Storm Chase 2003: May 26 - 28, Big Bend National Park and Rio Grande Valley Photos

chase images and log by William T. Hark, M.D.


I made a final check of the weather data while staying in Alpine, Texas. There was no chance of severe storms for the next few days. Since it was too early to leave, I decided to explore the mostly uninhabited region of Texas along the Rio Grande Valley and Big Bend National Park. This was a good opportunity to expand my scenic landscape portfolio. There was even the chance of photographing some unusual butterflies and other wildlife. I headed south on 118 and drove for 80 miles without passing any towns, gas stations or restaurants. There were no radio stations within range and no cell phone service. I only passed a couple of cars. The road went through mountains and dry plains. For most of the route, there were no signs of habitation except for the powerlines by the road. I finally arrived in Study Butte, a small ramshackle town of manufactured housing, shacks and a motel that borders the national park. From the town, I had another 40 miles before I reached the lodge in the park.


I spent a couple of nights at the Chisos Mountains Lodge at Basin Rural Station in Big Bend National Park. This is the only lodge in the park and is located on a "basin" or a flat area about 5,400 feet elevation. Tall angular mountains surround the basin that slowly dips into a canyon on the western side. Big Bend is a beautiful park with jagged mountains, deserts, and canyons. Many of the hills and cliffs are banded from layers of volcanic ash. Scrubby trees cover the higher mountains while the lower elevations are barren except for a narrow zone along the Rio Grande. Mexico is visible on the other side of the river. The Mexican side is mainly a rock wall thousands of feet in elevation. The wildlife include coyotes and mountain lions. Along the mountain trails, mountain lion warning signs are posted. Unlike many national parks, Big Bend is not crowded. I encountered few people at the lodge and none along the trails and back roads. I spent time hiking, exploring and photographing the awesome scenary. On May 27, I made an extended hike out of the basin and encountered a sudden storm. My descripttion of the encounter is here . I have been to Yosemite and Yellowstone and the stark landscapes of Big Bend are as good if not better than those more popular parks.


On Wednesday, I left very early, hoping to see some animals on the drive out of the park. I only saw rabbits and buzzards. No mountain lions. I was rewarded with gorgeous views of the sun rising above the mountains. I drove to Presidio, Texas along Route 170 that borders the Rio Grande. This is one of the most amazing roads I've ever driven. For almost a 100 miles, the road winds through uninhabited canyons, valleys and around mountains and ancient lava flows. The river is often visible with a narrow band of green foliage on each side. In Mexico, a rock wall a couple thousand feet high borders the river, punctuated by canyons and occasional flood plains. I stopped along the way to photograph the landscape. There were even a few ghost towns. Because of the unusual weather, the temperature was in the mid 70's. Normally, the temperature in the Rio Grande Valley is over 100. In Presidio, I had lunch before starting my long trip to Dallas. Since I was stopping along the way for more photographs, the drive took longer than expected. I made one final check of weather data in Dallas. The weather would be quiet except the slight possibility of storms in the Nebraska area on my expected date of departure. The long-range forecast was for more severe storms across Tornado Alley. I decided to return early to Virginia. The 2003 storm season across Tornado Alley was over for me; however, there was the possibility of severe weather in the Mid-Atlantic region.


All images are scanned photos, either Fuji Velvia 50 or Kodak 200 print film. I used a Nikon FG, Nikkor 28-105 lens. As with storm and butterfly photos, these images can be bought for use in books, magazines etc. Sorry, individual prints are not for sale.


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