The Rio Grande has carved out three magnificent canyons in the Park which start and end abruptly - one moment you are in a canyon with over 1000 feet high walls and the next ..... With a car, you can visit the entrance of the Boquillas canyon and the exit of the Santa Elena Canyon, but just like with the Grand Canyon of the Colorado, the best way to experience a canyon is on the water.
If you are out in the middle of nowhere, you might as well continue in that direction. TX 170 from Study Butte - at the Park's western entrance - fllows the Rio Grande upriver some 60 miles to the small town of Presidio. The road offers many grand vistas of remote countryside. A glorious way to end a Big Bend adventure.
OK, I didn't actually have time to hike up here, but you should try and take the time. The views from up here are World class. Try and come during the late Fall through early Spring timeframe to enjoy cooler weather. You can hike to the South Rim in one day from the Basin roadend as it is only 14 miles, but the best pictures are to be taken in the early morning or late day to take full advantage of the natural pallette of colors. There are backcountry campsites up high and this is the main reason I added this tip, to pass on the website to clue you in on the different places available.
http://www.nps.gov/bibe/bccamps/chisos/chisoscamps.htm for a list of backcountry campsites on and around the South Rim
After turning East from US Highway 385 the road leads to Rio Grande Village. Just before you go through the tunnel there is a pulloff for the Rio Grande Overlook. This gives you a nice view of the terrain and the "village".
The window is a dent, a canyon, cutting through the mountains surrounding the Chisos Basin. When you are in the Chisos Basin, the window allows for stunning views of the desert below. From the desert floor, it gives you a peek of the Chisos Basin and mountains around it.
This picture shows the window from the desert floor (Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive), looking towards the Chisos mountains to the East. The peak seen through the V-shaped window is Casa Grande.
So far, this has been my favorite hike in the Chisos! It goes up a mountain trail with stunning views all the way through. At the beginning of the hike, you can get a little brochure with explanations at numbered stops along the trail on fauna and flora. The trail is 4.8 miles (8 km) round trip with downhill on the way back, and of medium difficulty.
When I went, we were the only ones there, and morning fog would come from the valleys beneath us, it was beautiful!
The beginning of the trail is located along the road to the Chisos Basin ('Basin Road"), before it plunges towards it.
This is the hike to the highest peak of the Chisos Mountains. Emory Peak is 7825 feet (2385 m) high. The view is absolutely stunning from the top, and well worth the effort. Overall, I liked that trail less than the Lost Mine one because more than half of it is in the woods with no view. It is harder too, I'd say from medum difficulty to steep, with the end ressembling rock climbing! Round trip is 4.5 miles (7 km) and the start is near the Chisos Basin Motel and Cottages.
This tip is just a general comment about what you see in most of Big Bend: a harsh, flat and dry desert, cut by high plateaus called mesa, or by sheer cliffs (Sierra del Carmen, Santa Elena Canyon,...), or jagged mountains (Chisos). If you think of a desert as a see of sand or just rock, you are in for a surprise here. There are lots of plants in the Chihuahuan desert! They are all adapted to the desert and can do with no water for extended periods of time. Go see my off-the-beaten-path tips for examples of Chihuahuan desert plants.
Even if you do not like hiking, it is just wonderful to drive the paved and unpaved roads of the park. The lanscapes are fascinating!
The entrance fee for the park: $10 per vehicle valid for 7 days. They give you the classical national park brochure with a map at the entrances.
This picture was taken along the Maxwell Scenic Drive near Tuff Canyon. You can hike down Tuff Canyon, it is a less than a mile (1 km) long trail. The white color of the tuff (explosive volcano product) against the very dark color of the other volcanic rocks around makes for a haunting landscape, very inspiring for taking pictures (see my Travelogue)!
This is a one third of a mile, paved wheel chair accessible trail. The trail is level, and a pleasant short walk with nice mountain views. This would be a great little trail to walk at sunset, as our waitress at the nearby restaurant told us that the sunset views from this trail are sometimes really gorgeous. Unfortunately our campground was a number of miles away, and we didn’t want to do the drive in the dark with all the night animals out and about.
Near the end of the road leading east across the park is Rio Grande Village. This place used to be a lot bigger and busier than it is today. Today there is still a Visitors Center, a small store, a gas station, a picnic area and camping areas. This is also where the trailhead for the Rio Grande Village Nature Trail (which I did not take this trip).
Another ranch that was established on this land was the K Bar Ranch. The main building for the ranch still exists today and is used as guest housing. There is also a camping area here. The K Bar Ranch area is just North of the main road near Panther Junction.
One of the first stops along the main road leading South in the park is an exhibit about fossils from the Cretaceous and Tertiary Periods found in the park. The fossils were found in various parts of the park but the largest concentration was near the exhibit. A short trail leads to the top of a hill for a good view of the surrounding terrain. Interpretive signs tell you about the fossils and how they were found. The signs also describe the animals that inhabited the area and the climate changes that have taken place.
A little farther South down the road is Hannold Draw. This draw got its name from Curtis and Nina Hannold who homesteaded here in 1908. Curtis taught school in Dugout Wells 8 miles away to make extra money while Nina tended the ranch and raised and educated their three kids. Nina died at the age of 29 during her 4th pregnancy and requested burial near the creek under the Cottonwood Trees where she used to love to take the children to teach their lessons. The grave is still here.
There is another Visitors Center at Panther Jubction. Here too, you can get a map of the park, consult with the rangers on how to best spend you time at the park, and get other information. There is also a gift shop, a theater with informative movies, a small store, and a gas station.
There are a number of camping areas in Big Bend National Park. Three, Chisos Basin, Rio Grande...more
The only lodging inside the park is the Chisos Mountains Lodge located in the Chisos Basin at the...more