Big Bend Part 1

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Cottonwood Campground: 5 nights
Hikes: 3
Bug Bites: 2
Wildlife: 6 javelinas (they came through the campground each evening), 5 tarantulas (2 on the path, 3 on the road), vermillion flycatcher (beautiful bird with bright green wings and a fiery red/orange head and breast), a great horned owl, our first snake (luckily not a rattler), roadrunners, walking sticks, butterflies (at least 6 different kinds), lizards, orange and white spotted grasshopper, and lots of other birds.

We were so excited to be in another National Park (this is #6). While the state parks we’ve been in have been interesting, we were struck again by the grandness of our national parks. Big Bend wowed us with its sweeping and varied views, sheer size, stark dessert beauty, geology, and even a bit of history. The campground was near the end of the Ross Maxell Scenic Drive, about 26 miles from the western entrance, so we were treated to spectacular views for our first impression of the park.

 

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This US Boundary marker was right in our campsite, but I think it had been moved.

The campground itself wasn’t that impressive, but it did put us in a good locale to explore this side of the park. Interestingly they flood the campground each evening to irrigate the grass and trees, and although the parking pads are elevated, it does make for muggy and buggy conditions. Still in the afternoon we enjoyed sitting in the shade of the trailer enjoying the view. Most of the time it was warm, up to 90 degrees. We had an awesome storm one night with the thunder actually shaking the trailer.

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On our first day we took the scenic drive, this time stopping at all the pullouts and signage, much easier without a 30’ trailer in tow. They have very small visitor centers at this park, but make up for it with informative roadside displays, which is almost better because you are seeing the actual things they talk about instead of seeing a picture of it at the visitor’s center. We learned about the geology of the park, as well as, the history of ranching, farming and cross border trade in the region. Below is Tuff Canyon, an area formed from volcanic ash.

We took a short hike to the Burro Mesa Pouroff. A pouroff is a dry waterfall, only filled with water during rains. You had to get all the way inside to see all of it’s coolness. We also walked a short path through the remains of the old Sam Hill Ranch. The windmill still operates to provide water to the fig and pecan trees planted years ago.

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The approach
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Inside the pouroff

We continued all the way to the Chisos Basin, climbing from our campground’s 2100’ elevation to 4500. Here you are guaranteed about 10 degree cooler weather. The change in vegetation was quite apparent too as trees became a part of the landscape. There is a campground here, but the tight turns in the mountain road and small sites prohibit larger RVs. This is also where you can find bears in the park. On a map in the visitor’s center people marked where they had seen them and it was obvious they were quite active feeding up for the winter. The most popular hike was closed due to bear activity so we didn’t end up taking any hikes up here.

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The Window in Chisos Basin

Big Bend is the only national park to contain an entire mountain range, and while it is a big park, the “Big” in the name refers to the giant bend the Rio Grande takes here. On our second day we hiked to Saint Elena Canyon to see the canyon formed by this famous river. It seemed amazing that we were staring right at Mexico. In fact there were signs warning you not to cross the center of the river or you could get in trouble for an illegal border crossing. The muddy water did not look inviting to us so no worries there.

Our final hike on this side of the park took us 7 miles down a dirt road, seemingly into the middle of nothing. But a short easy walk led us through a valley of rocky hills. Then a scramble up the rocky hillside and we made it to Balanced Rock. All around were boulders to climb on. It was nature’s version of a jungle gym and it brought out the kid in me.

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Yep, that’s the trail, a scramble up the rocks.
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That’s me climbing boulders on the far right.

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A nice view of the canyon on the way back.

Back at the campsite a great view to enjoy while relaxing with a giant glass of refreshing lime water! By the way that cliff in the distance is Mexico. 🙂

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Lime Water
Squeeze 1/4 lime in a large glass with ice.
Fill half way with club soda.
Add filtered water to the top.

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