Encounter with storm while hiking in Big Bend National Park

On May 27, I started a five-mile hike down the basin and into the canyon. Clouds slowly moved across the surrounding mountains and the weather was cool and damp. I passed scrub and flowering cacti. At one point, I got a nice photo of two buzzards sitting in a tree over the trail. I had hoped for some butterfly pictures but it was too cloudy. The trail passed dry creek beds and small gnarled trees. There were a few sprinkles. I was glad I was hiking at 8AM instead of the late afternoon when thunderstorms were predicted. I continued through a narrow canyon. At some points, the canyon was about fifty feet wide. The rock walls were up to a thousand feet high. The floor consisted of boulders, scrubby trees and the trail. After the canyon, the area opened back into a small plain filled with cacti and grass. Suddenly, there was a rumble of thunder and rain began. I hurried back to the canyon to take shelter under a small overhang. The rain became heavier. After about thirty minutes, the rain almost stopped. I was only a half-mile from the end of the trail and I was considering continuing when everything became very quiet. The canyon became extremely dark. It was like twilight. The wind started and the rain fell in torrents. Clouds rolled in, and for a while, I couldn't see more than about 30 feet above me. The air was clear, then visibility just stopped at a ceiling of clouds. Lightning flashed every few seconds with immediate thunder that echoed through the canyon. I estimated wind gusts of at least 50 miles per hour that actually howled through the trees and the canyon. I was completely soaked and cold but I had another worry. The dry stream-bed through the canyon drains the entire basin area along with the surrounding mountains. Flash flooding was probable. I didn't want to leave the canyon because of lightning danger but I couldn't stay either. Through the rain, I headed to the east side of the canyon. I crossed what I thought would be the most dangerous sections of the canyon. Minor flooding was already evident. I finally found a rock on the eastern side of the canyon that afforded some shelter. I waited for about two hours for the rain to slow and the thunder to end. When it was safe, I hiked back up the trail. All around, I could hear the sound of water rushing over rocks and down the mountains. I was glad to be out of the canyon yet disappointed I didn't complete that last half-mile of the hike. Maybe next time.

I spent the rest of the day on a scenic drive past mountains, valleys and canyons that ended at the Rio Grande. The area experienced multiple violent eruptions 30 million years ago and the old lava flows, twisting of the land, and ash-falls are still visible. The landscape is beautiful especially with the setting sun.

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