Away from it all, this Texas State National Park is not much frequented and yet 3200km2 of desert and mountains that make up Big Bend NP, offer breathtaking landscapes!
Go on board you with us!
Located at South West Texashe is for us the first West American National Park of our Road Trip, what to impress us.
Created in 1944, Big Bend owes its name to the great curve of Rio Grande Riverwhich in delimits the border but which also serves as a natural boundary between the United States and Mexico.
The park deserves, the road is long, we are in March and it's hot here ... Arrived by the US385, ie from the East, via the city of Marathon, the landscapes are already grandiose several hundred kilometers before entering the Park! What we put in the mood ... Once the entry reached, we still have 42 kilometers to go before falling on the first sign of life. In all, 110kms between the last cross town and the first Visitor Center. That gives you a little idea, when you are told that it's huge!
The Park is composed of three parts:
- Eastside: Panther Junction & Rio Grande Village
- The Chisos Mountains
- Westside: Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive
After a visit Panther Junction Visitor Center to retrieve all the necessary information on the must-see places and hikes to do, we reserve our 5 nights in wild camping and make our water reserves (see practical information at the end of the article). So here we are "lost" in the middle of this immense wild and arid expanse, which is the desert.
our First 2 days are devoted to the visits of this area to East of the Park.
So we left on the Hot Spring Trail, a popular hike along the Rio Grande. We can easily to bathe and that's what we did. It's rather strange to say that on a bank we are in the USA and on the other in Mexico!
Moreover, we can see opposite, small cabins built by Mexicans who cross the "border", to deposit crafts on the edge of trails and that we can buy by putting a few dollars in a box.
Except on the banks of the river, the landscape seems dry and arid.
But the desert is populated byocotillos, ofagaves and of yuccas. Right here, cacti enjoy it and we have the chance to arrive right in the flowering period, a colorful spectacle contrasting with the image that one has of a desert, namely hostile and sterile. Here, there is much more life than we think.
Looking good, we can also find some treasures, fossils embedded in the rock on the ground. There is a mind-blowing amount, as long as we take the time to observe our feet!
the South East of the Park, we venture into the Boquillas Canyon Trailwho takes us in a canyon where the Rio Grande sinks. As we arrive at the end of the short hike, and we are only two, we see a Mexican rider, who continues his way in the water. Where is he from, where is he going? It feels like full Western! The border is a pretty vague concept here.
The second night we leave for 1 hour of "road" on a stony path to reach our location more than wild for the night, at Gravel Pit. There is nobody around, which suits us very well. The landscape and the sunset are sumptuous, a real treat for the eyes ... And we can not help but take a little height to enjoy.
The desert igniteshe is adorned with a flamboyant red.
Once after dark we observe the ballet of hares (who have really big ears!), and coyotes. It's fun, it's the full moon and you can almost see it in broad daylight and despite that the sky is full of stars, no light pollution here, that's for sure…
In the morning we go fresh for the Grapevine Hills Trail where is at the end an extraordinary, almost lunar landscape. The trail leads to a funny rock in balance, Balanced Rock, as if placed there by nature, one crosses the fingers so that it does not fall. The rock is particular and testifies to underground volcanic activity that there was here.
The heat, the wind, it is both hot and cool, we protect ourselves from the sun as we can. The landscape is mysterious, captivating, intriguing.
- Hot springs / 1,2km / 30min / Easy and flat: it will take you through a historic building and an old "pool" from which a hot spring comes out. You can take a walk to the Daniels Ranch car park (3h)
- Boquillas Canyon / 2,3km / 1h / Easy and flat: the path sinks into the canyon along the river to a sand dune.
- Grapevine Hills / 3,5km / 1h / Easy: it rises a bit on the end before arriving at Balanced Rock. Not to miss !
- Rio Grande Village Nature Trail / 1.2km / 1h / Easy: The loop starts from the campsite and gives you a little overview of the fauna and flora found in the park through explanatory panels.
Change of scenery in the mountains present in the center of the Park. The "Chisos", as they are called, are the only US mountain range fully included in a national park.
If we see them almost from any place, we probably do not expect to climb so much at altitude and with this vegetation in such a desert environment that is Big Bend National Park. The mountain flora consists of sugar maple, trembling aspen and Douglas fir.
What a surprise a little more, there are even bears and pumas (see our tips on this topic at the end of the article).
Essential hikeso we borrow the Lost Mine Trail, history to take a little height, and enjoy a few stops in the shade of trees ... The climb winds between the trees and offers some beautiful unobstructed viewsbut we mainly remember the magnificent panorama once arrived at the top. Just amazing. Nothing seems to stop the horizon, except this kind of fog of heat in the distance, which reinforces the unreal aspect of this landscape.
Opposite, we see the peak of Emory Peak which rises to 2387m above sea level. So it's decided, it will be our hike the next day!
In the evening, it's another 1 hour of dusty and rugged road waiting for us. Blinded by the sun, we follow the trail and we sink again to join our camp area, Pine Canyon.
4 × 4 are recommended here, but Popo (our van) is a real warrior, no path (or almost) can resist him 🙂 Once again, we meet again isolated in the middle of nowhere with the Chisos Mountains for neighbors and the silenceif not, the whistling of the wind, as the only sound. During the day, the heat is stifling but in the evening, the temperatures are cooleradd wind and the moment of the shower becomes epic.
Clean and satisfied, tonight is through the windows of the van that one contemplates the sunset.
Come on, little anecdote: in the early morning, after a more than peaceful night, Joana wanted to go explore the surroundings, never mind, ok… The bad idea of the day was to go to a sloping area, with pebbles and especially full of cacti. See what we're getting at? In short, we'll skip the details but Joana ended up with a good hundred cactus thorns on her buttocks 🙂 Ouch, aie, aie! (We reassure you, it happens very often, so she is starting to get used to it.)
After a session of tweezers we are now left as planned in the Chisos Mountains to the assault of Emory Peak. The climb is a little steeper and much less sheltered trees. If the panorama of the day before marked us, once arrived at the top of the highest peak of the park we feel very small compared to the immensity of the landscapes that surround us. As if caught, we exchange very few words and just enjoy the wonders we see.
If there is a hike that is recommended here, it is definitely this one!
- Window View / 500m / 15min / Very easy: mini warm up that offers a beautiful view and an exceptional sunset.
- Lost Mine / 7.7km / 3h / Medium: the path climbs relatively strong but without difficulty, one can take the time to stop in the shade of a tree. The view at the top is worth it!
- Emory Peak / 17km / 7h / Difficult: You have to have good calves ... The difficulty increases gradually over the kilometers, and at the end you have to climb a little to reach the top of the Park. 360 ° view!
By waking us up at Paint Gap, the morning light is close to that of the evening, hot, glowing. We did not expect to have a visit after breakfast, and yet a young coyote, who approached our camp. Finally, we are never as alone as what we think.
Once upon a Time in the West… Today, we leave the mountains to find landscapes similar to the Eastside, maybe a little more hilly and many canyons more.
I have to say that the area is characterized by crevasses, steep rocks and cracks.
Since our arrival, we realize that the desert with many faces.
The Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, understand by that, "Scenic route" is one of the must park that must absolutely borrow.
The road is a real pleasure, the bitumen household finally a little Popo. Music in the background, hair in the wind, the double yellow line, reveals over the kilometers a show that never seems to end, punctuated by a few rare bifurcations.
The air is burning, the brightness blinding.
The Lower Burro Mesa Trail For Off brings us at the foot of a cliff that we hastened to climb. A little further along the road, the Tuff Canyon offers us views from several "balconies". We also embark on a mini hike between the steep walls history to appreciate the decor from the bottom too, but we're doing a quick turn around so much the heat is stifling in there!
Curious to discover everything, we push our exploration of the Park to the West end. The road is lined with a multitude of "Overlooks" well placed that dominate the landscape and the stops contemplations and photos are linked. Removing our sunglasses to be able to put the eye in the lens is suffering as the sun is dazzling.
We eventually arrive at Santa Elena Canyon, the high point of this part of the Park. The canyon carved by time by the Rio Grande is impressive. This huge fracture to the T shape so special we aspire.
The path that borders the river for a few kilometers is just magical. The green color of the water, is here really intense.
Unlike Eastside, there is no border problem, it is clear, clean and impassable.
After these several days in strong heat we take this opportunity to refresh one last time in the Rio Grande before resuming the road.
Rather than taking the same path we leave by the Old Maverick Road, a dirt road of 23kms recommended to 4 × 4, longer, but at the same time we are here to discover.
The park is really not very busy but then you are sure to be quiet. The track is a corrugated iron, dotted with a few potholes all in a gigantic setting and without air conditioning please, but what do you want to start to love it.
We left the next morning at dawn to our new destination, Marfathen Fort Davis and Carlsbad Cavern.
A park that deserves, but that makes you feel good!
- Sam Nail Ranch / 800m / 30min / Very easy: Small path next to an old ranch.
- Lower Burro Mesa For-off / 1.6km / 30min / Easy and flat: the trail leads to a cliff that encompasses you and its "cave".
- Tuff Canyon / 1.2km / 30min / Easy - Medium: Two ways to approach the site, from the top and the "balconies" provided for this purpose, and from below by entering the canyon.
- Santa Elena Canyon / 2.6km / 1h / Easy: The long Rio Grande Trail in this huge T-shaped canyon! Not to miss !
- Grapevine Hills / 3,5km / 1h / Easy: The famous Balanced Rock. Not to miss !
- Emory Peak / 17km / 7h / Difficult: If you feel you can do it! Otherwise you can settle for the Lost Mine Trail.
- Santa Elena Canyon / 2.6km / 1h / Easy: The color of the water so special and great size of the canyon make it a must!
- More than a park, it's about an entire region which includes a part of the Chihuahua desert, known for its cactus species.
- Spanish explorers had dubbed this inhospitable space the " desplobado ": The uninhabited earth.
- The park makes 320,000 hectares desert, mountains and alluvial plain.
- it only falls here 10 to 15 centimeters of water per year.
- There are more than 1,200 plant varieties, 75 mammal species, 450 bird species and 67 amphibian and reptile species.
- Open all year.
- Pay shower and washing machine in the visitor center of Rio Grande Village.
- Official site : www.nps.gov/bibe/
- The best season stretches from October to April. Come in the spring if you want to admire the multicolored flowers covering the desert.
- The temperature is characteristic of the desert places with, according to the time, 38 ° C the day and close to zero at night. The wind can blow up to 80 km / h.
- On the road to the Park there are dams of the American customs, this one being right at the Border with Mexico. So do not be surprised if you are asked your passport. You will probably be asked where you are from and where you are going. If you have a camper, he will take a look inside.
- Make gas before entering the Parkit will be cheaper than the service station located inside.
- Water in the park: this is your first priority here, the park is big and you will not find all the 100m. There are water points at each Visitor Center (five in all) and in the campsites of the Park. But do not forget that these are very far apart from each other then do not postpone filling your bottles when you pass by. Also be aware that you are "limited" to 5 gallons (18.9L) per day per person.
- Remember to do your food reserves before arriving, there is only a small grocery store in the park and it is of course overly expensive ... The Park is not very busy (for our greatest happiness elsewhere), infrastructure is limited.
- Backcountry camping: This is the ideal solution for Big Bend if you are not afraid to sleep alone in the middle of nowhere. On your arrival at Panther Junction, stop at the center, just behind on the left is a small room where you can get your Backcountry Permit. It hardly costs $ 12 for up to 14 nightsNo matter how many nights you plan to do! The rangers on site will show you the different places available, you can change location every day if you wish. Be careful, some tracks are accessible only in 4 × 4. Change of scenery guaranteed. And do not forget to make your water reserves especially since there is very little tree and therefore shade! There are also some tent pitches in the mountains if you want to hike over several days. It will then be necessary to bring you a bear box to put your food and other odorous products. You can rent directly at the visit center.
- Rate for a location classic camping: $ 14 / night
- If you plan to go hiking in the Chisos Mountains, remember to bring a bear bomb (special pepper spray). Yes, it seems crazy when you see this landscape but there are many bears in the mountains in the middle of the desert. So we are never too careful ... There are also Mountain Lions (Pumas, Cougars) but it is very rare to cross.
- If the urge takes you you can go for a ride in Mexico for the day. Excursions are offered in the park to go to the village of Boquillas on the other side of the border.