When I went to bed last night, I was writing a scene that takes place at the picnic area in the mountainous pass between Alpine and Marfa. I can’t hike in the mountains, which I would dearly love to do, but I can look at them and climb them in my head. And for my own sanity, I need to write about them. So I drove to the place I wanted to describe.
It was early but the sun was bright and warm. There was a cool breeze that rippled through the trees and caused the wildflowers to bob their heads up and down as if saying an emphatic “yes!” to the glorious day. It didn’t even take ten seconds for their enthusiastic mood to rub off on me.
I’ve driven through that pass so many times I couldn’t say how many, but I’ve never stopped at the picnic area—or never stopped for long. I changed that today by spending most of the morning there taking notes and studying a landscape worth writing about, although I will never do it justice.
I love the severely eroded mountains that surround us. Imagine how many years they’ve been standing there and the things they’ve seen and the extremes of weather they’ve endured. They were there when Native Americans roamed the area and long before that. The exposed stone makes them appear rugged and, at the same time, somehow vulnerable.
All the mountains and hills in the Big Bend Country are unique. Some have boulder-littered sides; some have craggy outcroppings or wear jagged crowns; some are tall and some short; some have a lot of plant growth while others have little; some are ridges or bumpy humps more than what you would call mountains.
After I fulfilled my walking goal, I sat on a bench in the sun and spent a long time studying the scene in pieces instead of trying to take it in all at once. For some reason I thought that would help me describe it. Directly across the road was the “back” of Twin Peaks. The sun was high enough in the sky that I had to concentrate on the lower reaches because of the glare at the top. The places closer to the ground were in shadow, which made the colors muted and the landscape more sharply defined. There’s a deep canyon back there that begs exploration, not to mention every other inch of that location.
Like the rest of the mountains throughout this region, Twin Peaks is not what it seems from a distance. Our mountains hold surprises for those who venture close. They have secrets. Often, they’re not one formation at all, but are layers of them, along with canyons and mountains within mountains. Sometimes they hide springs, waterfalls, ruins, or rare plants and animals.
Twin Peaks’ backside slopes down to a ridge that is topped by a long, wall-like structure called a dike. Dikes are the result of magma being injected into the fractures of rocks. When the surrounding rock is eroded, dikes are exposed and often appear as dark walls of rock. They give our landscape its sharp, jagged, crumbling features. I’m a writer, not a geologist, so what this boils down to is that they make our scenery stunning and no two places are the same. Add to that the sun and shadows, and it’s also ever-changing.
Across the highway from Twin Peaks is a giant rock wall that sits on top and slightly in front of a different mountain. I stared at it a long time trying to determine if it’s a dike or something else. For my purposes, it doesn’t matter. I can make geologists, biologists, and even sheriffs roll their eyes. I get things wrong all the time, but I try hard to capture the essence of them.
While I was resting in the sun, feasting my eyes, writing in my head, and with my imagination running off in all directions, I thought about gratitude. How fortunate I am to be alive right now in this place. Every single morning when my eyes open, I think, “Thank you.” I get to live another day. And not just another day, but a day in Big Bend.