I decided to break up my visit to Big Bend National Park into the sections of the park and my first full day there had me exploring the western section.  As part of my planning, I had selected several hikes I wanted to do and tried to put together a schedule based on section of park and distance.  I quickly remembered I don’t like scheduling things while on vacation!  I also realized that the most interesting hikes were rather long, in the same section of the park, and realistically there was no way I was going to do more than one long one in the same day. So, the plan became a “guide”.

Overall, I think I did very well and got to see a lot of the park.  My list of hikes and information about them is below.

Hike NameSection of ParkDistanceLevelCompleted
Window ViewCentral.25 mile loopVery EasyNo
WindowCentral5.6 miles round tripModerateYes
Lost MineCentral4.8 miles round tripModerately straneousNo
Burro Mesa Pour-offWest1 mile round tripEasyYes
The ChimneysCentral15.2 miles round tripModerateNo
Santa Elena CanyonWest1.6 miles round tripEasyYes
Hot SpringsEast1 mile loopEasyYes
Boquillas CanyonEast1.4 miles round tripEasyNo
Ernst TinajaEast1 mile round tripEasyNo
Grapevine HillsCentral2 miles round tripEasyNo
Tuff CanyonWest.8 mile round tripEasyYes
Rio Grande Village Nature TrailEast.75 mile loopEasyYes

Let’s start off at the beginning of the day.  I left the room after having breakfast and packing everything I thought I’d need for the day, proceeded to drive into the park, paid the entrance fee (I got the yearly pass as I am planning a few more National Park visits within the year), and drove through to the Panther Junction Visitor Center.

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While I had all the information needed for my visit, it is always wise to check with the rangers to inquire about anything going on at the park.  I mentioned previously that there had been a lot of rain recently so one of the things I inquired about were any areas that may not be passable – specially in my car (a VW Jetta known as “Joan Jetta”) – or any risks for flash floods.  I was given the “all clear” and drove back on the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive toward the Santa Elena Canyon.

There are several ways to “see” a National Park.  If you’re in a hurry, most parks have a road that takes you to scenic points throughout the park and you get a general good feel for the park.  That’s a way to see a park, not to experience it.  I wanted to go and explore a little more than what you can see just off the road – while not going all crazy out in the back country.

The Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive did not disappoint.  All along the road, there are areas for you to pull off and get some amazing views.

Big Bend National Park

The weather was a bit mixed – clear, sunny, and cool but with some heavy cloud cover over the Chisos Basin which was visible from the road.  We had chosen wisely to try and cover the western part of the park first.  I drove pretty much straight to the Santa Elena Canyon stopping along the way but the hikes were going to be on the return drive.

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The shrubbery and plants were pretty amazing.  I love the dessert and Big Bend did not disappoint.  The beauty of Big Bend, however, lies in the different landscapes you see throughout the park.  From the dessert to piney woods in the Chisos mountains.

Big Bend National Park

As I drove along the road, I pulled up to the Sotal Vista and WOW – what a treat!  The view was INCREDIBLE. And so was the wind.  This was definitely the right time to be thankful for dressing in layers and having some extra ones available.  My guess is the temperature was probably about 50F and the wind blowing at least 20-25 mph!  Can you say “blown away” by the view?

Big Bend National Park Sotol Vista

From there I continued down the road (after a quick bathroom break – take them while you’re in the vicinity of one!) and the next stop was at some very interesting rock formations and coloration.

Big Bend National Park

A bit further and I stopped at what would turn out to be one of my favorite spots – Tuff Canyon.  I hiked the short path and just soaked in the view.  While not the biggest canyon, there was something special about it.  It is tough for me to put it into words – it was just special.  The deep canyon, the stark white cliffs, the small patches of green from the dessert plants, the blue sky and the clouds all gave it a majestic look – and it turned out to be one of my favorite photos from the trip.

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Big Bend National Park Tuff Canyon

Driving further down the road I finally reached my final destination – Santa Elena Canyon.  It was amazing!  I immediately got on the hiking trail, hiked up the many steps and switch backs to the high point along the “front” of the canyon and from there followed it as it goes down toward the river and it’s eventual dead end.

Yes, this is the border between the United States and Mexico.  No, there is no fence and there shouldn’t be.  Yes, it is “illegal” to cross the river and get into the other side – but many were doing it.  The water is somewhat deep at places, but there are many places where it is just a couple of inches deep and it is very easy to cross.

The view of the canyon is pretty darn sweet, as is the view from it looking back toward the river.  I enjoyed the hike and once done headed back toward the next stop.

Big Bend National Park Santa Elena Canyon

That next stop was the Dorgan House Trail which I didn’t follow for very long (let’s just say it got boring!). After that I headed to Burro Mesa Pouroff trail for a relatively short hike to a spot where there is a waterfall when the water is flowing.  It wasn’t at this time.  It was an enjoyable hike.

Big Bend National Park

That brought my day to an end.  I wrapped it up, headed back to Terlingua for dinner and to sit on the porch.