Big Bend left me speechless so it’s going to be difficult to find the words to describe both the beauty and vastness of its endless rocky desert. I loved loved loved Big Bend. I already miss it and am trying to think of ways to fit another visit into our schedule. Beforehand, I hadn’t put much thought into the park and, although excited, was more looking forward to the bigger name parks further west. But Big Bend blew me away and I think that everyone should make the trek to southwest Texas to experience it for themselves.
Welcome to Big Bend National Park!
We took Friday off of work to give us more time in the very remote park. It’s about a 7 hour drive from Austin so we drove most of the way on Thursday night and woke early on Friday to travel the remaining hours into the park. We got there just as the visitor’s center was opening in order to get one of the limited numbers of backpacking permits.
Chisos Mountains in the distance
With permit in hand and national park passport stamped, we headed out to the trailhead. Our backpacking site was only about 7 miles in so we did a 5 mile warm up hike. The Lost Mines trail had some amazing panoramas (even if they were nothing compared to what we would see later). It seemed like around every corner was an even better view than before.
Top of the Lost Mines trail
After a quick lunch, we loaded up our packs and headed into the Chisos Mountains. Between a good bit of elevation gain and the mid-day desert sun beating down, the route was pretty challenging. But the surroundings made thoughts of complaining evaporate. At the time, I knew the pictures wouldn’t do it justice, but looking at them afterwards, they don’t even come close. Just imagine something hundreds of times more amazing than these pictures.
Taking a break at the south rim of Boot Canyon
We spent the night at a windy, secluded campsite at around 7400 ft (not too high by Rocky Mt. standards but it was by far the highest I’ve ever slept outside). We left our cards in the car and with the temperature quickly dropping we went to bed around 7pm, a not uncommon practice for us while backpacking.
Amazing views around every corner
The next morning, we got moving early and climbed up Mount Emery, the highest point in the park. The peak was a bit harrowing. Both Zach and I have acrophobia, and there was not much wiggle room at the top. I was glad we got an early start (I think we were the first people to make it up) because we saw a lot of people heading up the mountain as we were heading down. The peak seemed like too small of a space for just Zach and I; I can’t imagine being up there with a crowd.
Scaring Zach by sitting at the edge of Emory Peak
Once we made it back to the car, we were ready to be done with hiking for the day so we headed out to the dirt roads of Big Bend. Zach was excited to take the 4Runner on some roads that would require 4-wheel drive. We drove for hours and saw only one other car. It was bumpy, beautiful ride.
The 4Runner was in desperate need of a wash by the end of the weekend
We headed south to the Rio Grande Village (which is not a village at all, just a campground). The Rio Grande is not very grand. Just considering the river and not the surroundings, I think the Cuyahoga is just as deserving of the adjective. But I was able to throw a rock into Mexico which was pretty cool!
Just an average looking river (and Mexico on the other side)
We had read that the hot springs were a good place to watch the sunset so we headed there next. The springs were by far the most crowded area of the weekend and you couldn’t see the sunset but it was a fun time and we got to talk to some interesting people. The spring were … hot so we ended up spending more time in the river than the springs.
Can you find Zach?
It took an hour and a half to drive the 13 miles of dirt roads back to our campsite. This was a blessing in disguise because it made us stay up well past sunset. The stars at Big Bend were out of this world (literally). My phone’s camera was not able to capture their magnificence (I tried unsuccessfully) but the cover photo for this blog is an accurate depiction of what we saw.
Our very remote campsite – we were the only people for miles
The next day we took the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive to the far southwest corner of the park. While the views weren’t as breathtaking as the ones day before, they weren’t too shabby.
Our final destination was the Santa Elena Canyon. The canyon is kind of like a wider version of the Narrows at Zion. You’re not hiking up the river but the walls rise up on both side for hundreds and hundreds of feet. They only have one short hike here but I was glad as my legs were feeling quite tired from the backpacking.
Even closer to Mexico than yesterday!
Like every time I am outside, I was hoping for a bear sighting, but once again, no luck. We did see some javelinas (they look like pigs but are not that closely related), jackrabbits, a coyote (from the car), and lots of birds and lizards.
Some javelinas – also known as skunk pigs or peccaries
As I stated in the opening paragraph, I absolutely loved Big Bend. But Trump’s wall could soon be the newest addition to the park. Because the federal government already owns the land, it would be one of the first places construction would start. I oppose the wall for a litany of reasons but I don’t know how anyone, no matter their political beliefs, could think that a wall should be built along the southern border of the park. In addition to ruining the amazing views, it would have a harsh impact on tourism in the area and, most importantly, could harm the hundred of plant and animal species who call the region (both the US and Mexico sides) home. Here is a well written and interesting article, if you want to read more.