1. THE ISOLATION – Big Bend, which is in southwest Texas and includes the entire Chisos mountain range and a good portion of the Chihuahuan Desert, is 1,250 square miles, and about the size of Rhode Island. With around 300,000 visitors per year that breaks down to around only 821 visitors per day. That means every visitor could have 1.5 square miles entirely to themselves! Obviously people will congregate around certain parts of the park, but if you go on a backpacking trip, it’s not uncommon to go 3-5 days without seeing another human being! Be aware this parks isolation is serious! Mountain Lions, Bears and snakes are more common than visitors and the dry desert heat can be relentless. When you check in with park rangers to get your permit, be prepared for the ranger to ask detailed questions about where you will hike, camp and how prepared you are. The rangers will also take pictures of you, your gear and soles of your hiking boots. Too many unprepared hikers have wandered off into this beautiful land and never return. Don’t let that scare you, let that prepare you!
2. THE NIGHT SKY – Certified by the International Dark-Sky Association as one of only 30 dark-sky parks in the world, and on the USA Today’s top ten list for darkest National Parks. Big Bend is quite possibly the darkest place in the lower 48. It’s not hard to notice the difference between the normal night sky and looking up while in Big Bend. You see more star light than darkness and shooting stars are as normal as breathing!
3. THE SUNRISE AND SUNSET – It’s hard to beat the sunrise or sunset in Big Bend simply because of all the colors in both the sky and on the ground. The sky lights up the clouds in pinks and purples, while the light hitting the burnt orange and red desert landscape is surreal.
4. THE WILDLIFE – Obviously with the limited impact by man in the area, the wildlife thrives. Mule deer roam as normal as cattle, coyotes curiously scurry around, snakes bask in the warm sun, 14 species of scorpions call Big Bend home, Black Bears frequent campsites and Mountain Lion tracks were fresh on trail. This place sure offered a true wild side in a very short time. Wildlife still truly owns this part of our wild world!
5. THE RIO GRANDE – This wild, scenic and powerful river provides life to the desert and fun for visitors. Visitors can Swim, Canoe, Kayak, and White Water Raft the 69 miles of river inside the park. The river also cuts the dramatic Santa Elena Canyon with amazing 1500 vertical walls. The Santa Elena hike is short and offers great picturesque shots.
Big Bend National Park may not be the easy National Park to access, but the sheer size and beauty of Big Bend is right on par with some of the best National Parks in the nation. I spent two amazing days trying soak up as much of the park as I could. I drove straight from New Orleans and made it as far as I could before sleeping in my truck on the side of the road. Just the drive itself before I even entered the park was full of coyotes and mule deer crossing the road and by far the most stars I’ve ever seen. No cell phone service and no ambient light for miles made it feel like the old west in history books. My plan was to wake up, make some instant Jet Boil coffee and get some great sunrise photos of the morning light hitting the beautiful Mountain peaks and the Rio Grande.
Well my plan worked to perfection! I was able to capture some of the most dramatic and colorful shots I’ve ever taken. The red, and burnt orange mountains, silhouetting the horizon mixed with the perfect amount of clouds to add depth was breath taking. I was barely able to drive as I stopped nearly every mile to take a new shot of a mule deer or different break in the colorful clouds.
I started the day at the window trail. This short 4.4 mile round trip hike is one of the easiest hikes in the park for the most reward. The hike is almost completely flat with a slight up hill on the way back. The trial cuts through towering peaks, cacti and an active river bed. Even though the trail starts at Basin Campground and is a very active trail, the trail is still very wild. The day prior, a warning sign was posted stating a Mountain Lion had been seen on trail and tracks were clearly visible the morning I hiked in. Fresh bear scat was also right in the middle of the trail only half a mile from the campground. The trail ends at what is called “the window,” a slice in the mountains gives you an unforgettable view of the valley 500 feet below. During sometimes of the year, the stream is flowing and cascades right off “the window.”
After stopping at multiple other great picturesque locations like the Mule Ears view point, Homer Wilson’s Ranch, and Tuff Canyon, I headed for the Rio Grande. All day I could see this massive rock wall in the distance but had no idea what it was. To my surprise as I drove closer the massive wall, I realized it was Mexico. The Rio ran below and had cut a huge, deep canyon (Santa Elena) in the massive rock wall. I took the best day trail in the park. This short 1.7 mile hike has a short gain but gives you access to the river to swim and canoe. The trail leaves the river and follows the deep cut canyon for dramatic views, before descending back to the water’s edge.
After spending most of the day cooling off in the Rio Grande, I headed out for some of the more remote parts of the park only accessed by dirt roads. I wandered through miles of wild back country 4×4 trails. Mule deer and coyotes sightings were as normal as a household pet. As night fall came, I set up the tent near the side of the road and settled in for the night. The night sky was insanely beautiful. I counted over 45 shooting stars and was able to pick out every constellation I knew. The deep darkness surrounded me and not being able to see any artificial light on the horizon was very peaceful. It was the first time in a long time I truly felt off the grid! All night I didn’t hear any artificial noises or see any artificial light. Coyotes howling were the only music to my ears!
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