Big Bend National Park, West Texas
We spent the better part of two weeks at Big Bend in early April. The initial plan was to camp at the
Rio Grande Village campground, and drive the park from there.
Now, this is Texas and the folks here think nothing of driving seventy miles or so for dinner. However, this park encompasses over 800,000 acres. It took us over an hour to arrive from Marathon, where we provisioned for our stay.
The camping at Rio Grande Village, while at a developed campground had no services to hook up to. Dry camping, so we were relying on the on-board water and our solar system. We could sit outside of AIROSMITH and watch Roadrunners, Turkey Vultures and Vermilion Flycatchers prowl the campground.
Desert, Mountains, River
The park encompasses three distinct ecological systems. The Desert, the Mountains and the River. We visited all of them.
|Rio Grande River
From Rio Grande Village, we were able to see much of the east, or desert side of the park. Additionally, you can cross the river and visit the small town Mexican town of Boquillas.
Visiting Boquillas requires you to take the International Ferry, or you can choose to wade accross the Rio Grande River. The boarder is open between 8 AM and 5 PM only four days a week. Once across the river, you can walk the short distance, or ride a donkey to the small town.
Once there, you can purchase souvenirs and visit the two restaurants in town. Falcon's is where you go for Margaritas, but to get the best goat tacos you will need to walk across the street to the Boquillas Restaurant. We enjoyed both with new friends and fellow travelers, Jerry and Sharon.
|The Rio Grande from the Fun side of the wall!
|Our traveling companions to Mexico
On another day we hiked to Boquillas Canyon. This is where the Rio Grande River leaves the park, eventually flowing into the Gulf of Mexico. It is hard to see the he opening of the canyon because it blends into the surrounding cliffs. Once there it surprises you. If you are lucky you may get to see donkeys lounging on the beach just across the river.
You can also visit the Hot Springs, after a short hike. With water at 105º, a visit in the middle of the day is not too tempting, as we did. But soaking at sunset, as we did on several occasions, is very pleasant.
The short walk to the Hot Springs takes you past abandoned buildings from when the area operated as a spa. Limestone rock formations rise above the trail and are home to swallows who build their mud nests up high on the walls.
Near the river, throughout the park, you will find small souvineer stands selling crafts from across the river in Mexico. You can purchase walking sticks, and wire sculptures. These all contain a small jar where you pay for your purchases, on the honor system. Boquillas looks to be a poor town, and this is how many of these folks make a living.
We took a day to drive the River Road East and Glenn Springs Road Loop through this section of the Chihuahuan Desert. At 105º temps, and a 30 MPH wind, stepping out of the truck felt like a blast furnace. It is the end of the season here in Big Bend! The desert views of the surrounding mountains, and the geology of the limestone cliffs were stunning.
We also drove the lower section of the Old Ore Road to the Ernst Tenaja, a series of deep pools formed in the limestone by wind and water. The rock cliffs of the canyons above the pools looked as if it was as fluid as the water and wind that had sculpted them.
The history here shows how traveling these rough desert roads can be very lonely
The desert sunset views from the small ridge above Rio Grande Village were stunning.
|The Santa Del Carmen Mountains
|The Chisos at Sunset
|Looking towards the Window
While there are longer and more challenging hikes here, I took the one to the Window's Pour Off, and another to the Lost Mine.
Trail to the Windows
Lost Mine Trail
While just outside of the park, this provided great access to the Maverick Road and the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. We explored Castolon and the Santa Elena Canyon.
We made an attempt to kayak up the Rio Grande from just below Santa Elana Canyon. We planed to boomerang, paddling upstream and then floating back to the put in point. We had heard that the outfitters were not doing trips due to the water flow. We could have listened to that advice, but we didn't! The shallow water was flowing at over 300 cfs. It gave us a long steady paddle, not too far up river, followed by a quick trip back. The Rio Grande was very shallow in spots here. We had to walk our boats a bit. I'm sure that we were wading into Mexico just a little bit.
We visited Big Bend at the end of their season. Many of the Visitor Centers in the park close at the end of April. It is getting too hot, and visitation drops significantly. Perhaps a better time would be in February, if you avoid spring break. Temperatures would be milder, and you might catch more of the wildflowers and cactus in bloom. All of that said, we really weren't disappointed.
Study Butte/Terlingua had been a mining town. Now it caters to visitors. Many of the Parks commercial outfitters operate from here. We took advantage of at least one of the local haunts, the Starlight Theater. It has a great history here, and after a short wait you will have a nice drink, a fine meal and live music.
|Road Signs to Presidio
We also drove the River Road to Presidio, a small boarder town. The 100 mile round trip takes you along the Rio Grande River and through the Big Bend Ranch State Park. The drive is one of America's Top Ten. The State Park, at over 300,000 acres is the little sister who plays next to the National Park.
|Closed Canyon - Big Bend Ranch State Park