See also: Part 1 and Part 2
I awoke at 3:00 AM and thought it was morning and that the sun had come up. The moon had risen and all the stars had come out, and it was blindingly bright. I had trouble going back to sleep, so after an hour or so I pulled out my iPhone and watched the last half of Anchorman. Toward the very end of the movie, I drifted off to sleep until my alarm woke me at 6:30. I had set it so that I could make sure and catch the sunrise. Our cliff faced southeast (which I guess is why they ended up deciding to call it the Southeast Rim).
Johnny was awake and thinking the same thing I was. He had his camera in hand. As I walked out toward the rim, everything was in silhouette. The pink and purple sky glowed behind the crisp black outlines of the pine trees. The I saw something move. It startled me for a moment. It was big, and it was moving quietly out toward the cliff. My first thought was that it was a bear. Ironically, just then, my stomach growled, and I stopped in my tracks, waiting for the next sound. The Thing moved slowly, quietly, deliberately. Soon I could see that it was walking like a man up on its hind legs. I stepped closer and got my camera ready...
Harris was standing out next to the cliff watching the sky glow brighter and brighter. He had beaten all of us. As it turned out, none of us had slept all that well that night. The other guys were talking about thunder that they heard off in the distance and hoped that it wouldn't rain. They talked about something they heard scratching around through our campsite. I had heard no such things, but when I did sleep, thankfully I slept soundly. Mark soon joined the three of us out at the cliff edge and we watched as the sun slowly, then more and more quickly, rose through the mist. Johnny and I clicked away with our cameras.
We had each brought our own breakfasts. Mine consisted of cereal bars, apricots and nuts. I think Mark and Harris ate dried oatmeal. Johnny fashioned a hanglider out of the skins of the deer we had seen the night before, swooped down to a nearby Mexican village for a full Migas and burrito breakfast and then scaled the 200-foot cliff back up to our camp site. Or maybe he ate nuts, too. I don't exactly recall.
As we broke down our camp, one of the deer from the night before - a buck with velvety antlers - was very interested in what we were doing. Just as the night before, he wasn't shy at all and came within just a few feet of us. Johnny and I got some great close-up shots as he grazed on grasses nearby and just kinda hung around.
We got on the trail about 9:00 and quietly made good time. Our legs took a little time getting loosened up. It was already getting warm. The night hadn't been anywhere near the 48 degrees the forecast had called for. The good news was that our hike was supposed to be considerably easier than it had been the day before. The bad news was that all of us were running low on water. The warm weather and strenuous hike had taken up more water than we had planned for. I left the cabin with six liters and was down to just one to last all day. The other guys were in a similar predicament, so we had agreed to take it slowly and take more frequent breaks if we needed it so as to conserve water.
We walked along the rim and were treated to several more great, sweeping overlooks. On the Southwest Rim, we got a great look of "The Saddle" and "Mule Ears," both rock formations named for the way they look. Santa Elena Canyon was also faintly visible through the haze. Our hike was fairly level until about halfway down the Northwest Rim trail, when it began to a gentle slope downward that would continue for most of the day.
At the Laguna Meadows trailhead, we stopped for a rest. It was getting pretty hot at this point as we descended from the rim's altitude of 6500 feet (give or take six inches). I took off my shirt and hung it from a tree limb to cool off a little bit. Then we heard someone shuffling up the trail from the way we were headed. I finished putting my shirt back on just as we got a look at the hiker's face. Guess who it was. Wrong. It was Creepy Guy. Running into this guy three times in three days in three completely different areas of the park was just more than I could take. We all said hi to Creepy Guy, who asked if we had seen any wildlife. He obviously wanted to tell us about something he had seen, so we bit and asked him what kind of animals he had seen. Creepy Guy went into great detail about all the stupid bugs and birds he had seen on the trail, including a couple that I really, really wanted to call BS on (but didn't). By this time, his company was becoming pretty stale, so we asked him where he was headed. "Wherever my feet take me" was his reply. I damn near came unglued. But luckily I think he sensed that we were about to perform a ritual killing right then and there on his creepy arse and turned to be on his way. Once he was out of immediate earshot, we couldn't hold it in and ragged on the Creepy Guy for his attitude. I said that there was only room for one smartass on this mountain, to which Harris replied, "yeah, and there's already four." We had a good laugh and got moving again.
The rest of the hike was more long than tough. The Laguna Meadow trail is 3.3 miles of mostly measured, downhill trail. It would have been much easier to have come up this way (note for future reference). We had elected to keep walking and to have lunch back at the cabin. There was great celebration when we rounded a hill and finally saw the Basin Lodge in the valley below. More celebration followed when later we realized that we were finally below the elevation of "Disney hill." We stopped one last time with about a mile to go and finished off what little water we had left.
We finally dragged into the cabin area about two 'o-clock. We each drank as much water as we could and sat down to rest. Sandwiches followed, which were just ridiculously good.
It was early in the day, and rather than take naps, we wanted to do something else. Mark suggested taking the scenic drive down to the river to see the Santa Elena Canyon,. I especially liked that suggestion since it would mean an hour of sitting in the air conditioned truck. So we grabbed our hiking boots, got some more water for the hike into the canyon and took off.
Along the way, we drove along the desert floor and stopped several times to view some of the sites, such as an abandoned ranch house and to see the Mule Ears:
As we drove toward the Santa Elena Canyon and the Rio Grande, there were huge sheer cliffs rising in front of us. The closer we got, the more massive and imposing they became, like a giant gate put there to keep anything from passing. We pulled up to the Santa Elena Canyon trail area, which was completely empty. This was the only part of the trip when I had been really, genuinely nervous. There were thick bamboo-like plants all around the trail headed down to the river. It would have been an ideal place for someone wanting to stage an ambush to hide. It would also be a great place for illegals to hide. But luckily, the walk down to the river was only about 50 yards. The river was up, so we couldn't easily walk over to the canyon trail to go into the canyon without getting either really wet or really muddy. So we elected not to go across. In front of us were the giant cliffs we had seen from the road separated by the Rio Grande. On the right side was the United States. On the the left side was Mexico. There was an uneasiness in the air, and we didn't stay long.
On the way back, we took a dirt road called Old Maverick Road. It started out in fairly good shape, but got more and more rough as we went. After a couple of miles, we saw a Border Patrol truck coming toward us slowly, searching for illegals. It was a relief to see him. He waved as we drove by slowly and we proceeded on our way.
About halfway down the road, we stopped at a little shelter called "Luna's Jacal." It was here in this little house that a man named Gilberto Luna lived to be 108 years and raised 14 kids. The roof of the jacal (pronounced hah-KAHL) only came up to my chest, which means that to be inside, one would have to stoop or crawl. I guess they only slept inside. I couldn't even imagine the kind of tough, rugged existence these people must have had.
As we reached the road that traveled back up into the Chisos Mountains, we stopped. Johnny had seen a snake on the side of the road and wanted to photograph it. I never saw it, but he said it was a coachwhip. Turning around to head back to the truck, I couldn't believe my eyes. The scenery seemed so unreal. The misty mountains rose in the distance from the desert floor, which was covered in all kinds of plants. It was amazing.
A little further up the road in the mountains, we stopped again when we saw a huge tarantula crossing the road. I had recently read an article in Texas Highways magazine about them, so even though he was creepy I realized he wasn't dangerous. So Johnny and I shot some photos of the spider as Mark and Harris watched out for traffic.
We pulled back up to the cabin hungry. We had brought barbecued chicken, beans and plenty of potato salad for dinner. There were four chairs on the front porch of our cabin, so we sat outside and ate. A Mexican Jay (think really big blue jay) was harassing us, so he almost got hit by my flying plate. We had a big laugh about that. Then we watched a roadrunner scurry around the cabins, imagining that his friend the Mexican Jay had sent him on a search and destroy mission. Luckily, he was spared from the business end of my plate.
The sun was beginning to set and shone pink and orange on Casa Grande - formerly known as El Capitan. We opened some beer and sat outside talking, laughing and having a good time. Mark brought some kind of blue rum drink called Zombie. It tasted really good and we went through it quickly. Then the spiced rum came out. We sat there for almost six hours just laughing and talking. We had no place to be and no schedule other than to get up in the morning and head home. It was a great time.
After the Zombie came out, all my photos started looking like this:
Actually, I was trying to get a shot of the stars using a long shutter, but I never really achieved it. After a long day, we were in a great mood and finally stumbled in to sleep. We all slept pretty well that night.