Attractions, National Parks

Exploring Big Bend National Park

April 4, 2017 - by Steffanie

Big Bend is in the middle of nowhere in the southwestern part of Texas. When originally planning our route, we decided that it was kind of out of the way, so we would skip it. But then while in Texas in January, we started thinking, “When would we ever be this close to Big Bend National Park again in our lives?” We kind of always have an “if not now, when?” philosophy in life, so we rearranged our itinerary and made the 8 hour drive. We stopped on night at the Sonora Caverns in Sonora on the way. (You can read about that here.)

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The drive down there was beautiful. At one point, we pulled the RV over and got out to take a picture of the open road with the mountains in the distance. Of course, a picture will never do the scene justice.

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We arrived in Lajitas, Texas at Maverick Ranch RV Park on Sunday, January 29. That Saturday, we drove into the national park for the first time. As soon as we pulled through the gates, we were greeted by a coyote who was casually crossing the street.

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We drove to the Chisos Basin Visitor Center, ate our packed lunch, and planned out our day. We decided on hiked the Lost Mine Trail. It is 5 miles total – 2.5 miles up to Lost Mine Peak and then back down.

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It was a moderate hike up to the top. At one point we saw a couple who had to be in their 80’s coming back down, so we figured that if they could do it, we could do it. The views the whole way up were nothing short of spectacular!

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We made it to the peak and were rewarded with more amazing views. We spent some time up there, taking in the views with our eyes and our camera, and recharging with some snacks. I could have stayed up there forever, but Mike, always the voice of reason, said we had to hike back down. That hike took up most of our first day, but we were back the next day to do more exploring. 

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As soon as we came into the park on the second day, we took a right and drove down Old Maverick Road. The national park website calls it an “improved dirt road,” but be warned, it can barely be called a road in some sections. We had fun in our 4×4 truck navigating the path which includes going down into several dried up creek beds, but we definitely thought there should have been more warnings about the poor conditions of the road.

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The plus side of taking the Old Maverick Road route was the solitude and, of course, the beautiful desert views. We felt like we had the whole place to ourselves!

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Located along the road is Luna’s Jacal, the primitive home of Gilberto Luna, presumably the “old maverick” for whom the road was named. He lived and raised a family out there from the turn of the 20th century until 1947 when he died at the age of 108!

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After we finally made it down the 14-mile stretch of road, we ended up at our destination, the Santa Elena Trail. The beginning of the trail crosses the dried up Terilinga Creek, and it was kind of difficult to see where there trail picks back up, but after that, it wasn’t too difficult of a trail. The brochure marks the trail as “easy,” but there are some steep areas that I think would be a bit challeging for some.

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Once we got into the canyon, we found it to be very peaceful. If you’re quiet, you can hear the sound of the water and chirping of birds echoing off the canyon walls. You can also raft or canoe through the canyon, which would have been amazing to do, if we had more time.

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Next, we took in as much of the park as we could by driving the Ross Maxwell Scenic Road from the west side of the park all the way to the east side of the park to the Hot Springs. The road to get to the Hot Springs was another scary improved dirt road, and I’m glad that Mike was driving and not me! 

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After the stressful drive there combined with a long, but fun weekend, the hot springs were a perfect way to relax. It’s a short half mile walk back to an area of the Rio Grande where a spring bubbles up. At one point in history, there was a building around the spring. Now all that remains are partial walls that block off the warm water from the cold river.

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We soaked in the water for an hour or so, chatting with the people around us, before heading back to the parking lot to change back into our clothes. We stuck around a bit longer savoring our last bit of time in the the park.

We saw a lot in two days, but there was still much more that we didn’t see! We would recommend Big Bend National Park to anyone, even though it’s not the easiest to get to.

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BONUS: We discovered that one of the trails in the far western part of the national park was super close to our campground in Lajitas! So, before we left on Monday, we got in a last minute hike on the Mesa de Anguila Trail.

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We had no idea what the strenuosity of the trail was because it wasn’t in the national park literature. If fact, the only way we found out about it was from some local guy at the coffee shop in Terlingua. The beginning of the trail went across the flat desert, but then it got super steep. I got overheated and decided to stop before reaching the top, but Mike soldiered on and made it to the top of the mesa. It was a great end to our time in the area!


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