Side note: I will post a gallery since I found so many phenomenal photos of Big Bend- check back to see more!
My friend Jaren and I left El Paso for Big Bend National Park Friday morning. Mental note: this park is remote, so if you have less than ½ a tank of gas, and you see a gas station, fill up! The weather was beautiful- warm, but not unexpected for mid-May in southern Texas. After hours of travel across flat, tree-less plains of Texas, I was starting to feel incredulous that this park would be much more than flat plains. When we crested the ridge that drops into Terlingua, the view became more promising, and I got really excited about a canyon I could see in the distance. The ridge line on the horizon just dropped straight down the sides of this canyon, and the lighting was absolutely incredible. We stopped to take some pictures of the turkey vultures overhead in Terlingua; besides, we could use the excuse to get out of the car and stretch our legs. We also sent a text to Jaren's husband back home letting him know our plan because, well, it's always a good idea to let someone know just in case.
Our plan was to drive in from the west side of the park, camp in the Chisos Basin, then continue on to the Rio Grande Village the next day. Driving later in the day, the entrance station was closed, but noted that the Chisos Basin Campground was full. We stopped at almost every rest stop on the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. Big Bend is somewhat deceiving- being so far out of the way, you drive hours and hours along flat Texas prairie. Then the park pops out of nowhere with beautiful sierras, mesas, creeks, canyons, and more.
Big Bend is beautiful in its desolation. Imagining how challenging it would be to live here even now, and then seeing the old homesteads and border posts gave me a whole new respect for the early inhabitants of the area. The Castolon Visitors Center looks like something out of an old west movie- you know as soon as you step out of the car that you're walking in a part of history. The area was used to grow cotton, and was a border outpost as well as a homestead.
We pitched our tent at Cottonwood Campground and decided to run out for a dusk hike at Santa Elena Canyon. Eight miles drive from the campground, the Santa Elena trail crosses a creek that joins the Rio Grande, then climbs up the side of the canyon and continues along below the sheer face of the canyon. Remember that beautiful canyon I saw in the distance in Terlingua?
That canyon was Santa Elena Canyon, and it is even more impressive in person. We crossed the creek and started the climb up the steep (but short) switchbacks. The full (or mostly full) moon was rising, and I'm impressed that Jaren didn't leave me for good because I was snapping so many pictures. We continued a little way up the canyon trail until we found a nice rock to sit on just above the Rio Grande as the last light of the day faded away. Mental Note: Do not miss Santa Elena Canyon, if only for a picnic with the family. After some time appreciating the overwhelming beauty of this place, we flipped on our headlamps and hiked back down. We stopped to wet our feet in the Rio Grande, I think in part because it was so beautiful, we didn't want to leave quite yet. Once we had our fill of the moon's reflection on the Rio Grande, we headed back to our campsite and curled up for the night.