We arrived around 3 pm. My older brother walked to the Park Ranger office to secure a park permit.
Shortly thereafter, I wandered in and stared at an ominous life-sized mountain lion replica. I read the facts: 139 sightings this year. I moved over to the book section where my paranoia feasted on a book entitled “Death in Big Bend.” I read an unfortunate excerpt of a man who caught a mountain lion stalking his campsite. The man threw rocks in the cat’s direction and shouted profanities. Why they felt the need to inform us of the man’s profane language was beyond me. As if rugged pumas have tender sensibilities easily offended by coarse language.
Long story short, the man survived only to strand himself on a lonely icy peak with no way down the following year. Yes, Big Bend is perilous. Thirst, mountain lions, and bears are just a sample of the fates that may befall a man.
We drove a few water jugs and some food to a stash point that we aimed to reach the following night. The stash point was just a bear box atop a canyon gazing over an ocean of desert terrain.
We hit the trail at four pm, well aware that daylight was fast evaporating. Our joking references to savage puma attacks did not seem as funny when a glance at the map revealed that we would be searching for a safe plot of land in complete darkness, guided only by headlamps and whatever crude judgment we had acquired over a handful of other wilderness hikes.
Around six pm we were enshrouded by black and more stars than I cared to count. Darkness is a different entity here. The closest full-sized town is at least one hundred miles and Ft. Stockton barely qualifies as a human inhabitation.
We lurched forward through a canyon bestriding a dry creek bed. The moon lit the canyon just enough for us to realize that our surroundings looked nearly identical to the big cat exhibits at the zoo. Giant rocks, light shrubbery, and taller trees dotted the bowl-like enclosure we stubbornly trekked.
Another check of the map revealed that we would need to settle for the first flat spot we found or risk several miles through a shoddily marked desert trail starting at the basin below. We flailed around the brush until we found an even piece of ground. We pitched our tent and tied our food to trees some 400 meters away so as to avoid collateral damage from opportunistic creatures.
I hardly slept. Each rustle, each broken twig, awakened me. All throughout, my little brother slumbered away. After what seemed like days, morning light arrived. We survived and, just as importantly, our food and water stood intact.