Kay and I were so in awe of the rough and rugged land of the Big Bend Country that we signed on to work for the concessioner in Big Bend National Park for four months. We were assigned a room in a trailer at Panther Junction, the park headquarters. If you’re familiar with “PJ,” you know there are three striking peaks that loom behind it: Pummel, Wright, and Panther. The first time I saw them I fell in love. I worked in the Chisos Basin but when I was “at home,” I sat on the front steps and studied them. They called me to explore their secrets.
I decided to hike into one of arroyos that led to a canyon at the base of Wright Mountain. I asked around and found out several things: it was called Mouse Canyon, it was not a recommended hike, it was a dead end with giant boulders and a deep pool, mountain lion activity had been reported nearby, and “nobody hikes there.” Cool. It sounded like my type of adventure.
The first time I went, I was so taken with the quiet and majesty of it that I didn’t get far. I spent much of the day examining rocks and lying on my back on a low, slanted wall of what eventually became a deeper, darker canyon.
I watched turkey vultures soar so far overhead I had no idea what they were. I thought they were eagles. I also studied the crumbling rock formation at the top of Wright, something that to this day I call “The Fortress.” And I took note of the various ways I could get from the arroyo to the top of the peak because no matter what, I was going. The route looked easy but would prove to be yet another learning experience on a real long list.
After many hikes into Mouse Canyon, I chose my route. By then, I’d been to the “end” and climbed on the giant boulders. I’d worn myself out trying to see what was on the other side of that colossal rock pile. I didn’t venture farther because I was alone and didn’t think I could drag out of there with a broken leg.
On the day of the climb, I was forced out of the arroyo before I got to my chosen ascension point because I met a herd of javelinas that had no concept of sharing. A large boar cocked his head, perhaps trying to decide what I was, and then he charged. Who would’ve thought I could climb so fast?
Even from the rim of Mouse Canyon, the view was to die for. I sat and admired it while my heartbeat returned to normal, and the javelinas moved on to do whatever. Then I stood and the challenge began. It was one lone woman vs. the slipperiest, deceivin’-est, aggravatin’-est mountain ever created. I made it about three-quarters of the way up by sheer force of will.
As with many goals, the closer I got the more difficult it became. For every step forward I slid back two. I’m a determined woman, but my legs finally said, “Hold up here, missy. This isn’t happening before nightfall.” So I did what all exhausted hikers do. I sat and pondered the wonder of it all. I was higher than the Dead Horse Mountains. The magnificent Sierra del Carmen was practically in my face. Sunset’s colors began to play on them. Even the thought of meeting javelinas in the dark did not deter me from the fiery red/purple/orange light and shadow show splashed against those mountains. Sitting on the slope of Wright and soaking up the vastness of the land, the aloneness, the majesty and grandeur that is Big Bend National Park, is one of my best memories of all time.
Behind me was the fortress I longed to touch. I wanted to walk in there and lean against the ancient stone. Without doubt, there’s hidden treasure, along with the wisdom of the ages. Those walls protect a sacred place. Isn’t that the purpose of a fortress after all?