We left cold, windy Marfa and headed to Big Bend National Park located in southwestern Texas along the Rio Grande River and the boundary with Mexico. It is a long drive to Big Bend, one of the most remote and least visited national parks in the contiguous United States. The nearest city is 75 miles away and there is no cell phone service and very limited WiFi which is only available at the park visitors centers. Conveniently there are two gas stations located in the park.
Big Bend gets its name from the 90 degree turn in the Rio Grande River near the southern tip of the park. The river is the natural border between the United States and Mexico which creates some complicated security issues for the Border Patrol in the area. We saw border patrol vehicles throughout the park.
We had a wide range of temperatures the week we were there with daytime highs ranging from a high of 97 to a high of only 67 degrees in a matter of days. A cold front blew in near the end of our seven day stay and we had winds of 25 to 35 mph for almost 24 hours.
One striking thing about this park is how big the park is and how far you have to drive to get from one side to the other. To get from the east side of the park to the west side is over fifty miles and takes an hour and a half. Because of the extreme heat in the summer, the high season here begins Nov 15th and runs to April 15th. The park is so large it has five visitors centers but only two were open this time of year. The park has a limited number of paved roads and many gravel and dirt roads. We learned from a park ranger that since they had just finished their rainy season, any unpaved roads were in too bad a shape to drive our Honda CRV. This was disappointing because it limited the amount of park we could explore.
During our time in the park we saw many roadrunner and sharp eyed Bill caught sight of a javelina along the side of the road. He managed to get a picture before it got spooked and ran off. We learned from the park movie that javelinas have a snout like a pig and smell like a skunk.
One day we drove to Santa Elena Canyon to do a hike into the canyon. When we arrived we discovered that the river bed that is normally dried up and must be crossed to reach the trail, was now covered in knee deep water. We seriously considered taking off our shoes and socks and walking across until we heard from others that there was thick deep mud we would have to plow through. We watched other people cross and when they emerged from the sludge it looked like they had on gray knee socks from the mud. No thanks.
We stopped by the Fossil Discovery Exhibit where we learned about the plants and animals that lived here millions of years ago. At one time a shallow sea covered Big Bend and much of Texas, leaving behind fossils of fish, sharks and swimming reptiles. As the water receded the area was inhabited by dinosaurs and giant alligators.
Another day we drove an hour from our campground which was located in the park to the Chisos Basin section. To get to this area the car climbed two thousand feet above the desert floor. Here there is a lodge and the other visitors center which was open. We took a nice walk on a paved trail to the “Window View” with beautiful views of mountain vistas and the valley basin below.
Near the end of our stay we drove to the hot springs section of the park. In the early 1900’s people began to come to the area to bathe in the hot springs. It was believed that the mineral springs had healing powers. The owner of the land recognized the potential monetary value of the 105 degree mineral springs and built a bathhouse and desert health resort. By 1927 the availability of automobiles and improved roads meant even more people visiting and so a store, post office and motel were added. In 1942 the landowner sold the land to the state of Texas. In 1944 Texas gave the land to the United States for a national park.
We arrived at the hot springs where three older women had arrived just ahead of us. They nonchalantly glanced at us and then proceeded to completely strip off their clothes and walk naked down into the springs. Any desire to go down and dip our toes in disappeared at that point. We didn’t stay long.
Across the river, we could see the Mexican town of Boquillas. There is a border water crossing there that is open several times a week.
We enjoyed our time in Big Bend National Park. It had been on Bill’s bucket list for several years. We probably would not return mainly because it is so remote and takes so much driving time to get there.
On the way back west in one small Texas town a crowd of people had stopped along the train tracks, some with cameras on tripods. We wondered what they were waiting for and then Bill remembered seeing on the El Paso TV news about the 150th anniversary of the Union Pacific’s Big Boy No. 4014, the world’s largest steam locomotive. It was doing a “Great Race Across the Southwest” run with stops in El Paso, San Antonio and Houston. We stopped along the roadside and snapped a few pictures as it went by. Great timing!
This ends our summer travels which took us to Monument Valley and into Colorado before making our way back down to New Mexico and Texas.
Next up we are headed back west to spend some time in Tucson and Casa Grande before spending the winter once again in Yuma, Arizona.