Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Road Trip: Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park entrance

I've always thought of myself as a lover of National Parks. The thing is, I could have counted the number of National Parks that I've visited on one finger before last week. I do love them, I just haven't made it out to visit many (almost any) of them.

The one park that I've been to is Denali National Park and I've been twice so that's something right? I was really close to Kenai Fjords National Park but I don't think I was ever officially in it. Anyway I have always wanted and planned to visit more of our National Parks but up until last week I hadn't made it to anymore. Evan and Frankie's birthdays are a day apart so to celebrate Evan's 40th and sweet baby Frankie's 1st we decided to take a trip out west and visit Big Bend National Park!

The trip was slightly last minute which made me a little nervous but it was great. We stayed in an AirBnB in Alpine, Texas which was an ideal base to visit the park and other area attractions. Being that my only National Park experience was Denali National Park which is fairly remote and inaccessible I had a similar expectation for Big Bend. I've always heard that it was hard to get to and desolate so you have to make sure that your gas tank was completely full and you had lots of water and food, and so on. While these things are somewhat true, they don't make the park inaccessible for the inexperienced visitor.

Most of the park roads are paved and well maintained with clear trail markings. They have several ranger stations that have water and other snacks and supplies. During our West Texas excursion we spent 2 and a half days in the park. I feel like we could have easily done at least one more without the kids getting restless since there are so many different landscapes to see.

The Santa Elena Canyon

The Santa Elena Canyon

Santa Elena Canyon on the banks of the Rio Grande
Santa Elena Canyon is the stuff of old western movie back drops. It also had a little bit of an Indiana Jones feel to me as well. This area is really easy to get to. You can drive almost all the way down to the banks of the Rio Grande. From the parking area it's just a short walk to the river. The parking area houses picnic tables and restrooms and there is a Ranger Station just up the road where you can purchase drinks and snacks. To get to Santa Elena Canyon you take Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. It's beautiful drive and you get a good idea of the vastness of the park. You also might see some wild life. We saw roadrunners, coyotes, and a tarantula while we were on this drive.

Evan, Sadie, and Frankie headed down to the Rio Grande

Sadie on the banks of the Rio Grande
Once you arrive at the end of Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, you can take the Santa Elena Canyon Trail up into the canyon. The trail is a little under 2 miles round trip and can be slightly difficult with the heat but it's beautiful. It's also a great place to get cell service oddly enough.

This area is stunning and might have been my favorite place in the park. Hearing so much about the river and the border made it interesting geographically. Add to that 1,500 foot limestone cliffs shooting out of the desert floor and you have an amazing destination.

Evan and Frankie hiking into the Santa Elena Canyon.
Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive is on the West Side of the park and is home to lots of great trails and overlooks. Some of the highlights are, Sam Nail Ranch Trail which has adobe home ruins, Tuff Canyon, Chimney Trail, and Mule Ears Trail.

The Chisos Basin

The day of Frankie's birthday we spent it in the Chisos Basin. The Chisos Mountains are interesting not just for the mountains but because it's a forest oasis in the middle of the desert. The drive through the mountains is fun and exciting. Every turn or switch back gave us new and stunning views. One of the more popular destinations on the park is The Window. The Window, between mountain ridges, is what looks to be a perfectly framed picture of the desert floor below.

The view of The Window from the patio of the Chisos Mountain Lodge Restaurant 
There are several popular trails in the Chisos Mountains including The Window Trail and the South Rim. There is also a restaurant, gift shop, lodge and campgrounds. We had lunch at The Chisos Mountain Lodge Restaurant and enjoyed what might be the best restaurant view in Texas!

Sadie sipping lemonade over looking The Window.

Panther Junction and Grapevine Hills

Hot Spring Ruins


Panther Junction is the visitor center located at the Park Headquarters. There are bathrooms, water, a mail post, information center, and a gift shop. There is also a small screening room that shows a short film on the Park.There is also a gas station a quarter of a mile away. It is surrounded by beautiful mountain passes.

Panther Junction is near Grapevine Hills. You can take Grapevine Hills Trail and visit Balanced Rock. The trail is flat and easy until the last little bit that takes you up into the rocks to get to Balanced Rock. It was doable for us novices but I was slightly nervous at times but the view made up for it. 

Balanced Rock can be found at the end of the Grapevine Hills Trail.

We really enjoyed our time in Big Bend. We can't wait to return when the kids are a little bigger so and we can do some more hiking and enjoy more of the park. 

No comments:

Post a Comment