For as long as I could remember I've always wanted to explore Big Bend. I read and heard stories about the vast and ever-changing scenic outdoor environment. I instantly fell in love with the idea. I heard about the cover of stars and planets which would blanket the sky every night. I read about the canyons, mountains, deserts, rivers, and gorges all within a single park boundary. After a while I started to think if it was possible for any place to live up to this glorified oasis I imagined into my head. In November 2017 I finally made it to Big Bend National Park. The Park did not disappoint.
The scenic views driving down Highway 118 From Alpine, TX to Big Bend National Park makes promises the Park intends to keep. Off to the distance there are numerous Mountain peaks and canyons which give a window into the great adventures which lie ahead.
Since we decided to explore the Park in mid November, we ended up booking a hotel room in lieu of camping in the freezing cold outdoors. This proved to be a better choice due to our decision to explore a different portion of the Park every day. Honestly it is exhausting tearing down & rebuilding camp every single day for over a week. We were lucky enough to book our room in the Chisos Mining Company Motel. Since we decided to take our trip during the Thanksgiving holiday week I had to call to make reservations several months ahead in order to ensure we had a roof over our heads.
The Chisos Mining Co Motel is located just outside the Park in Terlingua, TX. This small town sit right in-between Big Bend National Park and Big Bend State Park. It feels like there is one Breakfast & coffee shop, one Pizza place, one bookstore, and one major Restaurant & bar. Terlingua is the definition of a small town where everyone knows everyone. This environment is a breathe of much needed fresh air. It's amazing what happens when you take away cell reception, radio stations, and are limited to dial up internet connection speeds.
Big Bend National Park has over 150 miles of improved hiking trails. These trails vary from easy quarter mile hikes to stretch your legs to strenuous multi-day hikes which require weeks of planning. During our trip we decided to limit our hikes only to ones we could complete under a day since we were not camping outdoors.
Santa Elena Canyon Trail
Entering through the National Park's western entrance named Maverick Junction you have the opportunity to take the Maverick Road south to the Santa Elena Canyon Trail head. The Maverick Road is maintained gravel & dirt road which takes approximately 1 hour to complete. As you get closer to the Trail head the Santa Elena Canyon starts appearing and quickly grows in size on the horizon.
1The Santa Elena Trail is a nice and quick hike which can be done within 1 hour which includes plenty of stops to take photos. It's amazing walking down to the river banks and being able to cool down with the fresh waters from the Rio Grand River. A small man-made bridge crafted from sticks and logs leads you to the trail.
Upper Burro Mesa Pour-off Trail
Another easy day hike with can be completed in under an hour. A portion of this trail actually takes you through a riverbed which is dry though out the year due to the small amount of rain fall the park sees each year. Throughout the trail there are numerous small cairns to help keep you on the right track. The start of the trail may look dull compared to other hikes in Big Bend but the final destination makes it worth while.
The Window Trail
This 6 mile hike was on the must visit list just from the various pictures I saw online. Prior to visiting the Park I spoke with a co-worker who highly recommended this hike due to the spectacular views throughout the entire trail. The trail head starts near the Chisos Basin Visitor Center. Just like every other Visitor Center in Big Bend National Park, this one contained a small gift shop and convenience store. A unique characteristic of this trail is that the entire hike to the end is downhill. This trail aspect is great especially when paired with the large amounts of shade provided by the towering canyons and large trees along the trail. The downside of this of course is when you get to the end, turn around and have to start climbing uphill to get back to the trail head. Along our way back we decided to take a detour/break and stopped in the Chisos Basin Campground. We took the opportunity to use the restroom facilities and eat a small lunch on a camping site bench. After our break we crawled back to the Chisos Mountain Lodge parking lot and drove onto our next adventure.
In 1900 this Mine was established to extract Mercury when the mineral was discovered by a local rancher named Martin Solis. Mariscal Mine was briefly closed after World War I when the price of Mercury plummeted. The Mine was unsuccessfully restarted several times until it was ultimately permanently closed.
Due to the remote location of the mine, visiting this site is almost like taking a tour of the early 1900's. There isn't any modern roads or structures for miles around. In order to get to the Mariscal Mine you have to drive the wash board ridden River Road East for almost 2 hours. A standard 4x4 vehicle with off-road rated tires can easily traverse this road. Several structures still exist and even some old rustic mining equipment is still on the site. All mining shafts have been sealed but bight flashlights give us a small window into these deep caverns. There's even a sign posted warning you to stay off the structure due to the amount of exposed Mercury which is embedded in the building materials. If you climb to the highest hill which can be found in the rear of the site you can find an amazing view of Big Bend National Park. This view gave us an overlook of the roads we drove in on, the numerous canyons we passed, and the mountain ranges we have been taking photos of for the past several days.
Texas is an amazing large state. Despite its immense size there is very limited off-road trails open to the public. Big Bend State Park and National Park both have numerous un-maintained "roads" open to anyone brave enough to explore their trails. To my knowledge these two places are the only National and State Parks in Texas which offer this opportunity to their visitors. Most of these roads are easy to moderate except for the Black Gap Road. This infamous road contains several tight switchbacks, loose riverbed climbs, off camber turns, and a famous ledge climb/descent.