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February 22, 2007

Big Bend National Park - Part I

DSC_0215_editedWe left Mission Wed. Feb. 7th on a bright sunny day and headed north west following the Rio Grande River. The land changes from the cultivation of the lower valley to huge expanses of desert.  This is not the desert of movie films with sand and sand dunes everywhere.  Instead, it is a desert of higher elevations, vast expanses of creosotbushes and only 8 to 12 inches of rain in a year.  As we travelled the land was flat, flat and flat, however as we reached the area of Big Bend National Park the mountains could be seen easily in all directions.

IMG_4233_editedWe spent the second night after leaving Mission, in the town of Marathon, TX. which is considered to be the gateway to Big Bend.  There is a very neat old hotel in town, “The Gage” which has been restored to its original look.  It was opened in 1927 and is still an operating hotel with all the amenities. Although we didn’t stay at the hotel, the staff welcomed us to tour.  The town itself is quite unassuming and has a number of excellent craft and gift shops.  Of note, the gas was the most expensive we have had since leaving home in December – we paid $2.98 U.S./gallon – which translates into approximately $.96 Cdn/litre.  

IMG_4245_editedThis is the view of some of the mountains of Big Bend as we headed south from Marathon. The park was named for the U shaped bend of the Rio Grande which borders the park.  It wasn’t dedicated until 1944 and is the only national park in Texas. Mind you, its big, a little over 800,000 acres -but then, everything in Texas seems big.  In summer, the temperature of the ground can reach 180 F and in winter can be freezing. While we were there it varied from mid 30’s at night to low 70’s during the day.  We spent two days dry camping (that is not hooked up to any water, electricity or sewer) at Rio Grande Village Campground which is in the south east of the park. The “village” consists of a store and the campground.  It was a wonderfully quiet park and at night the dark was truly dark and millions of stars could be seen.

From height we could see the massive Sierra Del Carmen mountains across the Rio Grande in Mexico. 

 IMG_4263In Boquillas Canyon, which cuts through the mountains, it would be easy to walk across the river to Mexico (we didn’t).  Since 911, a number of smaller border crossings have been closed and this has been devastating to the small Mexican towns on the other side of the river.  A few Mexican nationals wade across the river and set up to sell small crafts and walking sticks. There are warning signs that if you purchase from them, you can be arrested and fined.  We met one such man in Boquillas Canyon and he was selling walking sticks for $4.00.  We saw the same sticks in the park store for $18.00 and the manager said it was only this year that they had finally received permission to purchase them from the town across the river.

We moved from the east side of the park to a campground just outside the west gate and the next couple of days explored the west side and the Chisos Basin.


The Chisos Mountains are wholly contained in Big Bend National Park and in the centre of them is a natural basin that was developed with a lodge, cabins and a campground, in the late 30’s by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp).  We had dinner at the lodge and were treated to a beautiful sunset through the “window” in the basin.  Although there is a campground, trailers over 24 feet are not allowed into the Basin due to the steep roads and sharp curves descending into it..

DSC_2286_editedThis pile of rock in the basin is called “Appetite Peak” and could be close to 100 ft. high.  As the story goes, when one of the young men of the CCC complained about the food that was served while they were building the facilities in the basin, they were sent out to conquer this peak before they got to eat again.  No more complaints!

That same night we went to the lecture put on by the park.  Most of the parks have regular presentations and this one was on astronomy.  We spent the hour after dark being guided through the heavens by a very knowledgeable park ranger.

The final couple of days were very full so I will do another journal to finish our visit to Big Bend.

Big Bend Part 2 coming soon.

Bernie & Ross

Posted by Bernice at February 22, 2007 10:50 AM