By: Robbie Robison
Big Bend National Park is the unpolished gem of the National Park Service.
It is a rare find with beauty lying in its rough and rugged contours and shape. Once seen the beholder recognizes there is no other like it in the world.
Big Bend National Park lies in the farthest point of Texas’ southwest border, the big bend of the Rio Grande River that makes up part of the iconic outline of the state. Due to its remote location no casual visits are made there. The park’s guests are almost all either diehard travelers or outdoor enthusiasts, and with the common denominator of park visitors being an appreciation for the sights, sounds and silence of nature it is not uncommon to leave having more friends than when you arrived.
It is impossible to enjoy everything offered in the park, or Big Bend as it is commonly called, in one trip. Made up of 800,000 acres of desert, mountains and river there is simply too much to do and see. The miles of paved roads in the park are in good condition and link together the four visitor centers operated by park rangers and also contains Big Bend camping through communal campsites and RV facilities. These roads provide stunning views of the Chisos Mountains and many interesting stops, such as Sam Nail Ranch. All that is left of the ranch is an old windmill that still works, pulling water from deep under the desert. The water has given birth to an oasis of trees that attracts a large variety of migrating birds, making it one of the top birding destinations in the country. Another short hike is through Santa Elena Canyon, often called the most scenic location in Big Bend. These beautiful scenes and short walks make a short stay at Big Bend National Park worth the trip.
When visiting, be sure to pick up a Big Bend map. Big Bend has over 150 miles of desert and mountain hiking trails almost make the hiker’s dream of an endless trail come true. Approximately 130 miles of those trails are open to bicyclists who want to face the challenge of heat and hilly terrain.
Historic sites abound, including Castolon, where most of the buildings were erected as a cavalry camp to help protect against Pancho Villa’s raids. The many ruins in the park tell the stories of long gone, hardy inhabitants, and pictographs and petroglyphs from the areas earliest people are visible from the trail beside the Rio Grande that leads to the restful hot springs. Visitors should be sure to remember their cameras to capture their favorite Big Bend pictures.
Big Bend lodging offers creature comforts, too. The Chisos Basin Lodge has over 70 rooms and several modern cabins offering spectacular views for those who prefer to sleep in a bed rather than on the ground, and a restaurant is next door if cooking on a portable camping grill is not for you. A limited supply of groceries and camping supplies are available inside the park as is gasoline, diesel and LP gas. Showers are located at the Rio Grande Village Visitor Center for the hikers and bikers who want to wash off the sweat and grime proudly earned on the trail.
The stark beauty of Big Bend National Park will drift through your dreams, reminding you of the peaceful hours or exhilarating hikes you experienced. It is a unique ecosystem that has been thriving for years, and one that you can drive, hike or bike through. And once you do, you will be a part of it forever.