get to the sugar-rich flower buds.
The Chihuahuan Desert has tis own version of sage brush, called cenizo. When it blooms the desert floor is purple and full of bees.
A view of the Chisos Basin. The high elevations of Big Bend National Park include the Chisos Mountain range. This photo was taken of the basin of the Chisos Mountains from the Laguna Meadows Trail.
Clouds quickly build in the desert, creating dramatic detail to the landscape
Clouds quickly build in the desert, creating dramatic detail to the landscape
Sotol bloom much more often than agave, and in this photo it seems that they were all blooming at the same time.
A lone agave blooming in the lower elevation
In fall, you can very easily see the few maples that are found in the high elevations, surrounded by the evergreens.
Bears were not the only species we were looking for. Mountain lions were always on our mind, but for a very different reason. During the 6 years of hiking in Big Bend, and our 2 collective years of extensive research in the park, we never saw a Mountain lion, although we saw evidence of them quite often.
This Black Tailed Rattlesnake was not happy that we stopped to get a better look at him, rather than moving along, which he would have preferred.
Ocotillo (pronounced Oh-co-tee-yo) blooming in the low desert, which the Carmens in the background.
The mountains always provide a dramatic backdrop, even when they are hazy from the burning fields in Mexico, which occurs periodically as a part of their farming technique.
Another sunset over the Carmens. That silhouette never gets old.
The namesake for Boot Canyon – The Boot!
Rock squirrels are everywhere in the mountains, but for some reason this little guy was being particularly photogenic.
Mexican jays are large, loud, and carnivorous birds. This jay was fighting with others over an alligator lizard that one of the jays had caught, so they were not caring about my presence at all.
The Blue bonnets in Big Bend are a different species than the ones that are seen in the Texas Hill Country. The Big Bend Blue Bonnet is much taller and skinnier, but they feed bees just as well.
During my research, I also had the opportunity to assist on a different bear research project on a private ranch near Big Bend. We didn’t catch any bears while I was there, but mainly because the bears had decided to stay in Mexico rather than making the trek back north to Texas. The hypothesis was that because it was a wet year, there was lots of food for the ebars to eat everywhere, so they were not having to move around as much to get the food they needed. This is a view of Mexico from the back porch of the ranch house. Storms pop up quickly in the desert and can be very dangerous if you aren’t careful. I was very happy to have shelter on this evening, because flash floods that night showed us the power of the storm.