Big Bend National Park
Rio Grande River
May/June 2013

Choose Your Own Big Bend Adventure

With five breathtaking ways to experience this national park,
you can see its splendor from any angle

BYBeverly Burmeier
Long, lonely roads that stretch interminably through dry, barren country. Few gas stations in tiny towns with little more than a post office and a stoplight. Those desolate descriptions are what some people think of when West Texas is mentioned. The area’s beautiful scenery and bountiful recreational opportunities aren’t even on their radar. Yet visitors to Big Bend National Park in the southwest corner of Texas find the variety of scenic, ecological, and historical resources — not to mention its heavenly remoteness — makes Big Bend an ideal spot to rejuvenate body and soul. 
 
Mountains, desert, and water combine to make a unique topography that was considered worthy of national park status, and in 1944 Big Bend was established to preserve and protect the unique U-shaped loop where the Rio Grande River flows along the Texas-Mexico border.
 
The serene beauty of Big Bend inspires repeat visits from many travelers. Dark night skies glowing with millions of twinkling stars (city lights don’t dim the view here), steep river-carved limestone canyons, more types of birds and bats than any other national park in the United States, rugged mountains, and uncommonly beautiful desert cacti and flowers entice 300,000 visitors here annually.
 
Encompassing more than 800,000 acres, the park is the largest protected area of Chihuahuan Desert topography in the U.S. and the only national park that contains an entire mountain range, the Chisos, within its boundaries. It’s a land of dramatic contrasts — extremes in temperature, elevation, and moisture are found in its distinct regions — so that it seems like three parks in one.
 
Because Marathon, the nearest town with amenities, is 70 miles away, visitors tend to stay in Big Bend for several days. Fortunately, there are many ways to see and experience the park, including hiking, horseback riding,  rafting, Jeep touring, and biking. Each mode of travel gives visitors different perspectives while providing incomparable views of the rugged landscape..
 
Hiking 
There are many short walks and roadside exhibits, so exploring on foot is easy. Enjoy incredible sunset views on an evening stroll from the Chisos Basin Trailhead to The Window, a natural opening in the Chisos Mountain Range that affords a panorama of the valley and stunning landscape beyond. The historic Dorgan-Sublett Trail is the newest trail open for hikers. The mile-and-a-half round-trip trail provides lovely views from the mouth of Santa Elena Canyon.
 
Well-defined trails range from easy to moderately difficult, making them suitable for family hiking. The one-mile loop of Rio Grande Village Nature Trail starts in the southeastern corner of the Rio Grande Village campground and provides expansive views along the river and south into Mexico. The trail passes through dense vegetation along the river flood plain, then climbs abruptly into a desert environment. Boquillas Canyon Trail is moderately difficult (1.4 miles round-trip) as it climbs over a low hill and then drops to the river where a large sand slide is piled against the canyon wall. Always popular, the Lost Mine Trail starts at 5,600-feet elevation and climbs the northern slope of Casa Grande to a promontory. It covers 4.8 miles round-trip and presents stunning views at the Juniper Canyon Overlook and along the ridge where the Sierra del Carmen in Mexico is visible. 
 
For experienced backpackers, the vast Chisos Mountains provide an abundance of challenging primitive roads and trails. Those looking for guided hikes will find them through outfitters such as Big Bend River Tours and Desert Sports.
 

View Highroads: Big Bend Nat. Park in a larger map>

Chisos Mountain Road
Chisos Mountain Road
Chisos Desert Island
Chisos Desert Island
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