Closed Canyon and WASPS

I was at Prada Marfa for probably 15 minutes, wandering around, taking photos, peeking in the store windows, with no one else ever driving by during that time. Just as I began walking back to the car a truck pulled up and a couple popped out.


We exchanged pleasantries, shared each other’s phones so we could take the obligatory Instagram photos and started talking about where we had been and were headed. I mentioned I was thinking of driving south to Big Bend National Park.

Photo of slot canyon, showing wide dry river bed between high rock walls.
The hike through the canyon follows the old river bed. **

That’s how and when I learned about Closed Canyon and Big Bend Ranch State Park. I owe that couple a debt of gratitude.


You might call Big Bend Ranch, Big Bend National’s little sister. Though I’m not so sure how the rangers at Big Bend Ranch might feel about that.


Big Bend Ranch is just 20 miles west of Big Bend National along the Texas/Mexico border. You essentially drive through one into the other.


Closed Canyon is a slot canyon located about halfway through the park along Farm to Market Road 170. That’s the two-lane highway running on the US side of the US/Mexico border and the park’s southern edge.


If you’re not familiar with slot canyons, they are narrow canyons surrounded by high rock walls. A small stream slowly carved away the rock, over millions of years, more than 20 million of them, to create the canyon. Most of space between the two walls is less than 20 feet wide and the walls are as much as 150 feet tall.


Walking through it, you can hear your footsteps reverberate off the walls. More than once I looked back over my shoulder thinking someone was coming up behind me.

Photo inside slot canyon of rocks and boulders fallen over the trail.
There were some areas that required a little climbing over fallen rocks but overall the trail is easy to do. **

One of the great things about the hike, at least when I was there, was I had the entire canyon, a little over a half mile long, to myself. I met a young woman just returning from the hike as I was getting out of the car, and a bearded thirty-somethingish man as I was leaving the canyon myself. In between, nada.


At one point during my hike I heard a loud rumble, what sounded like a vehicle of some kind coming down the trail. In fact, I turned around to try to see what was making the noise.


I knew it couldn't be a vehicle so it had me momentarily confused. I soon realized it was rocks tumbling down from the walls somewhere ahead of me. I’m guessing what sounded like a roar was nothing more than a handful of smaller rocks echoing off the walls, amplifying the sound as they bounced down.


Owls, vultures, other birds and bats roost in the cracks of the high walls. The park brochure warns you to keep an eye out for mountain lions. I saw neither fowl nor lions. I did see an occasional small lizard and wasps. Lots and lots of wasps.


The lady I met in the parking lot warned me of them and she was not exaggerating. They were so thick at times I couldn’t take photos with them flying around my face and even landing in front of my lens. In at least two different areas they were especially swarming.


Wasp nests are a common thing around my home. Every summer I'll find one or two tucked away in my mailbox, the planter boxes or a corner of the garage. They typically have two or three, sometimes four, wasps floating around.


This was not three or four wasps. If you told me there were 100 of them I would not argue with you. If Alfred Hitchcock were still around he'd have the makings of a The Birds remake, featuring these thorn-tipped devils.


All the bug spray in the world wasn’t going to keep them away. Relying on the philosophy that if you leave them alone, they’ll leave you alone, I just kept walking, admittedly my pace did pick up a bit, resisted the urge to swat them away and came away unscathed.

Photo of slot canyon rock wall with what looks like a face formed in the rocks.
I have a penchant for seeing objects formed in rocks. I noticed this face, center of photo, benevolently looking down on me. Perhaps he's the one who kept me safe from all those wasps. **

The hike is a fairly easy one. There were a couple of spots where I had to slide down a drop of about six feet but little else.


The view is beautiful. As you would expect with those high walls, much of the canyon is deeply shaded making it much cooler than the area out in the exposed desert.


There is no established trail through the canyon, you’re following the actual riverbed. With as dry as it is, and has been in recent years, there was no water present when I was there. However hikers are still warned to watch out for a flash flood if a random storm is coming through.


I was really hoping to experience a slot canyon sometime during my travels. Thanks to Prada Marfa and the kindness of strangers, that hope became a reality.


See more photos from the canyon on my flickr page.


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**I allow use of my photos through Creative Commons License. I'm not looking to make money off this thing. I only ask you provide me with credit for the photo by noting my blog address, alansheaven.com, or a link back to this page.

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