The Canyons of Big Bend (Texas) 02-Nov-2019

Days 2 and 3 of our visit to Big Bend National Park found us wandering from the park’s west side to its east side to visit iconic canyons on both sides, as well as a small, but nonetheless charming, canyon in the middle. No hike was over two miles (round-trip), the weather cooperated wonderfully, and the scenery was excellent. As were libations and meals at the Chisos Mountains Lodge (never underestimate the small pleasures of having to neither cook nor wash your own dishes). Plus there were more menu choices than ramen and tuna (or tuna and ramen). 😉

Santa Elena Canyon

A short (1.6 miles round-trip) trail took us from a paved parking area into stunning Santa Elena Canyon – where the Rio Grande River has carved its way through 1,500 feet of limestone strata. Trail guides rightly indicate that the necessary (but un-bridged) crossing of Terlingua Creek is not possible when the creek floods. However, the guides often fail to mention that crossing the creek where the trail meets it might also be impossible due to the incredibly thick and sticky mud on the creek’s bottom. We got around the creek’s sucking mud by going upstream until it petered-out, then made our way cross-country back to the paved steps on the official trail. From there we continued into the canyon until the canyon walls squeezed us almost into the river.

The mouth of Santa Elena Canyon from a viewpoint on the road
Starting along the trail toward the creek
Where Terlingua Creek meets the Rio Grande
Crossing the creek above the mud
A use trail got us back to the official trail
Ocotillo
View northeast from the canyon’s mouth (Chisos Mountains on the horizon)
Inside the canyon
Thick vegetation lines the canyon bottom
End of the trail
Heading back
Descending to cross Terlingua Creek above the mud

Tuff Canyon

Diminutive Tuff Canyon runs alongside the Russ Maxwell Scenic Drive just outside of Castolon. It was formed when Blue Creek cut through a layer of bluish-white, welded volcanic ash (“tuff”). A short trail at the south end of the parking lot took us down into the canyon and then we ambled up and back along the drainage for less than a mile. A short, but scenic, little hike.

Dropping into Tuff Canyon with Cerro Castellan in the distance
Tuff Canyon
Ocotillo against the clouds
In the canyon
The canyon widens (briefly)
Pools of water linger in the canyon
Heading back
Tuff Canyon from one of the overlooks with the Chisos Mountains in the distance

Boquillas Canyon

Boquillas Canyon is on the east side of the park, almost directly opposite Santa Elena Canyon. A short trail took us from the parking to the top of a cliff overlooking the Rio Grande. From there we continued down to the river’s edge and into the canyon until the trail was pinched-off between the canyon wall and the river. As we were leaving the trailhead, a gentleman went by on a horse and on up the trail. From the cliff overlook, we watched him swim the horse across the shallow Rio Grande and into Mexico (later we would see him do the same thing with a string of horses). This certainly says something about the historic porosity of the southern border. That absurd wall is going to need water wings here. 🙄

The mouth of Boquillas Canyon from a nearby viewpoint
On top of the cliff
The little Mexican town of Boquillas del Carmen (arrow) on the south side of the river
Riding home to Mexico
Along the canyon bottom
Toward the canyon’s mouth
Looking southwest from the canyon’s mouth
Entering the canyon
Trail’s end
Going back
HOME

3 comments

  1. I recall my dad telling me about visiting Big Bend, pre-9/11 days, when you could ride in a small boat across the river and then go to Boquillos del Carmen for a day of shopping, lunch and dinner; then the boatman would take you back to Big Bend. Sadly, 9/11 hysteria brought that to an end.

    That aside, looks like you two had a really wonderful trip to the park!

    1. We did have a great trip! You can still take a small boat (or walk when the river is shallow) to Boquillas del Carmen. The key difference now is that a passport is required for re-entry. This requirement has sadly made a dent in the casual crossings to the town. 😦

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