Big Bend National Park
What can one say?
There aren't many national parks not deserving of such designation.
Having had the good fortune to taste quite a few, we'd be hard pressed
to disagree with the Wallace Stegner characterization of our park system
as, "The best idea we ever had." Each preserves a unique
essence, and this one does so on its own singular terms. Big Bend
National Park is one of our larger parks (7th) at over 800,000 acres but also
one of our least visited in the Lower 48. That fact is due in great part
to lack of convenient access rather than lack of grandeur --it's not
really on the way to anywhere.
At more than 1200 square miles, the Park is quite a unique
mix of river, desert and mountains. The storied Rio Grande provides its
southern boundary and its lowest elevations (1800 feet), stretching up
to the mountain "islands" of the Chisos at almost 8000 feet.
They are indeed biological islands, in that they provide sanctuary to
the last vestiges of an earlier, wetter, more forested climate. There
remain mountain lions and black bears. This is also the only park in the
US that contains a complete mountain range. In between the river and
summits, are endless expanses of wilderness, history, and solitude. We
won't go into great detail here on the park as so much information is
available elsewhere, and you can only begin to appreciate the
possibilities after direct exposure. There are highlights and
hidden gems, whitewater, springs, canyons and trails seldom
traveled. In short you can spend more time than most of us have on this
planet. One only has to look at a map to see how little of it is covered
in the few days suggested below. There are trails and 4-wheel drive
roads that are in the guidebooks, and there are those that aren't. . . And then
there's the whole other world of that darned river.
While we recommend an absolute minimum of three days for your
first dose, suffice it to say that that should be considered just the
beginning. These suggested days are interchangeable and are based on returning to Terlingua
each night. Other options exist for overnighting and adjusting the
amount of walking, as well as adding excursions in between. These are
but summaries, and so please follow the link to view more detail.
The West Side
- Sam Nail Ranch, Burro Mesa, Castolon/La Harmonia, St. Elena Canyon
Highlights: old ranches; fresh water spring hike;
seasonal "pour-off"; historic settlement Castolon; Sotol Vista; St.
Elena Canyon; Sublett/Dorgan homestead; Tuff Canyon walk
The Mountain Side
- Green Gulch, Chisos Mountain
Basin, The Window or Lost Mine Trail
Highlights: Paint Gap; Grapevine Hills;
Green Gulch Road; 7500' Chisos Basin; alpine or canyon hike choice;
Chisos Mountain Lodge visit; Basin Visitor's Center
The East Side
Panther Jct., Dugout Wells, Rio Grand Village, Boquillas Canyon, Hot Springs
Highlights: Main Visitor's Center; old ranch "oasis";
Chihuahuan Desert Nature Trail; Boquillas Canyon entrance; Rio Grande
Village; Rio Grande hike; Hot Springs soak
National Park Map - scalable