Big Bend or Bust!

Our first day in West Texas started early as we departed our hotel at 5 am. The drive to Big Bend National Park from Alpine, TX is around an hour and half which gave us plenty of time to load up on coffee and good conversation. As we were driving along the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, a 30.9 mile road located in the center of the park that is primarily used for biking and scenic driving, we saw an opportunity to get some great shots of the sunrise, and we took it. We all looked on (and even helped when he would let us) as Mark Burns unloaded his meticulously packed car on the side of the road and began to set up his equipment to capture the perfect shot of the sun just over the horizon. Mark showed us the process of how he plans his shots: setting up his camera…

SHSU, LEAP Center, Big Bend, Mark Burns

…checking the light with a light meter…

SHSU, LEAP Center, Big Bend, Mark Burns

and snapping a quick shot with an old Polaroid camera.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Big Bend, Mark Burns

After getting a few great shots, we loaded back up and began scouting a new spot to get some footage. We found a new location at the Sotol Vista Overlook, that was also right off of the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, to get some great shots of Mark Burns driving on the winding road below. The Sotol Vista Overlook provides a spectacular view of the western side of Big Bend National Park and offered a beautiful but hazy view of Burro Mesa due to a fire located in the Upper Burro Mesa.


Next, we headed to the Boquillas Canyon Overlook where we found a rock covered in handcrafted, wire and bead knick-knacks shaped as road runners, peacocks and cacti.

We all picked out our favorite piece to take home as souvenirs. We even got to meet the two men who made them. Each day, they wade across the Rio Grande River from Mexico to replenish their supply and collect any money people have left for them in a weighted-down water bottle. Just as we were loading up the car for our next location, Mark stopped us because he saw a perfect opportunity to take a photo of the Canyon. We were able to see Mark use what is called a cable shutter release. A cable shutter release is a cable plugged into the camera and is able to release the shutter with a limited amount of movement to the camera. This is especially helpful when the camera is set to a long shutter speed. Watching Mark work with different tools is always interesting to watch.



We hit the road again until Maggie and Anne then got a spark of bravery (re: ignorance) and scaled an old stone tunnel to get the perfect aerial shot of Mark entering and exiting the tunnel.

After risking it all on the crumbling stones, we decided to take a break from our Evil Kinevil like stunts and stop for a quick picnic. At the Rio Grande Village, we stopped at the visitor’s center and ate a quick lunch while Mark told more stories.


After lunch, Mark suggested we visit the Hot Springs. We came across a hike down to the Hot Springs trail which, if I am being honest, was not as impressive as I had hoped. The trail is a 1.1 mile loop that is classified as easy, is moderately trafficked and is primarily used for hiking, biking and bird watching. We decided to do a little off road exploring to get a better view of the Rio Grande river.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Big Bend, Anne Jamarik, Maggie Denena, Peyton Reed

The Springs were murky and muddy, so we decide not to get in, but there were a few brave tourists who were swimming when we approached. The coolest aspect of the Hot Springs Trail was the old  General Store that had been run down to ruins.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Big Bend, Hot Springs, General Store

Mark snapped a quick photo of the old structure with his old Polaroid camera.

After hiking to the springs, we loaded into the car and drove to Sana Elena Canyon. While on our way, a torrential downpour left us feeling less than confident about the views and the photos we would be able to get of the Canyon. Never the less, we found a way to have fun and admire the views that Sana Elena Canyon had to offer.


After the muddy mess of an adventure, we were back to work at Balanced Rock. As we hiked up to the incredible view, we saw many multi colored lizards that we were sure to capture close photos of.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Big Bend, Balanced Rock

We took a few stops on our way up the mountain and got to ask Mark about some of his favorite national parks and most unique experiences. Mark told us amazing stories about the wild life in Alaska and the underwater photographs he got to take while in Florida at Biscayne National Park. While Mark was telling stories, Anne ran back to the car to grab a microphone and ran into two javelinas. Once we reached Balanced Rock, we listened as Mark described his last visit to the area four years ago when he captured the photo used in the National Parks Photography Project. The lighting and cloud coverage was perfect, something Mark did not have when he originally took his photo of Balanced Rock. Mark placed his camera tripod in the same exact spot it had been four years prior and snapped a beautiful picture of Balanced Rock.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Big Bend, Balanced Rock, Mark Burns

Maggie got brave and scaled a large rock to get an aerial shot of Mark as he talked about his previous trips to Big Bend. After many great shots from Balanced Rock, we headed back down the trail as the sunset, which offered the perfect view as we ended our day. We loaded up the car one last time and made our way back to the hotel, in preparation of another busy day–exploring Alpine and Marfa, Texas–ahead of us.


Author: mikeyawn

Mike Yawn teaches at Sam Houston State University. In the past few years, he has taught courses on Politics & Film, Public Policy, the Presidency, Media & Politics, Congress, Statistics, Research & Writing, Field Research, and Public Opinion. He has published academic papers in the Journal of Politics, Political Behavior, Social Security Quarterly, Film & History, American Politics Review, and contributed a chapter to the textbook Politics and Film. He also contributes columns, news analysis, and news stories to newspapers such as the Houston Chronicle, San Antonio Express News, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Stamford Advocate, Greenwich Time, Huron Daily Tribune, Laredo Morning Times, Beaumont Enterprise, Connecticut Post, and Midland Reporter Telegram. Yawn is also active in his local community, serving on the board of directors of the local YMCA and Friends of the Wynne. Previously, he served on the Huntsville's Promise and Stan Musial World Series Boards of Directors. In 2007-2008, Yawn was one of eight scholars across the nation named as a Carnegie Civic Engagement Scholar by the Carnegie Foundation.

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