Big Bend V - It's getting dark out here... / by Josh Trudell

One important lesson was reinforced during our hiking trips in Big Bend – always ask the park rangers before you believe any printed material. According to our guidebook, Balanced Rock was an easy hike. And the flyers in our room claimed it is a wonderful place to watch the sunset.

Um, no...and oh wait. No.

With the sun heading toward the horizon, we bounced over six miles of rutted road, headed for the trailhead. The rented SUV proved its worth here - my gas-efficient Matchbox car would have been beached more than once.

We pulled into the parking lot to find a trail leading through a narrow valley, with steep hillsides already growing dark.

It was our last night in the park, so we started double-timing it along the trail, hoping to catch the sunset. Hustling along the trail, which switched from gravel to sand and back again, we reached what looked like the end.

Or not.

A small arrow pointed us up a rock wall to a goat path of rock outcroppings. Stretching and reaching from one spot to the next, we monkeyed up the path, winding our way across the rock on little more than a hiking boot's width in spots.

After about 15 minutes of this, with the light dimming all the while, we reached Balanced Rock. The rock is balanced on two other boulders, and the mountain rises behind it.

On the west side.

Where the sunset was.

We had a nice view to the east, and in 12 hours, it would be a lovely sunrise. And if we stayed out there all night, we'd be rattlesnake snacks.

So down the hill we went, feeling our way along in the quickening dark from rock step to rock step. Finally, we got to the bottom and trudged back to the car in the dark. One turn nearly led us out into the desert, but we made it back without any mishaps.

A much more relaxed and pleasant hike was up the Lost Mine trail. The trail, starting from the road leading to the Chisos Mountain Lodge, winds up into the mountains encircling the lodge.

It's a walk with a little challenge to it - the mountains are steep and there is altitude - but it was a gorgeous day. Recent rainfall had the mountainsides covered in yellow blooms.

There are benches along the path, and you can stop anywhere along the second half of the trail for gorgeous views of Casa Grande - a huge rock formation looming over the surrounding hills.

The cool breeze at the top felt like it came straight from the Rocky Mountains. The trail immediately leapt into my top five hikes I've been on in Texas.

Next up - a few odds and ends...