1800 ft above the sea level, I was happily canoeing across the twists and turns of the Rio Grand River, seamlessly flowing through the Santa Elena canyon. I parked the canoe at a ghost town, called Terilingua and hopped into my car for a scenic drive of almost 150 miles to the Chihuahuan desert, 3900ft above the sea level, in the Big Bend National Park. I parked my car at the Panther Junction, in the National Park and hiked up to the magnificent Chisos Mountains, fully contained within the National Park, at 7900ft above sea level. This range of elevation and the diversity of landforms is a truly remarkable experience, uniquely offered at the Big Bend National Park in West Texas!
Chisos Mountain Range
The Big Bend National Park is the only park in the United States that contains an entire mountain range - The Chisos Mountian. The Chisos mountain range extends for over 20 miles, with the highest point, Emory peak, at 7800 ft above sea level. I drove about 10 miles further from the Panther Junction to the Chisos Basin trailhead, which leads to at least 5 different trails. The Emory Peak trail offers a superb 360° view of the entire mountain range; the Lost Mine trail is for those who love to explore the diversity of flora and fauna; and the Window View trail, my favorite one, gives you a panoramic view of the mountains and the surroundings and it's accessible by wheelchair. Don't be surprised if you spot the tracks of black bear, mountain lions or deer on these trails. As it gets a little dark, late in the evening, the stars begin to appear in the crystal clear sky overhead and the view from the Chisos Mountain range becomes even more glorious! If you plan on spending the night at the mountains, check out the availability of the camping sites available at the Chisos basin well in advance. Here are some of the views that I captured on my trail:
Rio Grande River
The Rio Grande River, 1850 miles long, rises from Colorado and flows into the Gulf of Mexico, serving as part of the national border between Mexico and USA. One thing you should definitely do on your trip to Big Bend is a float across the Rio Grande, cutting through the Santa Elena canyon. Here am I, steering a Canoe for the very first time:
We canoed in a large group with 2 members paired up on each canoe and the group was lead by 2 adventurous girls, one leading us from the front and the other one from behind. For novices like myself, clear instructions were given on maneuvering the canoe left and right and most importantly, safely steering through the rapids! The wild and scenic view across the river left some truly memorable and lasting impressions on my mind. The weather was pretty hot during the spring time and canoeing got a bit tiring towards the end, so we found a legitimate excuse to stop at the Mexican side of the border for some snacks and fruits and replenished ourselves. Here are some of the views that I captured while canoeing through the Rio Grande River:
While most part of the Chihuahua desert lies in Mexico, Big Bend represents the most prominent portion of the desert in the United States. The range of elevation of the desert extends from 3000-5000 ft and the desert rarely receives more than 10 inches rainfall every year. Over 1000 species of plants, 450 species of birds, 75 species of mammals, 56 species of reptiles and 3500 species of insects can be found in the desert. I was most intrigued by the fact that there are 65 different species of cactus alone that can be found in the big bend desert area, sotol cactus being the most commonly found species. One of the most characteristic plants of the Chihuahuan desert is Agave Lechuguilla, which blooms only once after storing enough nutrients up to 30 years. The desert gets dry during the time of spring and you must carry enough bottles of water with you to prevent dehydration. Here are some of the views that I captured at the desert and you can read more about it on this post.
The big bend trinity - the desert, the mountain and the river - completely mesmerized me. The breathtaking view at the Big Bend national park made the 1000 miles of road trip from Austin to Big Bend feel completely worth the efforts and persistence. From solo backpacking to family travels, Big Bend has something to offer to all of us! I highly recommend a trip to the Big Bend in Texas, more so this year because it marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Services in the United States.