It was a crisp December morning when this photograph was taken, with the promise of a nigh perfect day for a long prowl through the Mule Ears area. Directly ahead was the large, golden-leafed cottonwood marking Trap Spring, though I would soon be leaving this path to start a swing for Cartledge Cave.

Therein lies the key to venturing into this often ignored part of the park. For I was on Mule Ears Spring Trail, which serves as a gateway to most all points east, north and south.

From Carousel Mountain and the Dodson, across to the Sugar Loaf, Smoky Spring, San Jacinto Spring, La Casita and the western slopes of the Punta de la Sierra, and down Smoky Creek basin past Triangulation Mountain and to the river itself, this is where you start.

The trail begins, appropriately enough, at the Mule Ears Overlook off Maxwell Drive. One can stop there in air conditioned comfort, look across the rugged terrain toward its name sake, admire the scenery for a few minutes and drive on.

But that is much like looking at a full moon through a child’s telescope and saying you have actually been there.

For within those confines seen are all sorts of sights and wonders, secreted by a complicated maze of arroyos, canyons, bluffs, pour offs and many a moment spent thinking upon those immortal words:
“Well, this is another fine mess you’ve gotten us into Ollie.”

Make no mistake. Here lies one of the most deceptive, confounding, confusing, aggravating and mind-boggling sections of the lower Big Bend or beyond. Even the topographical maps available are wrong in how some of the trails run, and as an old Marine Corps gunnery sergeant once remarked:

“There’s many a hidden misery between those twenty foot elevation lines,”

The pay off is in the otherworldly scenery found throughout this area, often in close proximity to the twin peaks themselves. One’s imagination runs wild, and at times you will be wondering if you somehow strayed off into a portal to another dimension. Geological anomalies of every shape and description surround the sojourner, each bringing forth a bit of awe as you wander by.

But to the curious comes also a warning. When you challenge this almost magical locale, you had better have your best game on. People have become helplessly lost here, and your chances of finding help runs from about slim to none. The short way is the hardest, the longest often the easiest and more than a few border on being depressingly labyrinthine.

Adding to that it will also be like an oven in the warmer months, amid other unpleasant surprises spawned from the infernal heat. And once the sun goes down at any time of the year, the inherent challenges are multiplied tenfold.

You won’t only be imagining you are on a different planet, but also marooned there.

God bless to all,

Ben H. English
Alpine, Texas
USMC: 1976-1983
THP: 1986-2008
HS Teacher: 2008-2010
Author of ‘Yonderings’
‘Destiny’s Way’
‘Out There: Essays on the Lower Big Bend’
‘The Uvalde Raider’
‘Black And White: Tales of the Texas Highway Patrol’
Facebook: Ben H. English
‘Graying but still game’