During our stay in Terlingua, Texas (see my post from last week) we spent about two and half days in the nearby Big Bend National Park. This article is the first of two articles on the Park, that’s how big it is! And it’s so big that it has it’s own post office and zip code! And how big is it you might ask, well it covers over 800,000 acres or about 1200 square miles with about 118 miles of river frontage on the Rio Grande on its southern boundary with Mexico. The Park gets its name from the U turn the Rio Grande makes from the southwest to the northeast about half way through the park at Boquillas Canyon. About 390,000 visitors enter the Park each year (although that’s increasing) about what the big national parks, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Great Smoky Mountains, etc, get in a few weeks. So it shows the effort that visitors have to make to view the beautiful and wild scenery of this Park. It’s also a place where services are far and few between so make sure to buy fuel and bring water and food to make your rounds in this Park.
I should also mention that Big Bend National Park is located in the Chihuahuan Desert, the second largest desert area in North America and third largest in the Western Hemisphere. This desert covers a large area of Mexico, West Texas and New Mexico and is one of the most biological diverse in the world although some areas have been subjected to overgrazing and urbanization. This has led to the increase in invasive woody species such as mesquite and creosote bush and a decrease in some animal species that help to balance life in this delicate ecosystem. This Park is somewhat unique in that it has three distinct zones, the Rio Grande river valley, the desert, and the mountains of the Chisos, an oasis unexpected in a desert.
Our adventure began our first afternoon after arriving in Terlingua when we drove into the park to check out some of the scenery in the late afternoon. This Park offers visitors many turnouts to pull over into for viewing and for me some photos. Here are a few examples.
We did a short hike to the remnants of the Sam Nail Ranch located south of the junction of Highway 118 and the Castolon/Santa Elena Junction. In the early days, much of the current day Park was occupied by sheep and goat ranchers as well as a few mines. It’s hard for me to imagine the hardship these folks had to endure, hot summers, cool winters, and the expanse and loneliness of this part of the world. Here are a few photos from our stop at this ranch.
Our second day took us to the center of the Park to the main visitor center at Panther Junction. I must note that this visitor center is located about 25 miles from the west entrance to the Park and about 30 miles from the north or Marathon entrance. This place is BIG! Our stop at the visitor’s center was very pleasant and informative; there are displays about the environment, biology, and history of the area. In addition, there is an excellent movie that describes past and current life in the Park. The Park also publishes the typical map and guide in addition to a well-done newspaper called “The Paisano” translated from the Spanish to the English as “a friend or acquaintance.”
From Panther Junction, we head east and stopped for lunch at the lovely, tree lined oasis of Dugout Wells picnic/rest area. This was once a stopping off place for the native peoples as well as pioneers and settlers because there was a spring that offered life giving water for thirsty travelers.
As we traveled further east, we saw a road leading to the Hot Springs along the Rio Grande, a once thriving area catering to travelers and tourist. This 1.5 mile dusty, winding road took us to a parking lot near the Hot Springs.
After exploring the remnants of the village, we took about a mile path that followed the Rio Grande to the actual Hot Springs, here’s what we found! It looked inviting but lacking swimming suits and towels, we skipped the partaking and just observed.
Back in the truck and retracing our drive into the Hot Springs, we were back on the paved road that took us through a tunnel to the Rio Grande Village Visitor Center and on to Boquillas Canyon.
Prior to reaching the Canyon, we came across the turnoff to the Boquillas Port of Entry. This is a place where visitors can park and make the trip across the Rio Grande into the village of Boquillas, Mexico. There is no bridge so crossing is made by either taking off shoes and socks, rolling up pant legs and walking across the river when it’s very low. The other option is to pay someone to row you across the river then walk the 1/4th mile to the village or ride a burro (for a fee of course!). While we had our passports with us and I’m usually up for trying most anything, we decided this didn’t sound like an adventure we wanted to take this late in the afternoon.
The last stop of the day before heading out of the Park in late afternoon (about a 50 mile return trip!) was a hike to the Boquillas Canyon. Before getting there we stopped at the overlook and noticed some rowboats on the Mexico side of the Rio Grande. At this stop we noted that someone had placed some crafts, walking sticks, and etc. on a bench with a can to pay for purchases. Apparently, a few enterprising Mexican citizens will risk rowing across the river, place their items and trust tourists to pay for them. Some might say, “arrest then deport those scoundrels” while others might admire their gutsiness to make a living and support their families. I’m in the latter court.
We encountered another display of crafts down the trail to the Canyon and an a local celebrity, Jesus, the singing Mexican! As we came upon him he began to sing in Spanish, busking for a buck or two. Soon a couple of nice looking young women came along and he quickly turned his attention to them, again singing for donations, only this time it was love songs! On the return from our hike to the Canyon, Jesus had packed up for the day and rowed back to the other side of the river, back to his home on the south side of the border.
We also had a close up look at this roadrunner, usually our views were from a distance when they ran across the road or a hiking trail.
Boquillas Canyon is where the Rio Grande makes its “Big Bend” or U turn to the north thus giving the park its name. Here are some photos from our visit to the canyon.
It was a delightful, inspiring day indeed. I hope you’ll come back next week when I’ll share more about our visit to other parts of the Park; Chisos Basin, Castolon and Santa Elena Canyon.
Until next week, travel safe.