Thursday, May 2, 2013

Big Bend National Park–Day 1

Saturday was our first trip into Big Bend National Park.


Along the way, we stopped to log an Earthcache, and learned about the Marathon Folds – the section of mountains that resulted from volcanic activity forcing the earth upwards through the surface.

Earthcache - Marathon Folds

It was about a 45 mile drive from Marathon to the park boundary, and then another 25 miles to the Park Headquarters and Panther Junction Visitor Center. 

Panther Junction Visitor Center

We stopped at the Visitor Center to get some advice on things to see & do from the Ranger there, but he wasn’t very “lively” and didn’t have much to offer, so we just went with my plan to visit the western half of the park on this trip, and come back another day to see the eastern half.

So, our agenda for today was the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, stopping for lunch at Castolon, and hiking down to the Santa Elena Canyon and the Rio Grande River.


We drove right on past the Chisos Mountains (saving those for Day 2), admiring the view as we passed.

Chisos Mountains

Chisos Mountains









Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive

Our first stop along the scenic drive was the ruins of the Sam Nail Ranch.

Old windmill

According to the brochure, there is an oasis at the Sam Nail Ranch that makes it a good spot for bird-watching, but we only saw a trickle of water, and no birds.


Prickly Pear


There was one working windmill, and the remnants of another.

Sam Nail Ranch

With the Chisos Mountains in the distance, it was probably a beautiful spot for a ranch.

Big Bend National Park

Continuing along the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, we stopped at a few more pull-offs to admire the scenery and explore a few short trails.

Homer Wilson Ranch

Hiking to the Homer Wilson Ranch











Scenic Drive

Tuff Canyon

Tuff Canyon

Hiking Tuff Canyon









The sight of Cerro Castellan indicated that we were close to our lunch stop. 



Castolon was a village at one time, and the old adobe homes there are under restoration.  It’s close to the Cottonwood Campground, so there is a small store there, and covered picnic tables.



Old Steam Engine










After our picnic lunch, we were ready to finish the scenic drive,

Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive

Rock Formations

arriving at the Santa Elena Canyon.  We knew we were getting close when we started seeing greenery . . . the river had to be nearby.

We pulled into the Overlook, and saw the Canyon in the distance.

Santa Elena Canyon

DSC_0002Parking at the trailhead, we got out and walked across the sand,







As close to Mexico as he can get!

until we reached the river’s edge, the shared border with Mexico.

No illegal border crossings for us, but we almost made it to Mexico!

We expected the Rio Grande to be a big river, but it’s really quite narrow and shallow – I guess that explains why so many people cross illegally!

Rio Grande

Scaling that canyon wall on the Mexico side would be pretty difficult, though!

Lot’s of pretty river rocks, but we didn’t take any with us!



Exploring the canyonThe boys decided that they wanted to climb up the canyon and explore a bit more but Tom and I waited for them down by the river.



After a while we lost sight of them, but there were plenty of others hiking up there with them.  They didn’t go all the way to the end of the trail, and they didn’t see anybody waving at them from across the river, either!


At the edge of the Rio Grande

When they got back we took a quick picture in front of the river and canyon, and then headed back to the car. 

It had gotten pretty hot (mid-90s), and we were done hiking for the day.  We were at the end of the 30 mile scenic drive, and the only options for going back were to repeat the drive in reverse, or take the Old Maverick Road (a gravel road) up to the west entrance to the park.

We had been warned against attempting the Old Maverick Road in a car, so we repeated our drive along the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive – seeing the same sights from a different point of view!

We had heard mixed reviews of the towns Study Butte and Terlingua, but decided that we might as well check them out since we were all the way on that side of the park already.  We drove through both, and didn’t stop at all . . . Study Butte didn’t look like much of a town, and Terlingua just looked scary! 

The drive back to Marathon from this side of the park was LONG . . . taking us back to Alpine, where we picked up Hwy 90 to Marathon.  All of the roads exiting the park have Border Patrol checkpoints on them, and we passed through without any trouble.

It was late when we got back to the RV, though, so we had a quick dinner and rested for the remainder of the evening.  Sunday is going to be a “do nothing” day to make up for this long and busy day!

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