(Panther Junction TX)
The next stop on the journey was Big Bend National Park to spend a few days exploring. Larger than the state of Rhode Island, it includes part of the Chihuahuan Desert, the entire Chisos Mountains range, and the Río Grande.
Registration at the Persimmon Gap entrance was easy. There were some displays, and the workampers were very helpful. If you hike, it’s a good idea to leave your personal description, and where you will go; just in case you get lost.
Coming in from the north, was a driving tour out to Dagger Flat. The gravel road limited me to about 10 MPH, so it took an hour roundtrip. But, it was a scenic 7 miles through the desert into a canyon. The view changed often with a variety of plants and landscape. A circle at the end had a place to pull off, so I did and had lunch.
I stopped at the main Visitor Center for info and to see the displays. The ranger showed me a film about the park which was really good; a must see. There was a 3d mock-up of the entire park, and a walking garden identifying plants.
With the Senior Pass, the entry fee is waived. And, for $5 I could disperse camp at any number of locations for a week. For the first night, I chose a spot east of the main Visitor Center, but not too far off the main road.
Two miles on the paved road took me to a gravel road into the K-Bar camp. In another two miles, I found Site 1 which was nicely cleared and pretty level. I could barely see the only other site about a mile further. The main road was not visible at the camp, nor could I hear traffic. But, I had a nice view of the east side of The Chisos.
The next day I went west to the gravel Grapevine Hills Rd to a trailhead. Again, that meant 6.5 miles of slow going. The trail was through a small canyon with lots of interesting rock formations. It was an easy, gradual increase in elevation. Until near the end, where it became a steep rock climber adventure; loved that part. At the top was the featured Balanced Rock. I got off course coming down, but ended up on the trail anyway. It was well worth the one hour roundtrip hike. Tardis was a welcome sight as it was getting a bit warm.
On the second night, I camped at Grapevine 1 (formerly called Government Spring), just one mile off the paved road. It was further off the gravel road than the previous camp and could easy hold a big rig. While there was more traffic on the road, due to the trailhead at the end, it got very quiet after dark. And, of course, another great view.
Six miles up into the mountains got me to Chisos Basin CG (one of three in the park). Sites were pretty close together and no hook-ups. But, each had a shelter, picnic table, bear box, and restrooms nearby. And there was a dump station. It was $7 for one night. There were also cabins, a lodge, restaurant (with free WiFi), store, and Visitor Center.
I hiked the one mile trail that went from the campground to the store. It had great photo opportunities and a good view of Casa Grande Peak. It was uphill all the way, but came out at another short trail that was paved. That one circled out onto a bluff that over looked the Window View. The gap in the mountains gave a spectacular view of the valley below.
No motorhomes over 24 ft, or trailers over 20 ft are allowed, due to the sharp cut-backs and steep incline to enter the campground. If you can make it, it’s a worthy camp with a fantastic setting. Can you see Tardis down there? (click to enlarge) Elevation 5,401 ft.
Maxwell Scenic Drive
On my last day in the park, I took the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive along the west edge of The Chisos. There were several pull-outs with beautiful views of the Chihuahuan Desert. I only stopped at a couple of them.
Sotol Vista was an overlook with an expansive view of the desert. Tuff Canyon was deeper than the photo reveals. And Mule Ears Peak was an interesting sight too.
The small settlement of Castolon had only a couple of buildings remaining. The home of Magdalena was original. A ranger station, storage sheds, and a store were a short ways from the house.The small settlement of Castolon had only a couple of buildings remaining. The home of Magdalena was original. A ranger station, storage sheds, and a store were a short ways from the house.
The main reason for taking this drive was to see Santa Elena Canyon. At the end of the road, a 1.6 mile, one hour, roundtrip hike into the canyon gets you spectacular photo ops. I took lots of photos, but can only show a couple. Keep in mind that, in the next photos, the near side of the river is Texas and the far side is Mexico.
A nice parking area with restrooms was adjacent to a level boardwalk that lead to the Rio Grande. The river level was higher than it has been, but still lower than normal. After crossing a sandbar, the trail entered the canyon and gradually rose and then went up steeply. It was easy to follow and there were steps and railings in some spots.
The canyon cliffs rise 1500 feet above the river, with the far cliff on the left, being in Mexico. It was an amazing feeling being deep in that canyon. In there, everything was in shade; and it was cool, even though it was hot back at the entry.
My quick visit to Big Bend wasn’t nearly enough time to see it all. I didn’t even explore the east edge of the park. Much more time was needed to really enjoy it at a leisurely pace. It is one of the least used national parks, yet is one of the most beautiful. And, there are so many ways to access features like hiking, remote backpacking, kayaking, 4-wheeling, campgrounds or dispersed camping, hot springs for bathing, etc. The variety of camp sites and low cost makes it a top notch destination. I will surely return.
Camps: K-Bar 1, Grapevine 1, Chisos Basin CG
Scene: Mountains, canyons, desert, river