It's been 13 years since I was last here at Big Bend National Park in West Texas. Spending the last few years just a few hours north of here, I figured it was about time I paid another visit. We spent two nights in Alpine, TX as our base so we could get here early, stay all day, and not have a long drive home afterwards. Big Bend NP is over 1200 square miles and that's a lot to explore and see. So let's get going!
We arrived just after dawn to a cloudy morning which kinda hindered having some great sunrise photos. Our first geocache was an earthcache called "Fins of Fire" (GC3AZVV) facing the Chisos Mountains to the east, describing the layers and spikes and the creation of the mountains from volcanic activity.
Continuing the beautiful route down the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, we arrived at the Solol Vista Overlook and another earthcache (GC2NJRH). The amazing views here are awe inspiring. And from this vantage point we barely get a glimpse of our destination Santa Elena Canyon some fourteen miles in the distance. From here though it's just a tiny notch in the mesa across the valley.
In the panoramic photo below taken from the Sotol Overlook, from left to right are: Trap Mountain, Goat Mountain, Santa Elena Canyon, Kit Mountain, across the valley to Tule Mountain, Burro Mesa, Little Christmas Mountain, and Christmas Mountain.
After the overlook, we stopped at Tuff Canyon for another earthcache (GC72D1C). Tuff Canyon is the deepest of the dry washes in Big Bend NP. This also makes it very dangerous during or after a rain as the gathering waters pick up velocity and can cause a flash flood rushing between the canyon walls. Over time the rushing waters slowly dig a deeper channel while at the same time eroding and smoothing the layered rock walls.
The mountains and cliff walls are plentiful. Just driving the roads, you won't even need to get out of your car to be amazed at the views.
Now we get to the Santa Elena Canyon observation area (GC37ECH). The Santa Elena Canyon is one of the most famous landmarks within Big Bend National Park. Looking from the overlook area, that's the United States on the right, Mexico on the left, and the shallow Rio Grande River flowing up through the middle and curving to the left. A lot of people stop there to get their photos. However if you keep following the road around, it will take you down to the entrance, or should I say the exit.
Where the Rio Grande exits the canyon, there's the Santa Elena Canyon Trailhead. The Terlingua Creek drains into the Rio Grande River just as it exits the canyon. You can see it in the next photo coming in from the left. Most of the time the water level is low enough and you can easily walk across rocks without getting wet. Once you cross over and climb the short hill you enter the trailhead that has been paved creating an easy hike with stairs and switchbacks up 160 feet to the point from which I took the photo.
Once you make the short hike up and over at the trailhead, you make your way down the trail into the cool canyon. Because of the 1500 feet canyon walls that seem to raise up forever, they block out the sun except for the short time it is directly overhead. We continued our hike down and back to see how far we could go. Officially it's a 1.5 mile out and back hiking trail.
At this point, we came to the end of the trail. This is about as far as you can hike without getting wet. Now I was wanting a kayak so I could keep going to see what's around the corner. One of these days I just might do that.
Backing up a little ways there's this huge rock that had fallen near the edge of the bank of the Rio Grande. I talked Candy into climbing out on the rock with me and handed my phone to another hiker to take our photo. I think this turned out much better than trying to take a selfie and still get the full canyon effect.
Having made our way back in the GeoJeep, it was time to hit some of the offroad trails. First we drove back up the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive and looped around over to the Panther Junction Visitors Center. This time we finally bought one of those National Park Passport books that you get stamped each time you visit a national park or historical site.
From there we made our way down to Glenn Springs Road. It's a gravel road that even a regular car can make it through, see the first pic at the top of the blog. There might be some parts that may be a little rough, but I'd drive down most of it if I still had the Prius and the turn around if I got to an impassible section.
After several miles it turns into Black Gap Road as it nears the spring. There it does become a rougher section that really requires high clearance vehicle. Just past the Glenn Spring primitive campsite I found my next virtual geocache (GCR2A8). The U.S. Calvary once used this location for a few years. If you look hard enough you can still find parts of the foundations of some of the buildings. At the top of the nearby hill you'll find some scattered wooden crosses for the cemetery. To get credit for finding the virtual cache you need to email the number of crosses. The Find-A-Grave website only lists five memorials here. If you use that number you won't have the correct number as there are more than that. And not having any names on the wooden crosses, they are known only to God.
Another hour or so of offroad fun in the GeoJeep and we make our way to the exit roads and back up to Alpine, Texas. It wasn't until later that I realized the Black Gap Road was one of the trails in the Jeep Badge of Honor series. If I had used the BoH app to check in from the trail, I could have gotten my first badge. Oh well, I guess that's a good excuse to have to come back and explore some more of the Big Bend National Park. There is still much to see out here that I haven't gotten to yet. And I recommend this place to be put on your bucket list one day. Just try to avoid summer as the temps are easily in the triple digits!
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