A Short Foray Into Big Bend National Park

Our final destination on our winter break trip was Big Bend. Up until now we’d been avoiding the national park because it’s not Abby-friendly, but our friend Lee had recently told us about the dog-allowed Big Bend State Park adjacent to the national park and since we were going to be in the area anyway….

And so we made a plan that we’d spend parts of 2 days in the national park (leaving time to walk Abbs elsewhere) and 2 days in the state park where we could all hike together. Our first day we drove into the park early from near the neighboring town of Terlingua and headed to Santa Elena Canyon, planning to do the one and a half mile trail while Abbs hung out in the truck in the cool morning temperatures. Because it was still early and the low December light was barely piercing the canyon, most of our walk – and photos – were in shade, but the hike was pretty interesting. The high walls and narrowed channel of the Rio Grande were dramatic, but the seeming parade of people who were entering as we exited were not. Neither Tom nor I enjoy trails with many people and the approximately 20 people we saw over the course of a mile and a half was way too much. It made us happy to rejoin Abbs in the truck and take off together in search of more sights.

The rest of our day in the park was spent mostly driving from overlook to overlook, with a few short walks here and there while Abby hung out in the backseat. As such, we in no way claim this was any sort of comprehensive experience of the park. The expansive desert landscape was impressive as we traversed the park from west to east, but since we’re very accustomed to desert in all its forms it mostly felt… expansive. By the time we reached Boquillas, the traditional crossing point to Mexico located on the other side of the park, we both just wanted to go for a walk with Abbs and so we were relieved this was our turn around point. By 3pm we all were strolling in the desert near our RV Park in Terlingua, happy to be doing what we do.

Our second and final foray into the national park we left Abby in the RV and drove directly to the Chisos Basin, located in the heart of the tiny, craggy Chisos Mountain Range. Because a mountain range of this elevation (peaks top out over 7,000 feet) are rare this far south in the U.S., an extensive trail system has been created here, providing hikers with a multitude of opportunities. Eager to get back to give Abby a walk by mid-afternoon at the latest I selected the short 5.6 mile Window Trail rather than any of the longer hikes leading to the peaks.

Our first impression at the trailhead was that the topography looked very similar to the western side of the Organ Mountains near Las Cruces with the large, orange-y sandstone outcroppings framed by yucca and sotol as well as the prickly pear and barrel cactus lining the path. As we descended the drainages became steeper allowing the more water-needy juniper and stunted pinyon to make an appearance until we eventually dropped into the more barren, rocky tinajas, or water pockets formed out of slickrock. From there we followed the trail downwards picking our way to the pour off, or so-called Window, encasing the views of the desert below. It was really quite lovely, minus the fact the we had all that ascent on the return, and we both agreed that the Chisos Mountains appeared to be a gem this far south in latitude.