Hike to Cattail Falls, Big Bend NP, Texas

The desert trail seems to lead to a steep rock face

The desert trail seems to lead to a steep rock face.

Cattail Falls is my favorite Big Bend Hike.  This tiny area is not listed in trail guides or printed on maps as it is an extremely fragile micro-ecosystem and the source of the park water supply.  It is not a difficult hike, a drive of a couple of miles (4 wheel an absolute must), then a walk to Oak Springs, an oasis sheltered by live oaks where we have found migrating warblers in past years.  After some time spent birding at Oak Springs we set off into the desert scrub perhaps another 1.5 miles.  It is a well-marked trail bordered by cacti, Ocotillo, Agave and desert shrubs such as Mesquite and Desert Persimmon.  This year we were led on by a Blue Grosbeak who appeared several times in front of us.

The desert landscape abruptly gives way to the moist environment of the falls.

The desert landscape abruptly gives way to the moist environment of the falls.

The trail leads us toward what seems to be a massive rock wall but a steep, rocky entrance at the side gives way to the falls area.  The flora here is very different from that of the desert.  Cardinal Flower, Long-spurred Rocky Mountain Columbine, Maidenhair Fern and Streamside Orchis fill the little glen.

Long-spurred Columbine

Long-spurred Columbine

The “falls” are a mere trickle at this time of year.  During this visit we watched a Blue-throated Hummingbird bathing in a tiny pool in the face of the falls and heard the echoing call of the Canyon Wren.  BT Hummer bathing

I relocated the Blue-throated Hummingbird’s nest which she had occupied on our visit two years earlier, now somewhat battered and bedraggled.

The nest is situated over a stream leading from the pool at the bottom of the falls.

The nest is situated over a stream leading from the pool at the bottom of the falls.

As we left this tiny, magical spot in the desert, we were horrified to meet a group of 84 eight graders and their minders, hiking into this extremely fragile area.  This is apparently an annual trip for the Fort Worth Country Day School.  Yikes…..

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4 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Carla said,

    What glorious pictures. That really is a magical hike, isn’t it? Not too strenuous and then to end at the Falls. It never disappoints.
    Carla

    Like

  2. 3

    Aaron Hoover said,

    Why the horror? The community still delicately, respectfully, and academically explores this oasis. Some even visit with their family and friends years later to enjoy the beauty.

    Like

    • 4

      The horror comes from fear of this delicate ecosystem being overwhelmed or harmed by the visit of 84 teenagers. One year we found someone had dug up some of the orchids (likely not the Fort Worth CD school kids, I am pretty sure). This year we had the chance to talk to one of the teachers and were happy to discover that only a few go in at a time. The students take measurements for scientific analysis. They don’t compare them year to year apparently, which would be interesting. Next time I’ll try not to be horrified!

      Like


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