Big Bend National Park spans 1,252 miles of the Chihuahuan Desert, the Chios Mountains and the Rio Grande and Riparian Zone. It takes over an hour to drive from one end to the other. The park is named after the notable curve in the Rio Grande that divides the Texas and Mexico. The mountains reach heights of 7,832 feet whereas the lowest areas are at 1,800 feet. The most amazing feature of the park is its diversity.
We stayed in the Rio Grande Village at the east end of the park and drove out to visit different areas each day. We downloaded the free audio app that explained the various geology, history, flora and fauna as we toured Big Bend. As well as many driving tours, there are trails offering different challenge levels and miles of paved roads for cyclists to tackle. The RV park was edged by grass and trees and a fabulous 360 degree view of the mountains. Watching the skies, clouds, sunsets and one crazy wind and rainstorm provided constant inspiration. Our Mexican neighbours were very friendly and we watched them practice roping the bull. A five minute bike ride lead to a picnic area and boat launch. An old Pueblo Farmhouse stood beside a shady row of Paolo Verde.
Chris set up his Ham Radio one afternoon.
We had daily visitations from a pair of Roadrunners who nonchalantly walked through our campsite, pruned their feathers and caught and devoured insects. In the past, we have viewed Roadrunners only at a distance, usually on the move away from us or crossing the road just like their portrayal in the Coyote/Roadrunner cartoons. It was a real thrill to watch them up close beside our motorhome! We regularly watched a Raven and a group of Vultures, many small songbirds and a pair of Gila Woodpeckers who lived in a tree hole beside the RV. A couple of days, it was so hot and dry that the birds were “panting”. A troupe of Javelinas could be seen dining on the grass and searching for scrap food that humans had carelessly left around.
Our first hot hike lead us through a rocky, sandy path down into a valley dotted with Mesquite and Paolo Verde Trees. We watched the Rio Grande travel slowly along and cool a few Mexicans who were swimming from the opposite bank. An entrepreneurial Mexican fellow played his wooden flute when he saw hikers approaching and offered some crafts for sale. Once past him, we enjoyed some shade and stillness beside the river in the shadows of the mountains.
Another day, we rode our bikes over to the Rio Grande Village Nature Trail. The trail begins by crossing a wooden platform over a pond surrounded by twenty foot high grasses. The trail climbs a hillside that affords amazing views of the river and mountains. The rock formations in the park would be a geologist’s dream. We saw a huge fault-line crossing the rock face. From the hilltop one can observe the U-shaped curve of Rio Grande to which the park owes its name. The stony paths are skirted with cactus, wild flowers, succulents and many little lizards and four inch centipedes.
This poor beauty sadly met a car.
Candelilla used by early settlers to produce wax in the early 20th century
natural marks on the rocks looked like pictographs
Great Earless Lizard
On another day trip we spent over an hour crossing the park to the western side then drove the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. We stopped at the visitor centre at Panther Junction that displayed maps, models and artefacts of the park and its cultural history. It also had and amazing bookstore and garden where all the native plants were represented and labelled. A Century Plant blossom stalk was beginning its journey to the sky to unfurl.
One half hour hike took us to the remains of Sam Nail Ranch where a small oasis of trees and cacti surrounded Sam’s home and farm.
Prickly Pear Cactus
Adobe wall remains.
The drive though the valley highlights many of the park’s geologic splendors with many lookout points like Mule Ears, Tuff Canyon and Cerro Castellan, formerly an active volcano with its solid lava rock forms.
We grabbed some lunch at the Castolon Historic Compound and vintage camp store. The most southern part of the drive leads to the Santa Elena Canyon where breathtaking limestone cliffs rise 1,500 feet above the Rio Grande. The river carves its path between the Mexican cliffs on the east side and the bluffs of the US on the right.
Rio Grande, master rock carver.
We had no time to fit in a visit to the Hot Springs where folks came for the healing waters in the early 1900’s and continue to soak in today. The park also features a Fossil and Dinosaur Exhibit. Balancing Rock is another favourite site that we can visit next time. We did take a day trip to the remarkable Chios Basin. The winding drive begins along the arid desert and rises over 2,000 feet into the Chios Mountain peaks. As well as many hiking trails there is a visitor centre, a campground, lodge and dining room. A huge Ocotillo Cactus, in full bloom, set the foreground for the mountain view. We hiked the Basin Trail that connects the Laguana Meadow and Pinnacles Trail. We viewed some amazing cacti and huge beetles, cacti blossoms crammed with thirsty bees, pinion pine and juniper and a view of The Window, a space in the mountain range which is the chief water runoff point for the Chios Valley. The space also frames the sunset and was considered a spiritual location by indigenous peoples. If you ever have the chance, do visit Big Bend National Park!
Cactus with birdsnest
Slices of local rock top the walls around the lookout site at The Window.
We had been told that Tarantula Spiders were “all over the Big Bend” but we had seen none. As we drove out of the park Chris spotted one crossing the road. I whipped out with my camera and ran back to catch a few shots. He/she was easily as big as my palm and quite colourful up close.
You leavin? See ya next time!