Lean into Big Bend National Park: Desert Horseback Riding

Arriving at camp, time slows to a trickle. I sit in the desert waiting for the sun to lower and cool the air. Dog snapping at flies, the sound of my horse munching on hay –a Sergio Leone western comes to mind.

Views of the Chisos and Dead Horse Mountains frame Hannold Draw. Pens with hitching posts cloaked in creosote. An occasional harmony of birds chirping, reminding me there is life here.

Although not the prettiest backcountry campsite in the park, of the ten available for horse camping at Big Bend National, Hannold Draw is the only one boasting horse corrals. With no official trailhead nearby and sunset approaching, we attempted to ride the draw.

Chocked by Sotol, Greasewood, and Prickly Pear, with rocks just big enough to trip over, we quickly diverted to a higher route. Climbing through the desert pavement to a height that breathes.

In the Big Bend of Texas when the sun goes down you must look east. Reflections of the west cast watercolor across the valley. Mountains turn purple with shades of orange, trapping you in their gaze.

As dusk settles back at camp, a haziness moves in and I watch my horse. Noting his ears as they swivel, ever alert to wildlife and threat.

One by one the stars appear and the Milky Way threads itself between. Smell of creosote hanging in the air. The braiding together of bodies where once were two. I relish what is not mine.

After a fitful night, I rise before the sun for an early start. Horse fed, coffee made, my dog Kona lays with head hanging off the bed watching. Waiting for belly rubs no doubt.

View of Santa Elena Canyon through the Chimneys

Riding the Chimneys Trail, purple and green prickly pear surround. Not a spineless one among them. Ocotillo standing tall like leafless finger oaks of the desert.

The figure eight of a sleeping rattlesnake, dodged in the nick of time. Suddenly that coffee I didn’t finish this morning kicks in and I am reminded to stay in the moment at hand.

At just under five miles round trip, the Chimneys trail is one of the easiest in Big Bend National park. Leading to a series of rock formations with petroglyphs. West Texas, including Big Bend, is said to have more native rock art than anywhere else in the Americas – yet this remains a language we have yet to fully interpret.

On the return trip, I ride now with sleeves rolled up – the sun on my face. Head tilted high, removing my hat I let the wind move through my hair, now damp with sweat. At peace in this moment. Letting go of the need to control. Riding with my legs long.

And suddenly I realize… I sleep now without covers. Vulnerable and comfortable at the same time, and I love it.

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To find out more about horseback riding Big Bend National Park: https://www.nps.gov/bibe/planyourvisit/bc_horses.htm