View to east from Santa Elena Canyon at dawn. © Lang ElliottWind, Ravens and Reeds, recorded at dawn in Santa Elena Canyon, Big Bend National Park, Texas. 17 March 2021. Recording and photo © Lang Elliott. Tap photo to view full size.

Note: The recording featured above is a “3D binaural soundscape”. Please wear headphones for a profound listening experience that will make you think you’re actually out there, immersed in the natural world!

During two recent trips to Big Bend National Park in southwestern Texas (one in mid-March and the other in mid-April), the drought was palpable. Dawn choruses seemed suppressed in comparison to what I experienced during a previous visit in 2017, and there was a dearth of natural sounds to record. It was also either too cold and windy or else uncomfortably hot and subdued. Overall, I had trouble capturing useful soundscapes. Nonetheless, with considerable effort, and in spite of the less-than-optimal conditions, I had a number of successes, the recording featured above being one of my favorites. So please don your headphones and enjoy this spacious soundscape as you read about my adventure.

The Story:

At first light on the 17th of March, I hiked the trail that leads into Big Bend’s impressive Santa Elena Canyon, through which the Rio Grande River runs. With near-vertical bare-rock cliffs rising as high as 1500 feet on both sides of the river, the canyon is a geological spectacle and, unsurprisingly, an immensely popular destination for tourists. Fortunately, nobody else was in the parking lot when I arrived, so maybe, I hoped, there would be an adequate window of time for capturing a pristine soundscape before the crowds arrived.

Santa Elena Canyon at Dawn © Lang ElliottSanta Elena Canyon at Dawn © Lang Elliott. Tap photo to view full size.

Santa Elena Canyon, Big Bend National Park

Santa Elena Canyon, Big Bend National Park
Santa Elena Canyon Trail, Terlingua, TX 79852, USA
Direction

As I entered the canyon, I was met by a huge gust of wind. I almost turned around, thinking that it was much too windy to get a good recording, unless I hiked back to my car to pick up my protective “wind box”. But I continued on, knowing that I had to stay well ahead of the onslaught of sightseers that would soon arrive.

The trail rises steeply at first, but then passes over a hump before angling down to a broad flat next to the river. There, a huge patch of Giant Reeds (Arundo donax – also called Carrizo Cane) grows thickly along the river’s edge (bamboo-like in appearance, this invasive from Asia is now common along much of the Rio Grande).

As I approached this dense forest of reeds, I immediately noticed the profusion of snaps, crackles and pops, created as gusts of wind blew against the stiff, dry stems from last season’s growth. “Wow,” I thought … “perhaps the makings of a compelling soundscape?” So I quickly set my microphone at the edge of the patch, placing it on the lee side, to minimize possible distortion caused by wind buffeting the mic itself.

My soundscape microphone set next to the dense patch of Giant Reeds. Photo© Lang Elliott.

No sooner did I hit the record button than a pair of ravens flew near, their low-pitched resonant croaks echoing off the steep canyon walls. How delicious to my ears! Then, to my absolute delight, the ravens flew up and down the canyon for minutes on end, frolicking in the gusting wind and calling to one another repeatedly, thereby allowing me to capture one of the most lovely binaural soundscapes of my spring travels. I wish I could have gotten an even longer recording, but a noisy group of tourists suddenly appeared on the trail, their penetrating voices abruptly putting an end to my recording session.

“Thank you wind! Thank you Ravens! Thank you Reeds!,” I remember yelling out loud, before quickly packing up my gear so as to avoid questions from curious passerbys. As I hiked out of the canyon, I was elated and felt truly blessed to have captured this unique slice of wildness. I was glad I did not return to my car for my wind box … for if I’d done so, the crowds would have arrived just as I was retrieving it and I would have missed my chance at capturing this engaging mix of natural sounds.

Wind, Ravens, Reeds … a nature soundscape extraordinaire!

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39 Comments
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Deb Black
Deb Black
2 months ago

Hello Lang, this is a truly beautiful recording, thank you for sharing with us!!

Genevieve Lawson
Genevieve Lawson
2 months ago

This is great . . and a wonderful vista! Love the reeds!

I imagine I wouldn’t be the first to suggest you might want to post on TikTok, especially now that they allow 3 minutes (although I think you have to build up to a certain number of followers first)? Whatever the case it is has become such a popular platform.

Carole
Carole
2 months ago

Truly a wonderful recording, somehow makes me feel very cozy here in my chair.

Mike Shalter
Mike Shalter
2 months ago

Great recording, Lang! The photo of me I just posted to your site was taken in a similar situation in the Andes 5 years ago. The altitude above the canyon was a little higher, the wind was a tad stronger, and the condors weren’t as vocal as your ravens. Nevertheless, it was a natural high like you had in Texas.
Keep up the good work, pal!!

antigonumcajan
2 months ago

The sensation, feeling of soundscape is pretty close to being there.
Thanks.
Congratulations!

John
2 months ago

Hi Lang,
Your latest post was passed along to me today–wonderful. Have stayed in Big Bend NP many times, and in the evening listened to wind whistle through the screen doors in a stone cottage in the Chisos Basin. It’s a fur piece, as they say, to drive from there to Santa Elena Canyon, and get there before sunrise. Did you stay in the Cottonwood campground (Castolon) near the canyon? If so, I’ll need to try that sometime!
Cheers

John
2 months ago
Reply to  Lang Elliott

Too bad you weren’t Abajo (aka “Under”) a tree–they’re kinda sparse in ‘ol Terlingua. But, a funky settlement and interesting people. Glad you were able come down Texas way–twice!
Again, compliments on the special sound piece.

Julie Zickefoose
2 months ago

This is absolutely gorgeous!! I have it going while working. Delicious! Nothing like a sonorous raven conversation. I love how one is to the right and the other is coming from the left! And the reeds popping. woooow. Well done, Lang!

Sandy
2 months ago

So calming and peaceful Would love to listen to this during a yoga session! As a natural science illustrator, this kind of audio is a perfect companion for when I am working, too. Thank you so much for sharing this! I will pay it forward by sharing your work with my sm network once again. (You graciously let me use a wood frog recording of yours to accompany a video of me drawing a wood frog, at which time I credited your work and shared it!)

Eliza
Eliza
2 months ago

Wow, love the echoing of the raven calls– cool, primeval soundscape!

Eliza
Eliza
2 months ago
Reply to  Lang Elliott

Earbuds… 🙂

Trudy Gerlach
Trudy Gerlach
2 months ago

So glad you were at Santa Elena Canyon…I rafted the canyon many times when I lived in El Paso, and hiked Big Bend ofter. What a fabulous place.

Claudia G.
Claudia G.
2 months ago

Love this – the echo of ravens, then the reeds in the wind sound much like a spattering of rain here and there to me. Thank you!

Claudia G.
Claudia G.
2 months ago
Reply to  Lang Elliott

That’s it…or larger drops on leaves on the ground in the woods!

Margaret Wakeley
2 months ago

Oooo, Lang! I already had my headphones on for other work and listened as I read and it was AMAZING. Those echoing calls, and the sound of the wind kind of cooled me off on this hot muggy day!

mark s nupen
mark s nupen
2 months ago

Yeah, the photo sets the scene in a ‘desert canyon high walls’ and the desert Ravens talking to each other plus the winds coming through the canyon and rattling the reeds.

I have not been there before but similar desert mountainous places and fun to close my eyes and remember my past walks.
thanks!!!!!!

Lisa
Lisa
2 months ago

Ah… such a nourishing treat this morning. Glad you were patient and able to record this musical magic. I can feel the wind blowing, the reeds rustling, and the ravens soaring thru the desert canyon. Thank you for taking me with you, Lang. Bless your work always.

Lisa
Lisa
2 months ago
Reply to  Lang Elliott

Looking forward to your next recordings from this journey in the SW. I am not able to travel these days, so I truly appreciate these virtual visits to the wild places.

Owen Murphy
2 months ago

Wonderful recording! Having been there recently, the sounds you captured immediately brought me back. To experience this canyon without people must have be amazing. Thank you for the beautiful sounds.

Dal Leite
2 months ago

Thank you Lang! The ravens sound like they came very close; were they interacting with you, do you think? Or perhaps with that strange, tall, black, 3-legged creature that had appeared by the reeds (your mike set)?

Michael D. Cooper
Michael D. Cooper
2 months ago

Lang, Thanks for posting this new work, which is a Delight!

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