I believe today is Day 63, but I could be wrong. We’re an hour outside of Big Bend National Park and two and a half hours away from any real town. There is nothing but desert around us. Well, not just desert. After an hour’s drive and a lot of Alice Phoebe Lou, we pulled up to the most beautiful mesa I’ve ever seen this entire trip. These mountains are called the Chisos. They look just as severe and desolate as all the other stark rock bodies that pull themselves out of the earth’s crest and reach ever-glorious towards the Texan sun. Most of these formations are red or grey with streaks that reveal millions of years of compression or riddled with holes from the days of fire that poured like rain when the land never rested. My favorite though are the ones that sit tall and broad with thousands of thin layers running perpendicular to their desert feet and face the full wrath of the sinking sun. They light up at dusk, the immortal cathedrals of the godless lands.
The Chisos looks like none of these. They are a worn slate grey with softened ridges running in vertical rows beneath the shockingly lush forest that hugs its every curve. When we started hiking, it was all sand and cacti and five miles of uphill switchbacks. The quiet banter of breathless lungs filled the air and we found ourselves stopping every so often to admire the desert mountain ranges below us. I noticed on the way up that the mesa we were climbing had gray stone with large patches of red, orange, green, yellow, and even white. I’m not sure what was growing on the stone that made it look that way, but it didn’t look real. It seemed as if the stone itself was trying to match the autumn trees around it. Nature always has a funny way of contradicting itself.
Ten miles, two sandwiches, and one water bottle later, we started to descend back down the mesa but not before looking out on the other side. Despite the oasis of color around us, the tundra below was thick with cacti and desert sand. The curves of the hills swirled and released in tight-bodied motions with endless pits and plains spanning out to the horizon. The sun was going down, and so did we. The flora on this side of the mesa was different, too. The sand was fine and grey, artificial in appearance, like tennis court sand. The trees hung lower to the ground and sweet tulip cacti sprung up between the roots in purple and sharpness. I felt happy walking down, the air was cool and easy, and the path down easier. When we drove away, I glanced back to see the dark silhouettes brought out by the setting sun. The trees and their vermilion limbs stood strong against the light and I wondered how on earth a fall jungle could survive in a vast stone desert.