Our recent visit to Big Bend National Park and the surrounding area was full of surprises (in a good way). If you ever find yourself in the neighborhood (just kidding…this place is way out of the way) it deserves your attention.
We traveled from Arizona for three days before arriving at BJ’s RV Park in Terlingua, TX, right outside the National park entrance. Our long drive included long stretches of typical West Texas…scrub brush, crumbling old corrals, and cows. We were happy to arrive at BJ’s and make it our home for awhile.
BJ’s is a funky place, as is Terlingua, and it’s just what you’d expect in a remote Far West Texas town. It was the perfect base from which to explore. The Terlingua Ghost Town features the remnants of an old 1880s quicksilver (mercury) mine and its storied past. A frontier cemetery, abandoned mine shafts, and a saloon seemed to be the perfect package.
We especially enjoyed sitting on the porch of the old Terlingua Trading Company, drinking a beer, and listening to an old guy play western music. The old adobe Starlight Theatre topped off the evening with live music and half-priced burgers.
Our first day of exploration took us into the National Park and to the Chisos Mountain Basin where the mountains top out of 8,000 feet.
There’s some great hiking here. However, I’m not hiking this time around, per doctor’s orders, but the drives here are also spectacular! We also visited the most southern part of the park, which is defined by the Rio Grande. In fact, that’s how the park got its name, for the big bend in the river which defines the US/Mexico border for over 100 miles.
Years ago an entrepreneur built a resort along the banks of the Rio Grande. The resort is now in ruins but the stories still abound. The primary draw to this part of the world was/is the hot springs. Said to have healing properties, the springs still draw tired hikers and travelers from across the globe. Along the short trail to the hot springs we saw Native American pictographs that show humans have been here for a very long time. Right along the Rio Grande you find the most interesting things!On another day we set out to see the biggest highlights of Big Bend National Park: Ross Maxwell Drive and Santa Elena Canyon. The drive takes you through historic ranching sites and incredible scenery.
At Santa Elena, the ultimate destination of the drive, the canyon walls tower over 1,500 feet above the Rio Grande and are a spectacular sight. Steve hiked back into the canyon to get a birds-eye view while I sat along the banks of the Rio Grande and enjoyed the nice weather.
On the way to Santa Elena we checked out the historic town of Castolon, which has seen trade, war, and farming over its 120 year history. Remnants of its cotton farming era still stand as a tribute to the people who made something of not much along the banks of the river.
On another day we set out westward to nearby Big Bend Ranch State Park. This, the largest state park in Texas, rivaled the national park in many ways. Gorgeous scenery, dramatic canyons, and the meandering Rio Grande make this state park worth exploration.I explored the park on horseback while Steve got in a long 19 mile run along the park’s roads. My horse, Little John, was a little stubborn but we managed. He skillfully picked through the steep and rocky trails that made this ride a challenge, even for the more experienced equestrians in our group of six.
This was the first time I’d been back on a horse in probably 25 years and it came back just like riding a bike! Dad always said there was no better way to enjoy the countryside than from the back of a horse, and he would have loved this ride!
Big Bend Ranch State Park also features what has been called “the most beautiful drive in Texas.” The River Road follows the Rio Grande for 60 miles through dramatic canyons and valleys to the dusty town of Presidio, TX. It’s not to be missed.
It’s out of the way, it’s desolate, and it’s vast. The Big Bend region may not yet be on your bucket list. but we think it should be, and we can’t wait to return.