The itinerary for this RV trip was made with two national parks in mind: Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains. Both are in west Texas and very much out of the way – places you have to purposely go to because they aren’t on the way to anywhere.
We were staying about an hour away in Lajitas and decided we were going to make the drive one time. We were going to see as much of Big Bend as we could in one very long day.
A woman I met in the campground told me about the app Just Ahead which provides audio tours on your phone using GPS. Big Bend was one of the free park tours so it was an easy decision to try it.
We entered the park and crossed the demarkation into the plus side of Randy’s $80 Lifetime Senior Park Pass. It took a week to pay for itself.
The most recommended site in Big Bend is Santa Elena Canyon so we headed that way.
We traveled the scenic drive and immediately noticed that we had timed our visit perfectly. The prickly pear, cholla and ocotillo were all blooming!
Our first stop and short hike was to the Sam Nail Ranch, established in 1916. Sam and his wife Nena built their home next to a river, dug wells and planted native and non-native trees. They carved out a life in the isolated desert.
The windmill still pumps water from the well keeping the former home area lush.
As we walked back to the truck we could see the Chisos Mountains in the distance, they are at the center of Big Bend National Park.
Our second hike was to the Homer Wilson Ranch House.
As we approached we were surprised to hear music. A former and current park employee had met at the ranch to play. It was unexpected and delightful.
The ranch operated with up to 4000 sheep and 2500 goats.
Many of the signs in the park are metal. That seems a good idea in an environment so harsh.
This guy can live in the harsh environment.
There are bear proof bins around the park for hikers to cache food and water. The national park service also had some water stashed and available for use in an emergency.
These are the mule ear peaks.
The light color looks like sand, but it is volcanic tuff – hard as the rock it is.
This building once held the La Harmonia store – a trading post and all purpose community center that was patronized by Mexicans and Anglos in the early 1900s. The border between the countries barely mattered when everyone worked together to survive in the vast desert.
When Pancho Villa was raiding this part of Mexico, the conflict bled over the border. The US Cavalry came and established a fort here.These historic structures were damaged or lost in 2019 when a fire in Mexico jumped the Rio Grande because of high winds.
The Dorgan House is another former home along the scenic road.
This is Santa Elena Canyon – the left is Mexico, the right is the United States and in between is the Rio Grande River.
We hiked about a half mile in along the Santa Elena Canyon Trail.
We marvel at the cactus and other plants that can attach to almost nothing.
We are in the Rio Grande River in Santa Elena Canyon, one of the highlights of any visit to Big Bend National Park.
We heard about a 14 mile raft trip up the canyon – fun!.
Looking back out the way we came in.
I went over to touch Mexico.
There are places where the canyon wall was Mexico and others where you had about 10-15 feet of sandy shore.
This was taken from the US side of the Santa Elena trail looking back into Big Bend National Park.
Our next destination was the heart of the park – the Chisos Basin. The Chisos Mountains are the volcanic origin of the landscape.
We walked the short Window Walk View Loop where we could enjoy temperatures 15 – 20 degrees cooler than the vast desert below.
The last area we explored was the Rio Grande Village in the far south east corner of the park. We were very surprised to find a full service RV park there. This is a private concession and doesn’t come up in regular searches. It isn’t as nice as where we did stay but it is IN THE PARK and not an hour away.
The primary activity in this part of the park is to see Boquilles Canyon. In normal circumstances it is possible to get a boat across the Rio Grande and go to lunch and shop in Mexico. It is my understanding that this used to be pretty informal but now there is a legal port of entry to get back in the United States and passports are required. With COVID, that crossing is no longer available.
On the way down to the river we came across these wild burros. There were three of them scratching themselves on the reflector signs. They knew exactly what they were doing!
We did walk up the Boquilles Canyon a bit but it was getting to be the end of a very long day and we were hot and tired. We did not go into the river this time.
I did find one Stairway to Heaven photo opp along the trail.
Randy saw something move quickly into one of these caves. There are mountain lions in the park….
The temperature was108 when we got back to our air conditioned truck with air conditioned seats and we decided what was left to see, would have to be left unseen.
We spent about 10 hours in the park and did most of the short hikes (1.5 miles or less) and nearly all of the scenic overlooks. We traveled all but one main road.
We heartily endorse the Just Ahead App and are willing to pay for the next one we encounter. It was far more convenient than me trying to watch the map and read the information while still trying to enjoy the view.
In the end we are very glad we spent a long hot day in Big Bend. We walked in the Rio Grande and touched Mexico and are glad for it.