I’ve always been more susceptible to falling in love with places than with people. The process is similar: a jolting first glance and premonition of adventure to come, an initial shyness and slow discovery, consuming passion, pain upon leaving, persistent memories, a desire to return, and, ultimately, enduring affection that evolves but does not dissipate as time goes on. I’ve had a few great loves in my life (not least of all Texas and Oxford), and Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park has been one of the most stirring.
I first visited over five years ago, exhausted from days of hiking. I arrived at the canyon in the late afternoon on my last day. It was deserted and eerily quiet except for the sound of the wind through the reeds along the riverbank. The atmosphere had the sense of uncanny calm that I imagine occurs before battle. I walked up into the canyon with a sense of anticipation, of something to come.
It soon became tradition to hike the canyon last on every trip. Its muted stone walls and quietly flowing russet river frame the desert behind, with its plains of pale gold and bright blue. I always arrive tired and slightly delirious, which only intensifies the magic of the place. It has the feeling of a gateway into something different. My hiking companions and I always linger there, contemplating the changes that have taken place since we last visited, and the year to come before we visit again.
My visits to Santa Elena have been meditative, thrilling, and celebratory. One year we brought champagne and cake. I couldn’t say for certain that the love is reciprocal, but I like to think that, as with so many romances, the champagne helped.