Big Bend Hikes: Balanced Rock

Looking through the balanced rock

It’s been a long time since I posted. My cell data speed took a beating last month when I was trying to watch some FIFA soccer matches! So, had to wait until it reset with the monthly turnover! 🙂

One of my favorite short hikes in Big Bend is the trek to the “balanced rock.” Officially called the Grapevine Hills Trail, the trailhead is accessed via 6 miles of dirt/gravel road leading to a small parking area.

I hiked it again this year after reading the book Death in Big Bend: Real Stories of Death and Rescue in Big Bend National Park, by Laurence Parent. (This is a great read, by the way) There’s a story in the book about a young man who ventured out on this easy, 2-mile trail and got lost, eventually suffering from heat stroke and perishing in the hot, desert sun. Part of the trail follows a wash and hikers must pay attention to the markers indicating when the trail leaves the wash and takes a turn leading back to the parking area. This particular hiker was on the trail on a blistering hot day in early summer and was probably already suffering from heat stroke and disoriented as he was returning to the parking area from the end of the trail at the balanced rock. He missed the marker where the trail exits the wash and, instead, continued down the wash. That was his fatal mistake.

One cannot see the parking area from the wash as it sits lower in elevation where it passes the lot and, is therefore, hidden from view. The hiker overshot the parking area by a few hundred feet and, in his disoriented mental state, kept walking in the wash. A mile or so beyond his car, he perished.

Grapevine Hills area

I was curious about how this could have happened and, once we returned to the parking lot, I walked down the road which descended steeply to the wash and saw where he must have crossed the road. There would have been no indication at the time that the trailhead parking area was nearby at this juncture. The park service has now placed a directional sign in the middle of the wash at this crossing with an arrow pointing to the parking area. It was very sobering to realize just how quickly one can be overcome with heat and lose their way – even on the easiest of hikes. What’s the lesson here? During the hottest times of the year, carry plenty of water, hike during the coolest parts of the day and tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return.

View of the trail in the wash from above near balanced rock

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