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Big Bend

Lower Burro Mesa Pour-Off

Photograph by Aaron Bates

Thanks to Big Bend’s past—volcanic activity, persistent tectonic pressure, erosion—each of its canyons is as unique as a fingerprint. At the Lower Burro Mesa Pour-Off, a one-hundred-foot seasonal waterfall has washed away the tuff, or solidified volcanic ash, leaving behind a spectacular, easy-to-reach box canyon. The area was once home to wild donkeys, which explains the name; access is by a dusty half-mile march across the pebbly, low-lying Javelina Wash.

On my visit, wildlife was in short supply and the pour-off was dry, but the vertical canal still testified to the area’s geological history. Slowing to a stroll, I scanned the red-skirted rocks, carefully avoiding Spanish dagger—an aptly named pointy-leafed yucca—and marveling at the stubbornness of mesquite, whose taproots can reach down more than a hundred feet, an insurance policy against the scorching sun. I was then happily interrupted by two tykes piling rocks near the trail; as I pondered the deposition of the canyon’s fault lines, they appeared intent on seeing who could build the taller tower. When I ducked into the shade of the canyon walls, they, along with their parents, joined me, and our eyes traced the walls together. There was no climbing, no complaining, just shared wonder. 

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