Big Bend National Park: Tuff Canyon

IMG_4908

From Santa Elena Canyon, we headed northeast on the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive past Cottonwood Campground and Castolon to the pull off for Tuff Canyon. There are many washes in the desert of Big Bend National Park, but perhaps none so dramatic as Tuff Canyon. It was carved by Blue Creek, which originates in the Chisos Mountains. The rock that comprises the canyon is volcanic tuff, formed when a volcanic explosion blew tons of ash into the air, which eventually hardened as it was compressed by overlying layers of rock.

In the photo above, the darker rock on the canyon floor is trachyitic lava, and the light gray rock of the walls, which eroded away much more quickly, is the tuff.

IMG_4904

The signage at Big Bend National Park is very impressive, utilitarian for the desert elements, but also created with striking design in mind. Well done, NPS!

IMG_4910

IMG_4913

The view southwest from the desert floor above Tuff Canyon. The pullout is in the left foreground with Cerro Castellon looming above it. Santa Elena Canyon is visible in the distance.

IMG_4914

Purple-tinged Prickly Pear

IMG_4915

The floor of Tuff Canyon from an overlook.

IMG_4920

IMG_6081

Sean waves at our shadows on the canyon wall opposite. Image: Sean M. Santos

We followed a short trail around and down into the broad wash at the canyon’s mouth. Then we turned and hiked into the canyon proper. The geology of the canyon’s formation was visible everywhere, from harder, basaltic rock trapped within the ash from the time of the explosion to the steep undercutting from when Blue Creek in flood carves the canyon deeper and wider.

IMG_4922

A chunk of basalt embedded in surrounding tuff.

IMG_4923

Holes left by harder, denser rocks falling from the tuff walls.

IMG_4924

IMG_4927

IMG_4930

Sean examines the difference in texture between rock formed from magma and rock formed from ash.

IMG_4932

Runoff has begun cutting what may someday, millennia from now, be a separate side canyon. The lower rock is still moist from the recent precipitation.

IMG_4933

IMG_4935

Chalky, sediment-filled pools remain from the rain earlier that week.

IMG_4937

IMG_4938

Eventually we came upon a a series of ledges and huge boulders that indicated we’d reached the extent that it is easy to walk up the canyon. So we turned around and returned the way we we’d walked.

IMG_4942

IMG_4948

IMG_4950

IMG_4952

The broad wash at the mouth of Tuff Canyon.

IMG_4953-1

Bewick’s Wren on Ocotillo

We hiked back up to the car, pulled back out onto Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, and continued on toward the heart of the park.

One thought on “Big Bend National Park: Tuff Canyon

  1. Pingback: Big Bend National Park: Into the Chisos | As They Are: Exploring the National Parks

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s