Big Bend National Park, Texas

Golden grass on the River Road near Castolon, Big Bend National park 27 Apr 01

“Once relatively unknown, Big Bend National Park is now experiencing a major increase in visitation…”says the National Park website.  It is particularly busy between from mid-January to mid-April.

We know how lucky we have been when we look back at places we saw before “a major increase.”

In late April 2001, we headed for Big Bend hoping to see it before the weather got too hot. Even then, we were placed on the waiting list for the twenty-five-spot commercial campground which just lined RVs up in the sun. But we did get a site.

The park was full of birders.  It was migratory season, and birds were plentiful.  Every time I looked through binoculars, I was surrounded by others wanting to know what I was seeing.  Even had I been looking at a bird, I wouldn’t have known what it was.

We recognized turkey vultures overhead.  Alie said it was a poor comment on her cooking.  Others told us when we were looking at the Greater Roadrunner, a Vermilion Flycatcher, a Yellow Headed Blackbird and a Lark Bunting.  Hundreds of species could be seen.  We like looking at them, but those were more names than we really cared about.

The .75-mile Rio Grande Village trail had great views of the valley, a Mexican village and farm beyond.  At dawn, I saw snakes and turtles, and when Alie and I went later, we saw two Mexican fishermen on a horse and mule.  The border was porous then, and people came and went.  I doubt you would see them today or the boys swimming in the river.

We walked the Window Trail (.3 miles) and back .7 miles on the Laguna Meadow Trail in the Chisos Basin.  The elevation was slightly higher, and spring wildflowers were much more abundant than near the campground.

On another day, we took the River Road through the desert.  Each turn in the road revealed a new scene.  Much of the road had small stones with occasional large stones, and it was pitted like an old-time washboard.  But some places were smooth clay or flat stone.

We drove through wide valleys and across mesas, down through narrow arroyos and wide ones and finally through hilly country with narrow valleys.  We saw mountains in the distance and the cliffs of the Black Dike in Mexico just across the river.  Although we saw thick trees in the distance, we didn’t see the river until we were almost at the end of the road. Flowers seemed to be concentrated in patches: here a patch of yucca, here some sunflowers and there cactus of one type or another  Except for jackrabbits and birds, we didn’t see wildlife.

We stopped at the Mariscal Mine for a picnic.  From 1900 to 1943, cinnabar was periodically mined there and processed into mercury.  We walked up the hill to look at the furnace and condensers and had a great view of the valley we had been through.  The road was 53 miles long, and the drive took us about six and a half hours including a little over an hour spent at the mine during which we did not see anyone else.  We stopped for a break at Castolon.  The store keeper, who had no other customers, told us he had come for a visit six years before and while on a early morning walk in the Chisos Basin had seen a panther make a kill.  He got a job with the concession and stayed.

The following day, we stopped at the Panther Junction Visitors’ Center and walked around their desert garden.  Then we took the road to Study Butte and Terlingua.  The old Terlingua Ghost Town cemetery was still in use by an obviously poor people and was interesting.  Then we took the Maverick gravel road down to Santa Elena Canyon stopping on the way to see Terlingua Abaja, a ghost farming community near the Rio Grande that supplied the miners in the twenties and thirties.  The Santa Elena trail was too hot and precipitous for Alie, but after a stop in Castolon, we walked back the Burro Mesa Pouroff trail.  The pour-off is a big chute cut in hard lava in the rainy season.  Some very large rocks were embedded close together in sandstone in places along the trail. After dark, I saw javelinas, a form of wild pig, in the campground.

Alie was not well the next day, so I hiked the Lost Mine Trail but hurried so probably did not get as much out of it as I might have.  In the evening, the javelinas were out in force while it was still daylight.  We also saw a coyote and a nice sunset.

On our last day, Alie stayed in the cool trailer while I went down into Boquillas Canyon.  It is interesting that the river passes through a narrow canyon at each end of the park.

Click on photos to enlarge

P.S.  Not everything was better in the “good old days.”  To send email, I used a device called Pocketmail which I held up to the mouthpiece of a payphone.  Smart phones were still ten years off in the future.  But as mentioned above, much of the time we were the only tourists around.  We are grateful for what we had; we are grateful for what we have.


About ralietravels

Ray and Alie (Ralie) are a retired couple who love to travel. Even during our working years, we squeezed a trip in whenever we could, often when we had to stretch the budget to do so. We have been fortunate to vacation in all 50 states, all the provinces of Canada and one territory and a little more than 50 countries. We like to drive, but we particularly love to travel back roads to find unusual sights, people, and experiences.
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16 Responses to Big Bend National Park, Texas

  1. cindy knoke says:

    Looks so familiar to me, so much like inland southern California.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. JohnRH says:

    Wow. That looks out in the boonies, Ray. Yer diggin’ deep! Bet it’s still good for ‘social distancing’ right now. Informative, as always.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Excellent post and exceptional photographs!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. rkrontheroad says:

    I camped and hiked there in the 70s. Beautiful desert mountains and not many people back then. Thanks for the striking photos.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pit says:

    It’s a wonderful area. We were there in 2009, for our honeymoon, staying at a B&B in Fort Davis, and enjoyed that fantastic area and the gorgeous sights.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Sue Slaght says:

    Wow! So much wide open space to explore. I barely know a robin from a crow but for those into birding it sounds like an incredible spot. I chuckled at Allie’s reference as to why the turkey vultures were circling.
    Interesting about the mining and production of mercury. Another thing I know very little about.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Garfield Hug says:

    Wow! You really took some really nice sights and you must have climbed into the area as the photos are to me in complicated areas. Thanks for the share and you are indeed an avid traveller!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. neelstoria says:

    These are such wonderful travel memories. And that too exploring a place with no crowd at all, literally having the entire place to yourself. This is quite unimaginable today, almost every place is crowded. Amazing photographs too.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Peggy and I spent Christmas there in 1999. We still remember the experience as one of our best holidays. Magical. Thanks for the memories, Ray. –Curt

    Liked by 1 person

  10. says:

    Every time I read of your travels I am reminded how to enjoy each moment in each venture. You tell and show so many good experiences that one easily overlooks whether in special journeys or every day life. Good wishes with your moving plans. 😷🙏😘🌻🎨

    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 2 people

  11. I would be one of those people looking for birds, but I hope I would also pay attention to other animals and to the remarkable scenery.
    We have had similar experiences of solitude at other National Parks when visiting during the off-season, but sadly, it will get exceedingly difficult to visit any of them when crowds of people are not milling about.

    Liked by 2 people

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