Written by Lauren Schwaar. Digital Media by Jessica Sturgeon.
Who said Spring Break couldn’t be full of surprises? (Actually, I have never heard anyone utter an opinion one way or the other on that subject — just needed an attention-getting opener.)
(It worked — you’re still reading.) Like other stories I’ve heard from fellow sojourners about their trips (or nontrips) over Spring Break, my Spring Break experience didn’t exactly go according to plan. In fact, our backpacking adventure to Big Bend National Park in Texas unfolded much differently than our fearless leader, Dustin Fenton, and the rest of our band of merry hikers had anticipated. However, the trip proved to be an incredible experience despite the surprises. Though freezing temperatures, strong winds, a severe drought, and repeated warnings of mountain lions and bears tried to subdue us, we stood our ground and conquered the wilderness like seasoned explorers.
One incredible experience we will never forget was the opportunity to climb the tallest mountain in the Big Bend Park in time to see the sunrise over distant mountain ranges. Emory Peak, which stands approximately 7800 feet in height, provided an unprecedented vantage point from which to watch the day begin. Those of us in the group who climbed to its apex could see in every direction for hundreds of miles, including into Mexico (according to our speculation). It was incredible. Perched on the boulders, which formed a flat area perhaps only 20 feet square, we enjoyed a breathtaking view before scrambling back down to solid ground. Don’t worry though — we didn’t descend before checking the strength of our phone signals and, in the case of a few of us, making phone calls to significant others to make full use of the mountain-top scene. Nature and serenity at its finest.
Not only did we explore the Chisos Mountains (of which Emory Peak stands tallest), but we spent two days exploring the Rio Grande (the river that divides Texas from Mexico). A natural hot spring provided relaxation and plenty of conversation, both amongst our own group and with others who had also come to enjoy the national park. We visited additional spots on the river as well, from sunny, backcountry water holes to well-populated trails that followed the river into a huge canyon. We also may or may not have returned to Greenville as self-dubbed “reformed illegal aliens” after having set foot on the Mexican bank of the river.
Between the natural splendor of huge rock formations, the vast expanses of desert sands and (non)vegetation, and the bright sunny days spent at the river’s edge, our group of 12 humble travelers received the opportunity to experience the impressive diversity that nature can boast. And thanks to good-humored pranks, meaningful conversation, and displays of sincere vulnerability made by many of our group members as they shared their stories and dreams with us, we returned to chilly Illinois much different than when we left — a bit wiser, a bit more patient, and much more appreciative of running water, deodorant, and a good shower.