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Big Bend

Metate Camp

Photograph by Laurence Parent

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. To my left, a treacherous incline led to a high notch; to my right, a few cairns showed a rocky descent. Worried the climb might dead-end on the serrated ridge, I imagined the cairns had been placed by a well-meaning soul facing the same dilemma.
I followed in the unknown Samaritan’s footsteps. 

Getting lost is no fun, but this was different. I had plenty of water, and I discovered seeps in the rocks along the trail should I run out. As I unwittingly headed away from my intended camp, I entered a hushed basin; the False Sentinel formation and other hoodoos stood silently above the grasses. Reaching a willow-studded ravine, I was struck by the smell of creosote and the vaguely lemony scent of the Rio Grande. Over a hill lay Metate Camp, where telltale holes dotted the rocks upon which local tribes once ground their grains. I might not have been on target, but I’d ended up right where I belonged. 


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