Big Bend National Park: As far as I can tell, the 12.6 mile South Rim Trail Loop is entirely uphill. Last time I hiked it, my companions and I had been kept up all night by a raging storm and a black bear wandering our campsite, and the morning found us none-too-cheery. We started late, around 10 am. A fight broke out not far into the trail and the three of us nearly hiked off our separate ways. Only a begrudging (but essential) sense of self-preservation kept us together.
You begin the hike with a steep climb that takes you up to a high cliff overlooking endless miles of muted blue desert. You can rest right on the edge and gaze out over the surreal landscape with the wind on your face. This is the peak of the journey, but by no means the end—for hours you’ll keep wandering through golden meadows and down into dark, mountain lion canyons with drifting leaves that form a red and gold river flowing thickly over the rocks.
As we hiked through the canyon, twilight set in. The path was rendered eerie and enchanted by the failing light, and the sounds of running deer or other creatures made us jump. We realized we had miles to go even as we emerged onto the mountainside trail and a deep blue sunset fell between distant peaks. We considered camping out in the open for the night, but pressed on, cold, edgy, out of food and nearly out of water, with no flashlight, warm clothes or any way of knowing if we had minutes or hours of trail ahead of us.
We reached the lodge with the final glimmer of light before night set in, and promptly collapsed from exhaustion.