Like most National Parks, Big Bend is a spectacular place. This one is 800,000 acres, the size of Rhode Island, encompassing the river gorges and canyons of the Rio Grande, the plains of the Chihuahuan Desert and the rocky heights of the Chisos Mountains. It varies from 1800′ above sea level at the river to 5400′ at our campground in Chisos Basin to 7800′ at the mountain tops surrounding the basin.
View of campground from road descending into basin:
View from our campsite at sunset of Casa Grande mountain:
Many national parks have a lodge sited at the singular spot with the very best view in the park and this place is no exception. The Chisos Mountain Lodge is a few hundred feet higher than our campground and about a half mile away. The Chisos Basin is completely circumscribed by mountains except for one gap called “The Window”. The lodge lines up with The Window and the setting sun in the summertime. We had a window table in the lodge dining room Saturday evening and the view as the sun set was indescribable. This food photo isn’t really about the food but the view. BTW the food was excellent and reasonably priced.
Monday we visited the park HQ at a panther Junction to watch an orientation movie and talk with a ranger about how best to use the three days we have here. She suggested, since today was cool, we visit the hottest section, the SE corner called Rio Grande Village and Boquillas Canyon. We did a short hike into the Canyon with a picnic stop midway. There is a legal border crossing to a small Mexican village called Boquillas del Carmen where tourists are ferried across the river in a row boat and then walk or ride a donkey into town for some shopping. We passed but did seek a Mexican ride a horse across the river and a tourist walk across the river in a place where the water was only up to his waist.
The hike ended up at the entrance to Boquillas Canyon.
We then hiked a nature trail leading from the Rio Grande Village campground over a floating walkway in a pond ringed with huge stands of bamboo and up the side of a big hill / small mountain to get a good view of the river. What a weird feeling to be walking through lush green grass 6′ or 8′ tall after being in a bone dry gravel and dirt floor desert, like walking out of a cold winter day into a warm room.
Dinner at the campsite and an early bedtime after all the walking.
Monday we tackled the southwest corner of the park, stopping along the way to visit an abandoned adobe ranch. The windmill pump still worked. It startled us when a gust of wind sent it spinning with the pump mechanism clanking back and forth. We also stopped a few times at scenic overlooks and a couple of times to walk out into the desert a bit to photograph flowering cacti.
The focus of todays trip was to hike into the Santa Elena canyon. A 1500′ high escarpment runs NW to SE starting far to the south in Mexico. It’s roughly parallel to the river for about 30 miles and forms a sheer wall down to the river bed for its last 4 miles before crossing into the US. It’s hard to believe this (today) puny little river that you can walk across carved a channel through this massive escarpment, but it did. It’s course through the escarpment is the Santa Elena canyon. The hike was an easy 2 miles rising up high at the start of the canyon then descending to the river level for a kale mile or so. As they say ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’.
This shows the river exiting the canyon:
Tuesday’s primary activity was the Lost Mine Trail hike, a 4.8 mile round trip with the end of the trail 1150′ above the start. We took our time, in fact spent 5.5 hours, climbing the trail and stopping to enjoy the views.
Our lunch spot, about a third of the way up:
The top of the trail is a ridge with 360 degree views:
This is at 6850′ looking back at the Chisos Basin, 5400′, and then down into the desert floor, 2200′.
Tuesday evening we had the good fortune to meet our next door neighbor, a retired professor of desert ecology. She had been coming here for thirty years with students. We traded drinks and dinner for wonderful stories of the park and the desert.
We are leaving this (Wednesday) morning to meet Renee and Jim Wilson in Carlsbad, NM. Big Bend has made a big impression – the Snoozy would very much like to come back.