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eveningcrane Apr 3rd, 2010 12:13 PM

Big Bend NP Trip Report

DH and I just got back from spending three nights at the Chisos Mountains Lodge in Big Bend National Park.

The lodge itself is located in the Chisos Basin at around 5400'. The temperatures at this elevation were high 30s to low 40s in the early morning and 60s during the day. The basin area is very pretty, with mountain peaks all around you.

We stayed in a Rio Grande motel room. It was fine, none too large and the bathroom was definitely petite, with a low shower head (DH is 6' 4" and I am 5' 10" so showering became somewhat of a gymnastic exercise). The walls were also relatively thin so you could hear the people in the adjoining rooms talking - not sufficient to make out what they were saying - at least no one was talking that loud - but enough so that you knew they were there. Also, the first night, for a while, we could hear someone snoring in one of the adjoining rooms.

Now having read over my description, it sounds a bit negative. But let me emphasize that we were very happy with the room and we would stay there again. Also having said that, when we go back (and yes we want to go back) we will try to stay in one of the Casa Grande rooms. They appear to be larger, neighbors on either side (as opposed to three sides plus kitty-corners) and have nice balconies.

Now Schoolmarm told me that the last time she was there, she ate lunch in the restaurant and it was better than in had been in the past - makes me wonder what it was like in the past. The first night DH had the Chilli and I had the Southwestern Chicken Breast - both were worse than mediocre. After that we stuck to cheeseburgers for dinner and the cheeseburger weren't bad (weren't especially good, but not bad) and they were much better than our entrees of the first night.

The breakfast buffet was also rather poor - no danger of meeting an eggshell in the scrambled eggs - they were made from some preprocessed egg goo, the pancakes tasted like they were made from a just add water mix and the sausage patty had way too much filler and a very dilute sausage taste. Even the canned fruit had an inconsistent consistency - from hard, to just right to mushy - all in one piece. Surprisingly, the coffee was pretty decent.

When we go back, we will be bringing more food with us - (we always bring peanut butter, raspberry jam and bread for our hiking lunches). The rooms have refrigerators and microwaves so we will bring some pre-prepared nukable dinners, fruit, cereal and milk with us and stop in the restaurant for coffee and maybe one night of cheeseburgers.

Driving to the park (from Las Cruces NM) we stopped in Marfa for lunch. We ate a a small little restaurant called Squeeze where we split an order of hummus and pita bread and each had a fruit smoothy - DH the boysenberry / blackraspberry and mine the strawberry/ raspberry / blueberry / black raspberry - they were wonderfull. The pita bread was fresh and lightly grilled and the hummus was delicious. Squeeze was a wonderful find!

From Marfa we headed south on 67 towards Presido and then along FM 170 towards Lajita and Big Bend NP. FM 170 parallels the Rio Grande and has sections which are very scenic. On the way we stopped to hike Closed Canyon (1.4 miles round trip) in Big Bend Ranch State Park (it adjoins Big Bend NP on the west). It a nice slot canyon / dry riverbed that drains into the Rio Grande - basically level with some larger step downs and pools of water as you get nearer to the Rio Grande.

Continuing on to Big Bend NP, there were lots of Texas Bluebonnets and other wildflowers on the roadside. We arrived just in time to stop in the main Ranger Station (which closes at 6) at Panther Junction - the ranger station in the Chisos Basin closes at 4. We then proceeded to the basin, checked in and watched the sunset.

The next morning we did the Windows hike (5.2- 5.6 miles roundtrip, 1000 ft elevation loss / gain) which had been recommended to us by both Schoolmarm and Texasbookworm (many thanks). It was a marvelous morning hike to a drainage window that cuts through the mountains surrounding the basin with great vistas through the window. The Texas mountain laurels and Mexican buckeyes were blooming - we really liked the Mexican buckeyes - they have wonderful rosy purple blooms - I am hoping that I can find one to plant in my yard in Las Cruces.

After we got back from the hike, we headed to the visitor center in Castolon, down by the river (elevation ~ 2100') where we ate lunch - our trusty P&Js. From there we drove further along the river to the trailhead for the hike into Santa Elena canyon. Basically the Rio Grande follows along at the base of the 1500 ' high Sierra Ponce cliffs for several miles and then makes an abrupt 90 degree turn, cutting through the mountains via a deep narrow gorge - the Santa Elena canyon. There is a 0.7 mile (one way) trail into the canyon on the riverbank between the river and the canyon wall - eventually the river and the canyon wall meet - the end of the trail. Again this was a marvelous short hike, with a fair number of people coming and going on the hike (stroll). The shoreline and the trail were very sandy and for days afterwards we were shaking sand out of our Keen sandals.

Afterwards, we drove back to the basin, stopping at a few overlooks, hiking down the .25 miles to the old buildings of the Homer Wilson Ranch, checking out the wildflowers. DH kept pointing out a purple bush - but by the time he pointed it out - we were already by it.
Eventually we stopped so I could get a better look- and when I looked at it, the word Dalea came to mind - sure enough when we got back to the Ranger Station we found out it was a feather dalea. I have no idea how I knew it was a Dalea.

Well this is all for now - I am a slow typist and am at the limits of my attention span - later more on the day long hike to the south rim and the return trip through Ft Davis.


schoolmarm Apr 3rd, 2010 01:35 PM

Hi. Your trip to BBNP sounds great! Sorry about the food in the lodge. You're kind of stuck eating there though, right? Now that I think about it, we ordered burgers which were pretty good, and we were starving after our hike. I guess anything will taste pretty good when you're hungry! I should have been more specific. Next time save time for a drive to Alpine or Marathon. Lots of people don't "get" west Texas, but I think it's beautiful. No where else can you get those wide open spaces (well, maybe Wyoming and Montana!).

emalloy Apr 3rd, 2010 01:45 PM

Thanks for the report. This is one NP that we haven't been to yet, sounds like we'll have to put it on our list for a future trip.

P_M Apr 3rd, 2010 02:55 PM

Very nice report. I have spent the better part of my life in TX yet I've never been to BBNP. But now I really want to go.

texasbookworm Apr 3rd, 2010 06:45 PM

I'm so glad to hear of your trip--and that I was in any way able to advise you! Sounds like you had a wonderful time. Also sounds like you, as schoolmarm says, "get" west Texas. Looking forward to the rest of your report; it reads well. What a treat to see that area in spring-wild-flower-beauty!

VolCrew Apr 6th, 2010 05:07 PM

Eveningcrane, please do continue your trip report; I love the BB area. I was in Fort Davis last summer for an all-too-short visit to the Davis Mtns State Park and the McDonald's

I have never visited BBSP, but I have seen pics of the slot canyon. Did you walk through it?

eveningcrane Apr 7th, 2010 06:54 PM


Schoolmarm - yes, I think the burgers were actually good - the lettuce, tomato, onion and pickles were fresh and crisp. The bun was fresh and nicely toasted, the burger itself was fine and as was the pepper jack cheese and on our hike the second day, I actually was looking forward to the evening's burger.

Volcrew - yes we did walk through the canyon, it's mostly level with a few step-downs, of increasing amounts of down - the last one was definitely more of a slide down than a step. We didn't get to a point overlooking the Rio Grande, because of existing pools of water but it was a nice stretch of the legs and the drive along FM 170 was quite pleasant.

Now back to the trip report - On our second full day in BBNP, we decide to do the hike to the south rim, a 12.5 - 13 mile round trip adventure. There is about a 2000' elevation gain and there are two trails to the south rim so you can do it as a loop.

We consulted with one of the rangers, who said she like to go out on the Pinnacles / Boot Canyon trail and return via Laguna Meadows. The Pinnacles trail has the steeper sections and the Laguna meadows is more gradual so she opted for the easier on your knees descent - sounded good to us so we followed her pattern.

The Pinnacles trail does climb almost 2000' in a little over three miles to the pass between Toll mountain and Emory Peak so it is a good climb. There were, however, a few interspersed, relatively flat sections which helped break up the effort. The trail had a nice amount of shade - oaks, pines, juniper.

After going over the pass, the trails levels out with wonderful views. As we looked down we spotted a pair of Acorn Woodpeckers in the treetops below us - they were fun to watch and such pretty birds.

A short while later the trail to Emory Peak goes off to the right - and for those who like to climb 1000' in 1 mile - this is your kind of trail - we decided to pass on the side trip.

The trail now becomes the Boot Canyon trail and winds its way through Boot Canyon. This is a wonderfully forested part of the hike with some water in pools along the trail. Besides the Pinon, Oak and Juniper, there are Bigtooth Maples, Quaking Aspen, Douglas Firs and Arizona Cypress - relics from much earlier times when the climate was cooler and moister. Now this is one of the few places left that are still cool enough and moist enough to support these species. Boot Canyon is a special place and it was my favorite part of the hike, even over the expansive views to the south from the rim.

We continued on the Boot Canyon trail til we reached the South Rim. From the south rim you can see forever or so it seems. The trail on the southeast rim was closed at this time due to peregrine falcon nesting. We had hoped maybe to see some but no luck (didn't see the Colima Warbler either) but we did see some amazing swallows playing and diving along the cliffs.

After eating our lunch (P&Js followed by fig newtons) we continued along the South Rim trail, meeting up with the Laguna Meadows trail. Along the way we spotted some Carmen Mountains White Tail deer and saw a Chisos Mountain Claret Cup Cactus in bloom (as well as numerous boisterous Mexican Jays).

The Laguna Meadows trail does not have shade like the Pinnacles / Boot Canyon trails and while the temperature was in the low sixties this was not a problem, but in a warmer time of year (or on a warmer day) I think I would much rather be descending in the cooling shade of the Boot Canyon / Pinnacles trails. At one point about a mile and a half from the end of the trail, you actually enter an area where the trail passes through an area of black sand and you can feel the increase in the ambient temperature on this stretch.

It took us a little over three hours going and a little under three hours for the return trip with about a 45 minute lunch break. It was a great hike, especially the stretch through Boot Canyon!

Well this is all for now but I promise to return tomorrow and finish up with our journey home via Marathon, Ft Davis and Marfa.


Toucan2 Nov 10th, 2010 03:33 PM

Did you ever come back via a different thread? I was enjoying your report, even though I came to it belatedly. Big Bend is on my wish list, I love reading trip reports about it.

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