Sunrise and mountains at Big Bend National Park

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Big Bend National Park

Article by Ted Gresham
Photography by George Hosek

Visit Big Bend for all the reasons you avoid cities: big skies, clear air, big adventures in the outdoors. Changing seasons are mere blinks in Big Bend country.

Time is measured in centuries and eras rather than years or decades. Visit Big Bend National Park to breathe, to feast your eyes, to soak up miles of open space, both vertical and horizontal. Visit Big Bend National Park for the wild, for the freedom.

Most of the year you might pass a truck with some university logo--geology or paleontology students prowling for treasure, or one of the ever vigilant Border Patrol Explorers, but probably not much else as you head into the park. Plan on staying a few days.

There definitely are many things to see and do but the reason you want to extend your stay is so you can slow your inner clock down, synchronize it with the timeless magnificence of Big Bend.

Big Bend is one place mileage matters less than durability for your vehicle. The roads are narrow, curves are sharp, inclines are steep. Go in something that is ready to rumble when the pavement ends for that’s when real thrills begin. Take hiking boots and plenty of water.

Hummingbird feeds on century plant

 

Be sure to get there with a full tank of gas. Stake out your campsite or check in, get settled and rest up. The next few days will be full. You’ll want to take a couple days to scope out the park.

There’s no word for the wonder you’ll experience as you discover how diverse Big Bend truly is. From desert to mountain to valley, it’s all there.

Coming out of Green Gulch, approaching the Basin, to the west you’ll see The Window, a gap in the mountains providing an extraordinary view of the desert beyond.

Take a few hours to explore the settlement in the Basin, drop in to the visitors’ center, the lodge or the local grocery store and pick up a tip from the park rangers, a hearty meal and stock up on supplies.

Sunset from the Window at Big Bend National Park
 
The Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, heading south at Santa Elena Junction from State 118 to the river is another good route to investigate.

Going south, the Chisos Mountains will be to your left. Within a couple minutes you’ll come to Sam Nail Ranch. If you’ve planned a day for this little diversion and your vehicle is off-road ready, take the unpaved road to the left across from the pull-off on the right.

Cattail Falls

Park at the gate, slip on your boots and follow the trail to Oak Spring where you’ll find a “tie down” tree spanning a stream.  Heading to your right, go up the trail then follow the canyon. There you’ll discover a hidden oasis of incredible beauty, Cattail Falls.

A hiker enjoys the view at Cattail Falls
 
Back on the road south, when you pass the Homer Wilson Ranch turnoff the road starts to switch around so much you’ll meet yourself coming ‘round a bend. Right past the ranch you can spend some quality time at the Sotol Vista Overlook.

Hold your breath and pick your feet up (unless you’re driving!) as you pass through Tuff Canyon. There’s a great campground on the Rio Grande, Cottonwood, near the Castolon visitors’ center. You’ll see remnants of a settlement and can get a few goodies at the general store there.

 
Santa Elena Canyon
 
Head upriver on the roadway. Santa Elena Canyon is just up ahead. You won’t believe it till you see it! Get those hiking boots on again when you get to the end of the paved road. Santa Elena Canyon Trail is waiting! If you’re really willing and your vehicle is able, drive the unpaved route from Santa Elena north, the Old Maverick Road, back up to 118. Take it easy, it’s a 13 mile one-lane affair. But it’s worth the effort.
 
Another great way to toss off half a day is to take the road east from Panther Junction, at the end of U.S. 385, towards Boquillas and the Rio Grande Overlook. The trip is only twenty miles but make it last.

Pass through the tunnel near the end of your excursion then park at the Rio Grande Overlook. What a view! Make the return trip late in the afternoon so you can catch the sunset beyond the Chisos to the west.

A good time to visit is in the spring when the desert is blooming with incredible color, or the rainy season in the fall, when the air is cooler. The biggest crowds arrive during March and Spring Break.

The view looking west at the Rio Grande Overlook
 
Some say, the best time to visit Big Bend is in the winter. After a cold front the air is clear and cool. Night skies year ‘round are unbelievably full of stars but especially so in the winter when north winds clear the air.

When you’ve finished your day trips there are plenty of other things to do. Dozens of miles of hiking from easy to torturous crisscross the mountains.

There’s rafting excursions on the Rio. Birds and wildlife are everywhere, as is abundant flora. Big Bend is a geologists’ paradise.

Sunrise from the Rio Grande Overlook
 
Check out geologic strata or learn about the dinosaurs, giant croc’s or other long-gone beasts that once roamed the land.

 Big Bend is an official “biosphere preserve” that will not leave you wanting for something to do. Greatest of all, Big Bend is a place where hours on end are best spent doing little, stretched out beneath blue skies until nightfall when the whole universe shines down through clear air to lull a camper into a deep sleep beneath the stars.

You won’t want to go back home!

Coyote Big Bend National Park
 

Visit Big Bend

Alpine, Texas

Marathon, Texas

Terlingua, Texas

Big Bend Web Cam

Chisos Mountains Lodge

Museum of the Big Bend

Big Bend Open Road Race

Big Bend Texas Mountains

Big Bend Lodging Information

National Park Service, Big Bend

Texas Mountain Trail

 

Big Bend Chat

Terlingua Gallery

Big Bend Friends

Big Bend Tourism

Bicycle Big Bend

Texas Parks & Wildlife

 
Visitor Centers and Ranger Stations

Castolon Ranger Station
432-477-2225

Chisos Basin Visitor Center
432-477-2264

Chisos Basin Ranger Station
432-477-2392

Panther Junction Visitor Center
432-477-1158

Persimmon Gap Visitor Center
432-477-2393

Rio Grande Village Visitor Center
432-477-2271

Rio Grande Village Ranger Station
432-477-2356

 

 

 

 

 

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Content copyright George L. Hosek. The articles and photographs on this site are for viewing on your computer only, absolutely, no commercial or personal reproduction without written consent from George Hosek.