Big Bend National Park

May 14-23, 2000

It was a six-hour drive from El Paso to Big Bend, across a landscape of blowing gravel and plastic bags. But the payoff was spectacular scenery along the Rio Grande River through Big Bend Ranch State Park.

We camped that night along the shores of the Rio Grande, where the only other campers entertained us by doing wheelies with their ATV until dark, when they turned on a noisy generator which finally ran out of gas at 3:00 a.m.

We took a tour of the camp bright and early the next morning, windows down and blasting Bulgarian folk dance music at full volume.

Our first hike was a short trek into Closed Canyon, where the tiniest of seasonal streams has somehow slashed its way through an imposing red rock wall. The canyon exhaled cool, damp air that contrasted sharply with the Rio Grande Valley where the day was already a little warmer than we expected. We bravely completed our second hike of the day, a 3.6-mile round trip to Burro Mesa, at midday in full sun. Seriously overheated, we poured ourselves onto to the ramada-shaded porch at La Harmonia Trading Post in Castolon.

We camped that night under cottonwoods planted by Keith and his classmates 30 years ago. The trees were vibrating with birds, including scarlet tanagers, colima warblers, canyon towhees, cactus wrens and phainopeplas as well as the more common white-winged doves, ravens and enormous turkey buzzards.

We hiked into Santa Elena Canyon in the morning, and then decided to have lunch in Mexico. You can walk across the Rio Grande at almost any point in the park, but in Santa Elena, you can take the "ferry" for $2.00 per person round trip.

Unlike the Texas side of the border, the Chihuahan frontier is full of life. Three hours over a rough moutain road from the nearest major Mexican town, the people of Santa Elena tend gardens, chickens and goats and travel by horse and burro. The El Canon Cafe had some of the best Mexican food we have ever eaten.

It was time to move our tent to higher and cooler ground. We were lucky to nab the absolute last tent site in the Chisos Basin, and made this lovely spot our home for the rest of our stay in Big Bend.

The next morning we made breakfast in the dark, and by dawn we were hiking the Lost Mine Trail, the prettiest hike of the trip.

We tried to hike into Boquillas Canyon that afternoon, but the heat took our breath away. Back at Rio Grande Village, we checked the daily report from the Park Service. It was 105 degrees. The temperature zoomed to 110 the next day, while we attempted our biggest hike of the trip to the summit of Emory Peak. Dehydrated and short on water, we had to turn back just shy of the summit.

We liked the hot springs in Boquillas so much that the next day we drove 400 miles out of our way to visit Chinati Hot Springs, in a narrow canyon at the base of a remote chain of mountains west of Presidio. Except for the roadrunners and the javelinas, we had the place to ourselves, and spent an idyllic night under the stars in the outdoor "spa."

For the last night of the trip, we stayed at the Gage Hotel in Marathon, where we witnessed a fine late afternoon dust storm.

Dust storms, blistering heat, drought and dehydration ... what more could you ask of a spring vacation?