Big Bend National Park, Texas
Big Bend National Park, Texas
It's easy to feel like the last person standing when you visit the desert abyss that is Big Bend National Park. So vast, quiet and wild are the park's 801,000 acres, it can be easy to ignore the life and natural activity that is at constant work in these environs. With an average yearly visitation of less than 300,000, Big Bend is one of the least visited national parks, and yet its diversity of plants, animals and geology make it one of the most fascinating.
McDonald ObservatoryEvery year, approximately 60,000 visitors visit the McDonald Observatory, located 140 miles northwest of Big Bend National Park. Attend a fun “star party” at night or take a guided tour during the day for a solar viewing, plus explore the exhibits and see the 362-inch Hobby-Eberly Telescope, the observatory’s largest telescope. 960 1280
Big Bend National ParkBig Bend National Park holds national significance as the largest protected area of desert, known as the Chihuahuan, in North America. This massive area, larger than Rhode Island, is home to more than 1,200 plant species, more than 450 bird species, 56 species of reptiles and 75 species of mammals. The area is also a hot spot for archeologists, who have discovered Native American artifacts estimated to be 9,000 years old. 960 1280
Petroleum MuseumStop by the Petroleum Museum in Midland, TX. Through interactive exhibits, visitors learn about all aspects of the petroleum industry, from geology, the formation of oil, oil exploration, pipelining, marketing and refining to the economic and political impact of the industry. 960 1280
Lajitas Golf ResortEnjoy first-class accommodations at Lajitas Golf Resort. Located in Lajitas, TX, this resort has several topnotch amenities, including the Maverick Ranch RV Park and Agave Spa. And there’s not a shortage of fun activities to keep you busy. In addition to golfing, the resort provides visitors the opportunity to go rafting, horseback riding, mountain biking, hunting, hiking and much more! 960 1280
Annual Mariachi Band ConcertMariachi bands are big in Texas thanks to the state’s large Mexican population. Midland’s Annual Mariachi Band Concert and Workshop attracts locals and tourists alike eager to learn techniques, style and music from mariachi band members who play the guitar, vihuela, guitarron and trumpet. 960 1280
Airpower MuseumTake a trip back in time to see historic aircrafts from World War II, on display at the Airpower Museum in Midland, TX. The museum’s exhibits include the Aircraft and Vehicle Display, American Combat Hall of Fame, the Nose Art Gallery and the George Bush Exhibit, chronicling the 41st president’s aviator experiences in World War II. 960 1280
Gourmet River TripGo adventuring! Take a gourmet river trip through Big Bend National Park. Experience the park’s beauty while you travel along the Rio Grande, enjoying tasty meals that may include marinated shrimp, rack of lamb, quail and beef Wellington -- and that’s just for breakfast! 960 1280
Texas' Hidden Gem: Big Bend 11 Photos
Big Bend National ParkBig Bend National Park is a paradise for stargazers. The park is so remote that light pollution is among the lowest in the entire US. Here, you can clearly see the Milky Way and a shooting star! Visit photographer Nick Parisse’s website to see more of his photos. 960 1280
Chisos MountainsHigh in the Chisos Mountains, a hiker surveys the land as he decides which trail to take. Big Bend is often referred to as “3 parks in one” because of its size and diverse environments -- mountains, desert and river. 960 1280
Rio GrandeA narrow stretch of the Rio Grande acts as a natural border between the US and Mexico. This view from Santa Elena Canyon, located in the southern region of the park, shows the US on the left and Mexico on the right. The Chisos Mountains are also visible in the distance. 960 1280
Guadalupe Mountains National ParkGuadalupe Mountains National Park is one of America’s least-visited parks. It’s hard to understand why with unobstructed views like this. 960 1280
Devil's Hall HikeThe spectacular hike into “Devil’s Hall” brings visitors around mountains and through a dry river channel. In an effort not to unnecessarily detract from the natural views, rock cairns act as trail markers. 960 1280
White Sands National MonumentWhite Sands National Monument offers visitors several recreational activities, including picnicking, hiking, camping, scenic drives and sledding. 960 1280
Bordered on its southern edges by the Rio Grande River, comprised of 98% desert and dimpled with just enough mountains to keep things interesting, Big Bend is indeed a world of contrasts. In Big Bend, visitors find a geologic history that began some 300 million years ago when the area was an ocean trough, continued through the eras of tectonic collisions and mountain building to the days when a shallow sea covered the land, and resulted in the current state of desert and mountain. Big Bend was a different world back then, and fossils from these eras include a 50-foot-long crocodile and a flying reptile with a 35-foot wingspan. In fact, after the last ice age, nomadic hunters could be found chasing after the elephant, bison and camels that called this region home.
A varying climate and altitudes that range from 1,800 feet by the river to 7,800 feet in the Chisos Mountains help over 1,200 plant species and a range of animal species to thrive. More cacti (over 60 kinds), birds (at least 450 species) and reptiles (67 species -- more than the Everglades!) exist in Big Bend than in any other park. In the moister areas of the Chisos, it's even possible to find maple, aspen and Douglas firs. A closer look at the sprawling world of Big Bend will delight visitors in search of a wildly diverse adventure.
Much of the natural landscape in Big Bend is composed of sedimentary rock formed when dust, sand, mud and animal skeletons hardened over millions of years, creating layers. The exposed rock of the park shows evidence of the Paleozoic, Mesozoic, Cenozoic and Cretaceous eras when sediment was being deposited and life beginning to thrive. Some 145 million years ago, a salty sea covered Big Bend and it was the accumulating skeletons and mud that formed the sediment layers and limestone walls of the Santa Elena and Boquilla Canyons. The Chisos Mountain Range is volcanic in nature, rising above surrounding sedimentary rock.
The Big Bend landscape can be easily explored by taking the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive past overlooks, through the Chihuahuan Desert and to Santa Elena Canyon, possibly the park's most scenic point. Popular hikes include the Window Trail in the Basin Area and Boquillas Canyon Trail, which leads hikers to a canyon overlook facing the Mexican town of Boquillas. Visitors spending a few days in the park can explore some of the unpaved roads and untamed backcountry. A dip in the hot springs near Rio Grande Village by night will grant visitors unforgettable views of the great Texas sky, exploding with stars.
Where to Stay
Because of the park's remote location, it is recommended that visitors take advantage of Big Bend National Park's campgrounds. Rio Grande Village lies within Big Bend's borders along the Rio Grande, and offers 100 sites suitable for both tents and RVs. Though no food service is available at the campsite, the Rio Grande Village Store offers groceries, gas, a laundromat and coin-operated showers. Evening programs are available at the Rio Grande Village Amphitheater. Camping in Big Bend is on a first-come, first-serve basis with no reservations.
Nearby Sights/Side Trips
The Rio Grande River snakes along the border of Texas' Big Bend region, slicing canyons into the landscape bordering Big Bend National Park. Big Bend River Tours is the area's oldest river tour outfitter and offers a variety of guided rafting trips along the river satisfying multiple skill levels. From peaceful, half-day tours to an intense 21-day river excursion, guests are sure to have an unforgettable experience.