The gift of time – Big Bend – Part 1

Back in 2017, I went to Big Bend National Park. I did a more extended variation of the fabled Outer Mountain Loop (OML), crossed the Rio Grande, and camped along its river banks.

A memorable trip. And a place I wished to return.

But it’s a remote park and takes a long time to get there.

But with the “gift of time” Joan and I both acquired, we now had the opportunity to spend some time in Big Bend without rushing and go to other places along the way and back.

By coincidence, we both did the OML in the past, and this time we wanted to see different parts of the park. After our drive from southern New Mexico, we made it to the Panther Junction visitor center, procured our backcountry permits, and started our Big Bend jaunt. With the help of the friendly backcountry ranger, we’d get a 6 day/5 night plan –

  • Two nights at a backcountry site
  • A night of backpacking
  • Two nights at another backcountry site

Because of the permit system Big Bend uses, backcountry camping sites get located on 4WD roads that you have to yourself (with no water, amenities such as picnic tables, and you have to pack out TP; food locker included, however.) and zoned backpacking can be on the same permit. And the sites we wanted were not part of the umbrella.

Upon pulling up and seeing our place for the weekend, the vastness, isolation, beauty, and quiet of the Chihuahuan Desert astounded me.

Video courtesy of Joan. As a friend said, you can tell I’m happy “…by the arm movement!”

After settling in a bit, we decided to stretch our legs and go on a couple of quick and well-known hikes.

We hiked the Dorgan Sublett Trail with views of the old homestead, views from the mesa and to the Rio Grande.

We did the hike as strictly a “leg stretcher” hike, but even this short hike gave us a preview of what we’d find captivating about this park so far from our home.

We then used the time near sunset and the Solstice to walk along the Rio Grande and the popular Santa Elana Canyon trail. When we pulled up and saw the fair amount of NO PARKING signs along the road’s shoulder, I realized just how popular this trail is in this otherwise low-key park. Luckily we decided to see this trail mid-week, just before Christmas, and at a later hour to take advantage of the late afternoon light

At the boat ramp near the trailhead. A packrafting trip seems enticing along this river. Mexico is mere feet away.

Once at the trail proper, we saw the clouds above with a unique rainbow pattern – an excellent prelude to our stroll.

And at the mouth of the canyon? Magnificent.

We made our way further down the trail and went about far as we could go on foot. And took joy in knowing our near-future backpacking destination is literally up the canyon.

We made it back to our isolated camp along the dirt road and enjoyed Ma Nature’s light show as we made dinner and enjoyed some beverages.

At night we had a visit from one of the residents that reminded me of a friend from my past.

A kangaroo rat. Not the best photo, but I did not have my camera handy.

We woke up to a cool desert morning but one that rapidly warmed up—our last morning wearing puffies while enjoying morning coffee as well.

Coffee, maps, and the desert landscape. A pretty fine morning. PCO Joan.

In contrast to our first day, our second day meant an obscure trail not far from the camp that gave us expansive views and even that most wonderful of all sights in the desert – a spring!

Joan and I particularly enjoyed the plant life so different from our High Desert home on the Colorado Plateau.

Some appropriately named Christmas cholla.

After making our way through the desert, we saw our landmark in the distance.

Chimney Rock stood up from the desert floor and has long been a point of interest in this area.

As indicated by the petroglyphs and pictographs surrounding the base of the rock:

The other end of this trail is a paved road with a kiosk that shows these very petroglyphs. In other words, not as obscure as my usual images. Still very interesting, however!

And the improved tinaja holes:

And we spotted something that reminded us of home.

At this point, we turned around and made our way back along the quiet trail with no signs of people other than ourselves.

We arrived back at camp and settled in for another evening light show.

And prepared for the next stage of our trip when we’d transition from a remote camping trip to an even more remote backpacking trip.

Even on the first two days of our trip, Big Bend revealed itself as a special place. The expansiveness, the spectacular scenery, the subtly of the plant life, and seeing where the desert meets the river all make the drive from our house in Moab more than worth roaming the vastness of this area.

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments