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Day 158-159 - Big Bend Nat'l Park (Photo's Added)

This park follows the Rio Grand River as it bends around the southern tip of Texas.

sunny 72 °F

We visited Big Bend National Park for two days, which wasn't nearly enough (as usual - this trip had turned out to be more of an overview than an in-depth journey. This Country is just too big to see it all in one trip!)

We left from Marathon fairly early in the morning. It was below freezing last night, but warmed up as the day wore on (or as we got farther south, I'm not sure which). We had a 70 mile drive to get to the park entrance, part of which was through cattle country. We still haven't seen any more longhorns in Texas, other then the two we saw near San Antonio. However I thought the colors on this animal were worth a picture - just an idea of some of the things we see along the trip...


Shortly after this, we noticed some really odd looking mountains (hills?). They were so odd, I stopped to take a couple of pictures. I guess I wasn't the only one curious about them, just after we got back on the road we passed a sign explaining the geology. It says the highly deformed rocks are part of the Ouachita Fold Belt, which uplifted between 275 -290 million years ago. This is about the same time the Appalachians were formed, so would seem to be a rather active period in the earths history. This is similar to the sign we saw along a highway cut yesterday to describe some weird, vertical rock veins. We have since learned that the geology of SW Texas is a big deal and a lot of people come down here to study it. I suspect it's partly because everything is so barren that rock formations can be easily seen. In any case, it was odd seeing such old rock formations together with newer formations, just an odd mix.


The further south we drove, the more desert like the scenery became. Finally, we rounded a corner and came across the park entrance at Persimmon Pass.


We quickly learned just how large the park is - after you enter the park, there is an expansive vista that seems to go on for miles (probably about 100, not an exageration). The main valley in the park is about 40 miles wide. There are three distinct regions - the Chihuahuan Desert, the Rio Grand River Valley, and the Chisos Mountains & Bason. The park is very large at over 800,000 acres in size, and while I don't know the exact proportions, I would estimate that the Desert regions take up at least 95% of the park.

The Chihuahuan Desert is one of four deserts in the United States. It also extends over 300 miles into Mexico. Some of the cacti in the park are unique to this desert, so we won't see them again in the Sonoran Desert for example (which we'll be in shortly when we get to AZ). Likewise, the Saguaro Cactus grows in the Sonoran Desert, but not in the Chihuahuan.


Mom & I drove the 26 miles from the entrance down to the main visitors center at Panther Junction. We stopped often for roadside signs ("Interpretive Exhibits") or just things that looked interesting. We decided not to try any of the many gravel side roads (today at least) since the RV isn't really an off road vehicle. After Panther Junction, we decided to drive down to the Rio Grande Village. Visiting the river has been one of our objectives for some time so we wanted to try to camp there for the night. Rio Grande Village is another 20 miles past Panther Junction, so it did take us most of the day (with a few stops) just to get there.

Once we found a campsite, we decided to take the Nature Walk just a short distance from where we parked. Mom took her walker and actually made it a couple hundred yards down the trail! The first part of the walk was over a board path across a beaver pond. (The pond was created by Bank Beavers, different sort of thing then beavers who build elaborate dens.) After we passed the pond however, the trail turned to loose dirt/sand/gravel and became quite uneven. Mom went some distance on it anyway, but it was just too difficult for a walker so she decided to wait for me there. I didn't want to make her wait too long, so decided to take just a short spur to see the river, then head back. The spur wasn't as short as we'd been told, but I did find the river and a few other things and we made it back to camp fine. I went back up a different direction on the trail later in the evening to watch the sunset from the top of the hill (with several other campers).

I took so many pictures that it would be less confusing to just group them by topic (birds, mountains, cacti) rather then try to show them in the order they were taken. Besides, if I didn't do it this way, this blog entry would be 100 pages long! Since neither of us have time for that - let's see how the groups work?

The geology and mountains around the park are one of the big attractions, so here are some of my scenery shots (thumbnails of course, click to enlarge and get more descriptions).


These are some of the Del Carmen cliffs across the Rio Grande River in Mexico. The small village is Boquillas.


Most of the birds we saw were in the Rio Grand Village area. However there were birds in other areas of the park, which I took pictures of if they would sit still for me... Big Bend NP is supposed to be one of the best places for birding, but we didn't see that many. Several campers were complaining about this, so I suspect it had more to do with the cold weather than our bad birding skills. These were the ones we did see (and were able to capture) however. (Note: I spent quite a bit of time looking up the (hopefully) correct names for these, so if you see one that's incorrectly identified, please let me know.) ... and yes, I know a butterfly isn't a bird, but it didn't seem to fit anywhere else.


We also didn't see that many animals in the park. When we first got to the campground, a Coyote was walking by our campsite, but he took off just as I got the camera out. We also saw several rabbits and I did get some pictures of those, but they aren't that good and I figure you know what a rabbit looks like. I saw a lizard on the second day - and got a shot of it, but didn't bother to upload it (too many pic's already). However, you might like to see this one - these were on the cliffs across the river on the Mexican side and were very far away (barely visible). Between the 12x zoom and some major cropping, you should be able to see several goats in here.


Here is what the Rio Grande River looks like when it passes through Big Bend. It is almost dry by the time it gets to El Paso Texas, farther upstream, however is replenished somewhat by the Pecos and a Mexican River. I'm sure this is just a shadow of what it used to be before we started taking so much water out for agriculture and human consumption.


And of course, what would any desert travel be without cacti (and this is only a small sample of the pictures I took of the many different species of cacti in Big Bend NP)? The Park Ranger told us there are 30 different kinds of Prickly Pear Cactus, and 27 of them grow in the park. We also saw cacti other then Yucca and Prickly Pear, maybe I can add a few more photo's eventually.


One area of the park where we also stopped was the Fossil Exhibit. The plexiglass on the exhibit was too scratched to try to take pictures through, but I was able to get a shot of the area. Also, someone had left a fossil in the parking lot (you're not supposed to take anything from a NP), so I got a picture of it.


Finally, I have to make a confession. My cousin dropped us a comment with some really good advice about what to see and do (and not do) in the park. I remembered part of it, but didn't bother to write it down or take notes figuring I'd recheck it once we got there. Then of course, there was no internet signal in the park (cell service), so I had to rely on my really faulty memory. Also I didn't feel we should stay more then a couple of days for several reasons - so had to limit what we tried to do. One thing my cousin said we should not try to visit was the Hot Springs. I did remember this, but also had never seen a hot springs so was just too curious to pass it by. The road was not good for RV's, but we made it as far as the first parking lot where there was a sign forbidding RV's from going any farther. I figured it wasn't too much farther so decided to hoof it while Mom waited in the RV (She has a number of things she can do on occasions such as this, as well as a cold fridge and all the amenities of a small apartment). It was much farther then I expected, but the hot springs are really neat. Here are a couple of shots from the walk and the springs.


Also, because we spent so much time at Rio Grande Village (Nature Walk and the drive down), then the hot springs on day 2), we decided we didn't also have time to visit the Chisos Basin nor take the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. Ugh. Major things missed there - if I ever go back, I'll make sure to fit these in first. (If I do ever go back, I'll try to shoot for a little later in spring when things will be in bloom, but at least the temperature wasn't too hot by visiting when we did). So anyway, I'm sorry I didn't listen to my cousins advice better, I still appreciate the effort however!

My objective was to get to Alpine, Texas tonight - about 70 miles north of Big Bend. When we left the park, there was one last "Interpretive Exhibit" at the exit - for a vista of the Badlands and area to the west of the park.


Before I turned North however, Mom said she wanted to visit a Ghost Town shown on the map. She said it was only 5 miles further and I agreed that it was still early enough we could probably fit it in. (Chisos Basin was only six miles, so we could have made it there instead, but at that time I hadn't been so sure how much longer it would take us to get out of the park. I do wish we'd seen it, it might be some time before we see real tree's again.)

Anyway we got to Terlingua and found a rather odd place for a ghost town. This was once a mining town for Cinnabar, which is an ore for Mercury. As many as 2,000 people lived here. However, when the mine was closed in the 1940's, the town was abandoned - making it a ghost town. Since the 1970's people started moving back in however as an arts community (and tourist trap). There are enough broken down buildings still around that make it an interesting stop, but I think Langtry has a better claim to the ghost status.


So, with that we gassed up and headed north (I also got gas in the Park once - just to be on the safe side). Again, I should have taken better notes of my cousins suggestions I didnt' really consider going to Presidio first. Our map showed the road to Alpine was a 'scenic route' so we thought we'd give it a try. I guess it was somewhat scenic, in a dry, rocky deserty kind of way. We did make it to Alpine (later than I'd like, but not too bad). Tonight (2/7) we are at Lost Alaska RV Campground in Alpine, TX - about 70 miles north of the western entrance to Big Bend NP.

Not sure whether we're going to go to Fort Davis tomorrow or just head up to El Paso. We'll see tomorrow...


(will work on these later, so many pictures and such a slow internet connection, I'm already not getting much sleep tonight.)

Posted by jl98584 20:07 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel

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Like the short comments too, they let me know where you are, anyway. Did you see any purple prickly pear? we did in Sedona AZ last fall when we were there for a conference. I guess you'll probably be going through tuscon when you get to AZ.

by drque

Those purple prickly pear do look like the purple ones I saw in Sedona AZ. I don't know if they are native to Sedona, but obviously are native to
TX. there is never enough time to do it all...

by drque

Well, I see you did pretty much the opposite of what I suggested! LOL! Not a problem. If you bothered to hoof it in to the hot springs, you should have had your swimsuit so you could sit in it! (Such nice clean water!). The drive to the Basin would have taken a lot longer than the detour to Terlingua did--it is a winding mountain road. I'm just sorry you didn't do the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive--it really is spectacular, and the most interesting geologically. You'll just have to go back sometime! BTW, I'm interested to know how you like Canyon de Chelly (sp?). I've not been yet, but it's on the list.

by TexasRTJ

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