Big Bend National Park

Trip Start Jan 24, 2009
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Trip End Mar 29, 2009


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Flag of United States  , Texas
Tuesday, March 3, 2009

It was a long haul across Texas, but I finally got to Big Bend National Park.  West Texas is desert country much like Arizona and New Mexico.  In fact, it is part of the Great Chihuahua Desert which extends well South into Mexico.  The park is in the Southwest spur of Texas, along the Rio Grande River.  This park is really out of the way with the closest big city (El Paso, TX) being over 200 miles away.  In addition to being remote, it's one of the largest National Parks outside of California and Alaska.  In order to explore the park, I spent a whole week there.

I started in the Chisos Mountains.  This is like an island in the desert.  From the desert floor, the mountains rise up 5000' and have their own Eco system.  The raise in elevation allows them to hold more moisture so the vegetation is much more lush with big trees.  The mountains are very rugged and craggy, forming unique formations.  This combination of habitat allows large animals like Black Bear, Mountain Lion, White Tail Deer, and Javelina to exist here.  The camp ground here actually has a nice lodge, restaurant, and store so travelers can visit without camping.  I spent two days here and met some great people.  On one side was Gary from Chicago, ridding a BMW Adventure Bike.  He was a real talker and regaled me with stories of his multiple trips on the bike up to Alaska and back.  It's amazing how many of these adventure riders I've been seeing in this part of the country.  I think the "Long Way Round/Down" shows with Ewan McGregor have really lit a fire in the biking crowd (as Ryan and Kim sigh in envy ; ).  I also met a great guy from Toronto, Canada named Paul MacKay.  He drove down in a diesel powered Westy!  These are rare as hens teeth in the states, but a lot more common in Canada.  I was jealous as he was getting over 30 MPG as compared to my measly 17 MPG.  Paul is a true world traveler and has visited over 35 countries. He recently finished a job in Afghanistan working for the Canadian forces as a contract mechanic.  He told me about a fantastic trip he took as crew on a 50' sailboat across the Pacific.  He started in Panama and visited the Galapagos, Easter Island, Pitcairn Island, and ended in French Polynesia.  Way to go Paul, your my hero!

I next made my way south to the Rio Grande Village for a picnic and to get a permit for the back country.  I got my first look at the river and an old Hot Spring.  The spring was run up till the late 40's by the locals as a "cure", but has been abandoned since.  The buildings are all falling down but the riverside spring is still flowing and 107 degrees.  Too bad the outside air temperature is 100 degrees!  I made a side trip to the Bouquillas Canyon and took a dip in the river.  This is where the Rio Grande leaves the flat lands and carves straight through the mountains and forms the canyon.  Standing in the river, I suddenly realized "Hey, 20 feet away is Mexico"!

I took the Old Ore Road to the back country in the Eastern side of the park.  I always have fun testing the off road capabilities of the van.  This is not gnarly technical 4 wheel'n, but it is pretty rough with large rocks, sandy washes, and plenty of steep ups and downs.  I love camping in the back country!  No one around for miles and miles and utterly quiet and peaceful. In fact, it was way quiet, almost like a black hole of silence.  No birds chirping or coyotes barking.  I took a great hike out to a remote watering hole called a Tinaja.  The rocks in the area are fantastic, with layers upon layers of multicolored strata and crazy swirling shapes.  I tried to capture a few, but Hao and Steve would have a field day out here!

Next came some time in the West side of the park in the St. Elena Canyon area.  This is similar to the Bouquillas Canyon but this is where the river enters the park.  The whole park used to be ranch lands and mining areas up until 1950 when it became a national park.  I visited numerous old ruins and artifacts scattered in the area.  I can't believe people lived in little huts out here all year long and farmed.  Last fall, the Rio Grande flooded and wiped out all the river side camp sites.  There is another back country road that links them all I wanted to take but had to pass because of the damage.

I love the desert and have visited many desert parks throughout the Southwest, but this place is unique and beautiful.  I would love to come back here in the spring and see all the cactus and flowers in bloom!

Well, time to head North and check out New Mexico (North).

Happy Trails,

~JQ

P.S. On the way out of the park, I passed through the tiny village of Marfa, Texas.  This is pretty much frack'n no-where, so I was shocked and tickled to see this great piece of road art. 
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Where I stayed
Camping, National Park

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