Our main location for this leg of our journey was Big Bend National Park. Like Fort Davis, Big Bend had been on our “someday” list for quite a while. With its remote location, limited RV parking and hot weather, this needed to be a specific trip. Once again, someday was April 2019. We drove down from Fort Davis and spent 2 ½ days hiking, touring and being disconnected from the grid.
There are actually two Big Bend parks; Big Bend National Park, and Big Bend Ranch State Parkof Texas. Both parks follow the Rio Grande river along the Texas/Mexico border. The State Park is said to be more remote and rugged. We were staying in Lajitas, TX at the Manor RV park, on the west side of the national park and in between the two parks. Hwy 170 runs along the Rio Grande all the way through the state park. So, we spent the afternoon on a leisurely drive through the state park.
It really is a rustic and remote area. We were surprised at the depth and width of the river. We had expected it to be shallow and narrow, but it was not. The silt made the river an opaque tan/brown. It was amazing that we were standing in the U.S. and Mexico was less than a stone’s throw across the river. No fences, no signs, no warnings, just a river separating two remote areas of two countries. It had a unique beauty all its own.
Big Bend National Park was all about outdoors for us. The park is primarily a hiking/backpacking wilderness. There are three main areas to the park. The Castolon area in the West, the Chisos Basin and Panther Junction areas in the center, and the Rio Grande Village area in the East. The park has a raw beauty in its wide-open spaces and sparseness. The ocotillos were all in bloom while we were there creating an “ocean” of red. The prickly pears were starting to bloom, and the yuccas were in full white bloom. While we did our best to explore as much of the park as we could in two days, the majority of our time was spent in the Castolon and Basin areas.
We did two really outstanding hikes. The first was along the Rio Grande River. East of Castolon, the river runs through steep and narrow Santa Elena Canyon. The sheer rock cliff canyon straddles the river with one side the U.S., the other side Mexico. The trail starts down on the beach shore of the river and then turns and ascends up along the ledges then back down to the river. It ends at the rock, at least that was what we were told, and they were right. The trail comes to a full, complete and definite end at a big rock cliff. No way around without swimming the river. We found a nice place to sit and had our lunch along the river, with Mexico just across the way. It really was amazing. The temperature dropped at least 10 degrees or more in the canyon, compared to out on the beach where we started. There were some great views along the trail. Maybe the thing that surprised us most were the tall reeds, grasses and trees along the river within the canyon.
Our other hike was in the Chisos Basin. The Lost Mine Trailis one of the park’s most popular. Compounding the challenge of hiking it is parking. There is only one small parking lot at the trailhead, and it fills fast. So, we were up before sunrise, did the 45-minute drive to the trailhead and were on the trail not long after the sun was up. Only one other car in the parking lot. The forecast for the day was in the 90s, and we were dressed for it. However, in the upper elevations of the basin the morning temperatures were in the low 50s. The good thing was we did not get hot on the hike! It was pretty much an all uphill hike, but with a gradual slope, it was pretty easy. The views were FANTASTIC. With the sun coming up, the red in the rock cliffs were enhanced with the glow of the sunrise, coupled with the green of the vegetation, it made for a beautiful landscape. Hard to believe that just a few miles away was the sparseness of the desert floor. The moniker of the trail is at the summit with spectacular views of Pine Canyon and the Sierra del Carme. The wind was really blowing the day of our hike, so we stopped just short, found a shelter rock and had a snack. With the early morning wind, the skies were crystal clear and deep blue. Even from our spot, the views were still spectacular.
We did manage to drive over to the far eastern side of the park near Boquillas Canyon. This canyon was similar to Santa Elena Canyon, but much more arid and sparse. There is even a tunnel on the main road to get there.
In-between the park entrance and our RV park is the small ghost town of Terlinqua. Well, not exactly a deserted ghost town, but an old mining town. It is now home to the the International Chili Cookoff. It is said to be the home of the original chili cookoff that started them all. It is also home to the Terlinqua Trading Company. It has pretty much anything you could want, including singing cowboys on the porch.
Our RV Park has a strict Dark Skies policy, which in this part of Texas is a good thing. Lajitas is miles from anywhere and in the heart of dark skies. The star gazing was out of this world. It was sooo dark, you literally could not see your hand in front of your face. There were absolutely zero lights on in the park or on any of the RVs. Two of our three nights the sky had a slight overcast and obscured the stars. The last night was amazing. It was like the sky was a million points of light. You could even see the Milky Way.
The trip to Big Bend was definitely worth the diversion and remoteness. We spent three days virtually disconnected and enjoyed some great hikes. We saw a unique part of the United States and the night skies were awe inspiring. Another “someday” trip checked off the list.