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Only the very lucky—or the extraordinarily unlucky—see a mountain lion in Big Bend. Since 2004 there have been just over twenty confirmed encounters, ranging from a few close-up sightings to the rare attack. These days, even wildlife biologists using trained hounds have a hard time locating the elusive Felis concolor. Louis Harveson, the director of the Borderlands Research Institute for Natural Resource Management at Sul Ross State University, calls them “ghosts.”
Though the Chisos Mountains Lodge is the only hotel within the park, you can also secure a roof over your head in nearby Terlingua (say, at the rustic but charming La Posada Milagro), Lajitas (where the green at Lajitas Golf Resort is restorative in its own way), and Marathon (premium linens and a walk-in shower at the Gage Hotel quickly melt away a long day of hiking). Still, to truly
I’d intended to cross the Mesa de Anguila—a plateau on the far southwestern edge of Big Bend—to reach Entrance Camp, at the head of Santa Elena Canyon, where I knew that sandy shores would be the ideal spot to pitch a tent and enjoy the sunset. I’d been told this far-out zone gets few visitors, which held even more appeal. But, like an idiot, I’d left my map in the car, and now I found myself alone on the flank of La Mariposa peak. Too far from the trailhead to turn back, I faced a choice.
“You couldn’t pick a much harder place to get to,” said Zach Hubbard, the guide who was helping me navigate a two-day paddle down Mariscal Canyon. Simply getting to the river had been a challenge: we’d met early in Terlingua, then headed across the park until we reached a backcountry stretch that took two more hours to cover before reaching the put-in at Talley Camp.
The tick-tick sound of moisture I’d been hiding from in my tent turned out to be an unexpectedly beautiful surprise: frozen flurries, falling onto my nylon tarp. I unzipped the flap to find a ghostly dusting of snow on the tawny grasses, sotol, and prickly pear. I shrugged off my warm sleeping bag to take advantage of this meteorological gift.