Sunday Hikes: Santa Elena Canyon

There are many canyons formed by the Rio Grande in Big Bend. One of the largest and most impressive is the Santa Elena Canyon on the west side of the national park. The hike starts off in a little wooded area with small trees and grass that have grown on the banks of the Rio Grande.

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Afterwards you hop down onto the little beach and cross the Terlingua Creek via a bridge made of small sticks by hikers that don’t want their shoes wet. From here it starts a steep climb of switchbacks up the canyon wall and then peaks and slowly dwindles downward to the same level as the river again. There are also a couple signs describing the plant life growing on the canyon walls.

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The trail goes squished between the canyon wall and the river for a little but before dead ending at a large boulder. The canyon is quiet and echoes a lot and despite being a popular hike it feels very peaceful.

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The parking lot fills up very quickly so you might want to get there early in the day if you want to not stress about all the cars but I think the best time to visit is midday when the sun is above the canyon and does not cast too many shadows.

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Thanks! – Josh

Camping: Chisos Basin Campground, Big Bend National Park

The Chisos Basin Campground is one of three frontcountry campgrounds in Big Bend National Park. There are 60 campsites (26 are reservable online), restrooms, and water. The campground is a well maintained typical National Park campground. All sites are $14 and don’t have RV hooks ups. It is a short but steep walk up to the park lodge, visitor center, and camp store where you can find all the snacks, equipment, souvenirs, and information you can handle. What really makes the campground great are the views! Most sites have a great view through “The Window” looking down to the desert below and on the other side you have the steep cliffs of the Chisos Mountains rising 2,000 feet above you. Overall this is the perfect frontcountry campground to me being small, having restrooms, immediate access to trails, great views, and fairly inexpensive!

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My tent with the Window behind

coffee Making coffee with a Butte

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Sunset behind the Window

P.S. Thanks to Big Bend being a Dark Sky Park you can see the stars extremely well from anywhere in the park including the Chisos Basin despite its close proximity to the lodge. So if you catch a clear night you will be enjoying the stars from your Chisos Basin campground!

Thanks! -Josh

Sunday Hikes: Burro Spring Trail

The Burro Spring Trail is a 2 mile out and back trail in Big Bend National Park. It is mostly flat and the trailhead is in the same parking lot as the Lower Burro Mesa Pouroff trail. Despite it’s short length this hike is often looked over and forgotten about.

It takes you into the Chihuahuan desert of Big Bend where in the springtime all of the cactus flowers bloom beautifully. The trail wanders past a small half bowl shaped valley created by the mesa dropping off into the lower desert. There are so many different plants and animals (mainly birds) in this small area that makes you forget you’re in the desert (but then the hot sun reminds you again).

My first time hiking this trail surprised me with the desert beauty it had to show off and I found myself smiling as a looked into the valley with pretty much no one else around. The trail then descends slightly until coming to a dead end above the Burro Spring which is in somewhat of a hole that fills during the rainy season and overflows to the small creek bed below with a couple trees growing among the desert plants. This is a great spot to eat a snack or make some coffee while gazing off at the Santa Elena Canyon in the distance.

Once you’ve had your fill of spring chills, the hike back to the trailhead is a short mile and it it very likely you’ll have that mile all to yourself to really take in the desert and enjoy it. Once back at the trailhead I really recommend hiking the nearby Upper and Lower Burro Mesa Pouroff trails, they are some of my favorite hikes to do in the park. Upper Burro Mesa Trail

Thanks! – Josh

Sunday Hikes: Cattail Falls

Located in Big Bend National Park is Cattail Falls, the tallest waterfall in Texas (When it is actually flowing). If you look on any maps you won’t see waterfall listed though. This is because most of the water from the Chisos Mountains drains from Cattail Falls, making it an essential contributor to the survival of the barren desert below. With that in mind and with increasing traffic to the falls, the National Park Service decided to block the dirt road leading up to the two mile round trip hike to the falls and back as well as leaving it off all maps in order to protect the fragile area from over visitation. It is still open for visitation but you have to hike a little bit further and know how to find it.

On my third visit to the park I figured out how to get there and with that being one of the few things I haven’t been to in the park, I had to go! The hike begins on a gated off dirt road across the street from the Sam Nail Ranch. There is very limited parking here (especially when big RVs decide to stop at the pull off for lunch) so you’ll want to get there early in the day. Another good reason to start hiking early is the heat. Big Bend is hot all year round with winter highs reaching into the 80s regularly and occasionally  hanging out above 90F. This hike has pretty much no tree cover until you arrive at the oasis created by the falls so be sure to bring plenty of water and some cool sunglasses. We started our hike on probably the hottest day of our trip with the sun rising high above the Chisos.

Soon after starting along the dirt road we passed a construction vehicle that was out in the open but invisible from the road. We kept on hiking past the big yellow Volvo and down the desert road.

This trail takes your from the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive and towards the Chisos Mountains making it hard to not stare up and admire the huge cliffs as the shadows constantly change from the sun rising. While hiking and looking up at the mountains, I noticed a big bird chilling on one of the big agave stalks and took some pictures before it flew off.

Over 400 species of bird visit Big Bend at some point in the year so I had a hard time pinning it down but I’d guess it is a falcon of some sort. The road continues through the desert and passes through a couple arroyos with a couple trees around giving a tiny bit of shade. Maybe a mile and a half in, the road narrows into a trail and this is where the first sign for the waterfall appears.

After this the trail takes you down into a small oasis with a very large tree growing. This is a good spot to take a break if you need to since it is much cooler and much shadier than the rest of the trail. There is also a sign describing the waterfall here.

From the little oasis there is about a mile (It felt like less than a mile to me) to the falls. The trail is pretty much entirely vertical except for right here as you climb up some stairs from the oasis back up into the hot desert. The trail takes you up into Cattail canyon where the the plant  life thrives and many animals travel to to drink. I was hoping to see a Mexican Black Bear here since they supposedly frequent this area but I guess they were avoiding me because there were no bears sadly.

The trail takes you over some rocks and under a tree or two. Once the waterfall was in sight there are some more rocks to climb over to get up close.

The waterfall was just a small trickle from the canyon above but impressive still to see what just a little water can do. It was green all over and plants found nowhere else in the park can be found here!

I climbed around and found a nice big boulder to brew some coffee on while enjoying the little oasis we had all to ourselves. It was probably 45 minutes until someone else came along right when we were getting ready to head out. The hike back went by quickly as usual as I enjoyed being on a nice desert hike in the sun while back home in Atlanta it was getting ready to snow.

I would definitely encourage you to visit Cattail Falls just make sure to pack out what you bring and don’t swim in the pool created by the waterfall!

Big Bend’s Iconic “Window”

Thanks! – Josh

Star Pictures

I have been lucky enough to see the Milky Way on multiple occasions in the last couple years. The first time I saw was in Arches National Park and I could have stared at the sky all night long, watching the stars rise higher as the night got later and getting excited at the occasional shooting star. I feel the same way every time I see it again and recently I’ve been trying to get some pictures of the stars. In September (on my birthday actually) I got some decent pictures in Big Bend National Park. Some of them are a little blurry but you can see the stars pretty well! I hope to improve my night sky photography and will keep posting pictures on here if I get any good ones!

Thanks! – Josh

Picture of the Day:  Sunset in Big Bend National Park 

This picture was taken in Big Bend National Park on New Year’s Day! It’s such a great memory to have spent a holiday at a National Park. I definitely recommend! That night we did a small hike and enjoyed some sunset and star views! It was exciting to start off the new year in nature, opposed to a city style celebration! – Anya

Sunday Hikes: Upper Burro Mesa Pour-Off Trail

It was our first night in Big Bend National Park. We had set up camp in Terilingua and it was getting dark but we were so excited to finally be there after 20 hours of driving so we picked a random trail on our map and drove towards it. The sun setting on the Chisos Mountains turned them a beautiful glowing orange.


We arrived at the trailhead after dark but that didn’t stop us as we strapped on our headlamps and headed down the trail. The trailhead is off of the Ross Maxwell Scenic drive on the west side of the park and the trail immediately slopes downward into the desert. Soon after we started we noticed some tarantula holes in the ground and after that Elijah (our friend and the only spider lover on the trip) was inspecting every little hole on the ground in hopes of seeing a big hairy arachnid (we never saw one). The trail carries downward before taking you through some large rocks down into the wash that creates the trail. We followed the trail with big smiles on our faces while Elijah jumped at every possible spider. The trail took a slight turn to the right as a Canyon formed around us and we noticed an arch on the left side of the Canyon that looked like it belonged in Utah! Just after that we heard the loud noise of rocks falling and as we looked on the left side of the Canyon was an Addax (the cousin of a bighorn sheep from Africa that was introduced in Texas for hunting but can now be found in the wild). It stared at us from it’s cliff as if it was stalking our every move. It was exhilarating but also somewhat terrifying. The Addax loudly grunted at us like a deer and continued to watch us. We stared back at it and tried to take pictures despite it being quite dark out. We admired our new friend for about ten minutes before another loud grunt came from the other side of the Canyon and we saw another Addax looking down at us. We felt like we were being surrounded with one on each Canyon wall. They kept their eyes on us while grunting to one another (presumably about which way to eat us would be best). After a little while longer our stand off ended and they decided to go to bed I guess and we carried on down our trail.

With adrenaline pumping we reached the end of the trail with a steep rock scramble down into a large cave formed by the wash we had been using as a trail. Once in the cave we walked towards and opening in the other end that went straight down probably 100ft and is where the water exits it’s cave. We looked out the window and saw a light on the ground and shouted hello and our fellow night hiker said hi back! We sat down in the cave, ate a snack and talked about how amazing this trip was even though it had just began. After about 15 minutes we headed back for the car and sadly didn’t see our Addax friends or tarantulas. At one point Anya (my sister) looked up and realized the stars were coming out and so we turned off our lights and looked at them for a minute. After that we kept tripping and stopping because we wanted to look at the stars every time the clouds would open up. We got back to our car and look up at the sky for a bit and then went back to our campsite to rest up for the day ahead of us! There couldn’t have been a better way to introduce me to Big Bend and I can’t help getting excited thinking about our hike!

Thanks for reading – Josh

Sunday Hikes: Ward Spring Trail

The Ward Spring Trail is a 2.9 mile out and back trail in Big Bend National Park. The trail takes you through the Chihuahuan Desert off the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive towards the Chisos Mountains. At the end of the trail you will find a true desert oasis with small oak trees growing beside the small spring-fed creek. This hike is one of the many small things in Big Bend that makes the area so amazing. Also there are some pretty cool rock formations along the trail. 


Thanks – Josh

Sunday Hikes: Lost Mine Trail

The Lost Mine Trail is one of the first things you will pass driving up the Chisos Basin Road from the desert to the mountains in Big Bend National Park. At 4.8 miles round trip and 1135 feet in elevation change, Lost Mine Trail is a moderately difficult trail but despite that it is one of the most popular trails in Big Bend. The parking lot is very small for how much traffic the trail gets and by noon cars are parked all along the side of the road near the trailhead. So if you want to get a good parking spot, I recommend starting this trail early. We woke up at the Rio Grande Village Campground before sunrise and meandered our way up the 25 mile road to the Chisos Basin (stopping at scenic views and roadside exhibits along the way) and arrived at the trailhead on a slightly overcast Thursday morning. Just before reaching the parking lot, a large mule deer crossed the road right in front of our car. We hopped out of the car, grabbed our backpacks, and excitedly hit the trail for our first hike in the Chisos Basin. The trail begins with long stretches of trail going slightly upward before switching back on itself. Within 5 minutes of hiking, the same mule deer crossed in front of us again on the trail and carried on up into the trees. This part of the trail is very cool because it shows of the diversity of Big Bend’s plant life. There are pines, junipers, and fir trees growing alongside prickly pear cactus and agave as well as wildflowers that I’m sure bloom beautifully in the spring.

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Desert and Mountain plants growing alongside one another

After this the trail heads east past the pine canyon before steadily climbing upwards via many switchbacks (this is where most of the elevation change is). The whole hike grows increasingly beautiful as you keep going and every time I stopped to look at the canyons below I was amazed of how the view just kept getting better and better. Once you are about 30 minutes from the top there is a huge rock that lots of people were taking pictures underneath. Pretty soon after that the trail straightens up towards it’s peak. This part of the trail reminded me of Angel’s Landing in Zion the way the trail went across the large rock spine but this trail was much wider than Angel’s Landing. We soon reached the rocky end of the trail and sat down to relax and look at the views around us. After this we descended the trail back to our car, excited for the next hike and well pleased with this one. When in Big Bend this hike is a must do and is worth the effort to reach the top. Also I didn’t find the lost mine so let me know if you do

Thanks for reading. – Josh

Evolution of the trail’s view looking towards the Chisos Basin

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