The gift of time – Big Bend – Part 2

After our two days of camping, we wanted to go backpacking in Big Bend.

The OML ends up as the obvious choice for many people. As spectacular as both Joan and I found the Chisos Mountains and nearby areas in the past, we both wanted to see a different part of the park.

And that part of the park?

There’s a mesa on the western end of the park, not directly connected by roads, with some rudimentary trails, a spider work of unofficial horseback trails, and lots of cross-country opportunities on the mesa itself. The rewards of backpacking on the mesa included stunning views to the Rio Grande and into Mexico itself. And lots of solitude. The issuing ranger, somewhat new to the park, had never been there herself.

The terrain is rougher than the park proper, and fewer water sources. But the scenery, isolation, and relative obscurity called this area to Joan and me.

We packed up our temporary desert home and enjoyed a sunrise light show as a memorable last sight from our camp.

The backpacking started at an odd parking lot near employee housing of a golf course/spa and started on the desert floor. Why odd? It seemed less of a trailhead for a national park and more equipment storage/ATV staging area. Hidden in plain sight in many ways.

But we soon left the golf course behind and walked on the desert floor. I imagine before the golf course and other Air BnB style housing (along with Jeep rentals, coffee shops, etc.), this area probably seemed more remote. But we soon left those Moab-like trappings behind and enjoyed the scenery of the desert in the relatively cool temperatures.

We soon started the steep climb to the start of the mesa proper. The views of the golf course and surrounding buildings seemed more obscure. As we found out on the hike out, this hike seemed a relatively popular route for many in the small Air BnB town sandwiched between Big Bend National Park and the nearby Big Bend Ranch State Park.

Though a short and steep trail, I can see why the local businesses direct their clients here. In addition to not needing any payment of the parks’ entrance fees, the hike gives you commanding views from the mesa to the Rio Grande and across to Mexico.

We fully expected to have to haul our water for the entire trip. However, we ran into a grateful bonus with the tinajas containing ample water. We could drink greedily, cool ourselves off, and luxuriate, knowing that both to and from along our route, we’d have plenty of water.

PCO Joan.

We soon reached a junction and stashed most gear for an extended trip to an overlook we did not want to miss. Unlike our first day with some coolness in the air, we could feel the temps steadily climbing to the predicted high 80s. Even for the extreme southern part of Texas, unusually warm in December. And confirmed our idea of a one-night backpacking trip before it got closer to the predicted temps of nearly 100F.

The view from the junction area and down to the canyon bottom proved as magnificent as anything we’ve seen in the park.

With mainly carrying water and overall lighter packs, we made our way down reasonably easily to our intended overlook known for its view of the rapids navigated by “river rats.”

PCO Joan.

We soon reached the end of an NPS-designated trail with Mexico in sight. We spotted the well-known formation of “The Sentinel” on the other side of the river.

From there, we followed a network of horse-packer trails, map reading, and GPS to reach the overlook of the now-diminished rapids.

We thought about how just upriver we strolled on our first day.

Except we did not see anyone. Only some cairns and a horseshoe gave any indication that people come this way.

After taking in the view, we headed back. As typical, we only saw the cactus and some locals.

Daylight’s scarce this time of the year, and we made it to our stashed gear just as the light show began its opening act.

Our maps showed some more possible tinaja water sources, and we had notations of potential camping spots. As the sun started to set, we found not only water but a suitable campsite used by horse packers in the past.

PCO Joan.

And would give us among the most fantastic sunrise and sunset views we’d ever see.


We enjoyed our camp, and only a twinkling light or two across the way dotting the Mexican mountains gave any indication of other people near us.

And the morning? Ma Nature did not disappoint with the sunrise show.

With the predicted warmer weather, Joan and I decided to do an out and back to the top of the mesa in the cool morning light, hike back the way we came, and get to the truck earlier to make camp for the third portion of the trip.

But what a hike in the morning light!

We made our way back to our tent, grabbed the gear, and hiked out as the temperatures continued to climb. Joan, in particular, seemed grateful for the change in plans. And, of course, her handy umbrella.

We made our way back and saw some vacationing people making their way up to the mesa lip. With our full packs and well-worn outdoor gear, I can imagine the impression we gave to the Air BnB set. 😉

But the Air BnB area did have a handy RV park that allowed us to take some showers, restock the ice (and the beer) and get ready for the next couple of nights in Big Bend.

Once at our campsite, we enjoyed the view, the shade, and knowing we’d have plenty of water in time for upcoming 100F temps. And grateful we’d not have to carry that water on our backs!

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2 years ago

Great stuff Paul! Big Bend has been my favorite desert destination for nearly 50 years (I have also spent a lot of time in your neck of the desert too including working one season in Moab) and it continues to call me back.

Last edited 2 years ago by Alex
Ellie Thomas
2 years ago

Well, I’ve never given much thought to backpacking in Texas, but it is now on my “list.” 🙂 Great shots! Thanks for sharing.