Sunday Hikes: Cattail Falls

Located in Big Bend National Park is Cattail Falls, the tallest waterfall in Texas (When it is actually flowing). If you look on any maps you won’t see waterfall listed though. This is because most of the water from the Chisos Mountains drains from Cattail Falls, making it an essential contributor to the survival of the barren desert below. With that in mind and with increasing traffic to the falls, the National Park Service decided to block the dirt road leading up to the two mile round trip hike to the falls and back as well as leaving it off all maps in order to protect the fragile area from over visitation. It is still open for visitation but you have to hike a little bit further and know how to find it.

On my third visit to the park I figured out how to get there and with that being one of the few things I haven’t been to in the park, I had to go! The hike begins on a gated off dirt road across the street from the Sam Nail Ranch. There is very limited parking here (especially when big RVs decide to stop at the pull off for lunch) so you’ll want to get there early in the day. Another good reason to start hiking early is the heat. Big Bend is hot all year round with winter highs reaching into the 80s regularly and occasionally  hanging out above 90F. This hike has pretty much no tree cover until you arrive at the oasis created by the falls so be sure to bring plenty of water and some cool sunglasses. We started our hike on probably the hottest day of our trip with the sun rising high above the Chisos.

Soon after starting along the dirt road we passed a construction vehicle that was out in the open but invisible from the road. We kept on hiking past the big yellow Volvo and down the desert road.

This trail takes your from the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive and towards the Chisos Mountains making it hard to not stare up and admire the huge cliffs as the shadows constantly change from the sun rising. While hiking and looking up at the mountains, I noticed a big bird chilling on one of the big agave stalks and took some pictures before it flew off.

Over 400 species of bird visit Big Bend at some point in the year so I had a hard time pinning it down but I’d guess it is a falcon of some sort. The road continues through the desert and passes through a couple arroyos with a couple trees around giving a tiny bit of shade. Maybe a mile and a half in, the road narrows into a trail and this is where the first sign for the waterfall appears.

After this the trail takes you down into a small oasis with a very large tree growing. This is a good spot to take a break if you need to since it is much cooler and much shadier than the rest of the trail. There is also a sign describing the waterfall here.

From the little oasis there is about a mile (It felt like less than a mile to me) to the falls. The trail is pretty much entirely vertical except for right here as you climb up some stairs from the oasis back up into the hot desert. The trail takes you up into Cattail canyon where the the plant  life thrives and many animals travel to to drink. I was hoping to see a Mexican Black Bear here since they supposedly frequent this area but I guess they were avoiding me because there were no bears sadly.

The trail takes you over some rocks and under a tree or two. Once the waterfall was in sight there are some more rocks to climb over to get up close.

The waterfall was just a small trickle from the canyon above but impressive still to see what just a little water can do. It was green all over and plants found nowhere else in the park can be found here!

I climbed around and found a nice big boulder to brew some coffee on while enjoying the little oasis we had all to ourselves. It was probably 45 minutes until someone else came along right when we were getting ready to head out. The hike back went by quickly as usual as I enjoyed being on a nice desert hike in the sun while back home in Atlanta it was getting ready to snow.

I would definitely encourage you to visit Cattail Falls just make sure to pack out what you bring and don’t swim in the pool created by the waterfall!

Big Bend’s Iconic “Window”

Thanks! – Josh

Star Pictures

I have been lucky enough to see the Milky Way on multiple occasions in the last couple years. The first time I saw was in Arches National Park and I could have stared at the sky all night long, watching the stars rise higher as the night got later and getting excited at the occasional shooting star. I feel the same way every time I see it again and recently I’ve been trying to get some pictures of the stars. In September (on my birthday actually) I got some decent pictures in Big Bend National Park. Some of them are a little blurry but you can see the stars pretty well! I hope to improve my night sky photography and will keep posting pictures on here if I get any good ones!

Thanks! – Josh

Sunday Hikes: Fern Lake Trail

The Fern Lake Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park is a 7.6 mile round trip hike with 1400 feet in elevation gain and takes you to Fern Lake at 9,560 feet above sea level. We began our hike right after eating our tuna lunch in the parking lot. 

The trail starts off fairly flat following alongside the Big Thompson River. The trees in this area vary from small new growth aspen to large and lodgepole and ponderosa pine trees. There are also lots of wild flowers in this area. The trail is fairly busy in this part as it leads up to the convergence of Fern Creek and the Big Thompson River in an area known as The Pool. 

This area is a popular spot to hike to with the family to eat a picnic. The trail begins to climb after passing The Pool and at 2.6 miles into the trail you will reach Fern Falls! Fern Falls is a really pretty 60 foot waterfall that makes the long stretch of uphill you just did feel very worth it! 

We stopped here for a minute to take pictures, have a snack, and refill our water bottles. After the waterfall you have another 650 feet of elevation to climb in the next mile to the lake! Just before you reach Fern Lake there is a side trail that takes you .9 miles to Spruce Lake and passes some backcountry campsites. We didn’t hike to Spruce Lake but I hear it’s pretty dope so now I gotta go back to hike to it! Anyways we hike the last little bit up to Fern Lake and followed the trail around the lake and looked for the perfect place to make our coffee and take pictures. We found a nice spot on the south side of the lake but then some loud fisherman with no understanding of personal space set up right next to us so we found a better spot a little further down. Fern Lake is beautiful with great views of four Rocky Mountains that tower over the lake. The lake is very clear and we could see a couple different fish swimming around close to us (we warned them about the fishermen). 

We spent a good bit of time relaxing at Fern Lake and making coffee and eating peanut butter. We probably spent an hour here and were only prompted to leave when some old guy came out of nowhere and tried to catch our fish friends. The hike back down went by quickly and we were back at The Pool and then the trailhead in no time. This hike is amazing and gives you a lot of nature to admire! If you’re in Rocky Mountain National Park I would definitely recommend this hike to anybody! 

Me and a little baby aspen tree

Thanks! – Josh

Picture of the Day: Badlands National Park

This is right outside of Sage Creek Campground in Badlands National Park. We woke up early to wander around before packing up but our morning stroll was cut short by these two bison enjoying their breakfast right in our path! 

Sunday Hikes: Great Sand Dunes

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve boasts North Americas largest sand dune, Star Dune. Star Dune is 750 feet tall and looks giant even with the mountains surrounding it. It takes about 5 hours to hike to the top of Star Dune and back from the parking lot. Unfortunately when I went recently we didn’t have time for the whole hike so we hiked up to the top of the first tallest Dune we could find. From the parking lot you cross over a small creek and then across the flat sand before you reach the first sand dune. 

The sand dunes get taller and steeper with every one you traverse. With the desert sun blazing down on us and reflecting of the sun back at us again we tired out pretty quickly and took often breaks to catch our breath and take in the views of the surrounding mountains. At some point we reached a nice tall dune and decided to call that our turn around point. We had a granola bar snack and enjoyed the views some more before heading back down! 

Hiking up a sand dune sucks, but going down is like a big sandy rollercoaster! It is hard to slide down further than a couple feet at a time but if you pick up enough speed running down you feel like you’re floating. Once the ride down was over we walked back to the car and dumped six tons of sand out of our boots and said goodbye to the sand. Great Sand Dunes is dope and definitely worth a visit! I would love to go back and do more backpacking in the park as well as reach the top of Star Dune! 

Thanks! – Josh

Sunday Hikes: Natural Bridge Trail 

Between Badwater Basin and the Devil’s Golf Course in Death Valley national park there is a short gravel road that will take you up to the Natural Bridge Trailhead. A short one mile trail that can be extended a half mile on the end to wander up the canyon a little more. We parked our rental car at the trailhead, grabbed our water and snacks and headed up the trail. Just like everything leaving from Badwater Basin, the trail takes you up pretty much the whole time but at a very slight angle. The trail had once been paved but little remains of the path due to a flash flood at some point in history. The trail is all gravel and at some of the steeper points a little harder to make your way up but it’s still a very easy trail. Probably .75miles in you will reach the trail’s namesake feature: the Natural Bridge.

Looking plucked straight out of southern Utah, the hefty chunk of rock reaches from one end of the canyon to the other. We were quite impressed by the arch as we passed under it like a gateway to the rest of the canyon. After the Natural Bridge the canyon has a large rounded area where Anya and I sat down to eat our apricot clif bars (the best flavor ever). While we snacked, Dad checked out a nook in the rocks that seemed perfectly round and you could store a giant pencil in it if you had one. After that we met a very friendly couple from Sacramento that had done much of the same road trips as us and had even visited the little train museum by our house. After chatting we carried on to the end of the trail where there had once been a waterfall but was now a slick rock slide. We climbed up it and scrambled around the canyon for a little more before heading back to the car. Dad tested the former waterfall’s slideability and we figured out it worked a little too well! We were back at the car in no time thanks to the trail’s short length and ready to explore the rest of the park. If you’re in Death Valley for a short time or for a long trip make sure to check out the Natural Bridge trail! Also bring water along with you even though it is a short hike because Death Valley has that name for a reason!

Badwater Basin (-279fasl) and Telescope Peak (11,043fasl) from the trailhead. 

Thanks for reading! – Josh

Picture of the Day – Tyrannosaurus Rex Skull



Big Bend National Park just opened it’s newest attraction, the “Fossil Discovery Exhibit”! I was lucky enough to check out the new exhibit even though it didn’t officially open until a week after I left the park. This picture is of my sister and I with a giant T-Rex skull in the exhibit.

Thanks – Josh