Sunday Hikes: Chihuahuan Desert Nature Trail

I love nature hikes! They are always short and easy hikes loaded with information about the ecosystem around you! The Chihuahuan Desert Nature Trail in Big Bend National Park is no exception to this. The .4 mile trail located at the Dugout Wells area meanders through the desert and points out the abundance of life found living under the scorching desert sun. The hike begins from the small dirt parking lot with vault toilets and a couple picnic tables scattered about.

The trail’s first sign explains the differences between the park’s three types of prickly pear cactus. These cactus (or cacti, maybe cactuses) are found everywhere in the park and this little sign gives you a chance to impress nearby hikers by being able to tell them they are looking at a blind prickly pear.

A few more signs throughout the hike show the ocotillo that sprout out like tentacles from the sand and different snakes and rabbits (I’ve never not seen a rabbit hiding under a cactus on this trail). All while you are learning of the flora, fauna, and history of this specific spot’s past as a pioneer homestead, the Chisos Mountain Range stands strongly in the distance.

The Chisos are very uniquely Big Bend to me and their cliffs are special and are unlike any other place I’ve been. Any angle you see these mountains from it looks completely different but still like it belongs in Big Bend (in case you didn’t notice I really love Big Bend). Anyways the trail finishes up through a small oasis with a large oak and a couple palm trees that are out of place in this desert but explains why this spot made for a good homestead.

From this trail you can drive south to Boquillas or north to the Chisos but either way there is adventure to be found in the Big Bend desert that you know a little bit more about now thanks to this short trail!

Thanks! – Josh

Camping: El Malpais, Joe Skeen Campground

El Malpais is an area about an hour west of Albuquerque, New Mexico on I-40. El Malpais is made up of a National Monument run buy the National Park Service and a National Conservation Area run by the Bureau of Land Management. Backcountry camping is allowed in some remote parts of the National Monument but the only campground is the Joe Skeen Campground in the National Conservation Area (you don’t really notice the difference between the NPS and BLM land, it’s all the same pretty desert terrain). The Joe Skeen Campground has ten sites with a fire pit and covered picnic table at each one. There are also pit toilets in the campground. Despite being described as “primitive” (because there is no running water). This campground is well maintained and very clean. It sits below a large cliff with views that span the entire area if you are brave enough to climb up. This campground is also typically empty. We stayed here 4th of July weekend and there was one other person camping. The dirt road of off NM117 that leads to the campground is short but has a dip in the road that would be difficult for small cars to traverse if it was flooded. I have driven it in a Jeep Wrangler and a Honda Accord and neither had issues. This campground is awesome and is one of my favorite campgrounds to stay in. Partly because El Malpais is one of my favorite places ever and it is in my favorite state but it’s also just a great little desert campground. Camping at the Joe Skeen Campground will cost you the hefty price of zero dollars.

This picture was taken at night but ended up looking like an old film picture. You can kind of see some stars in the top left corner.

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

Sunday Hikes: Honaker Trail

If you drive north from Mexican Hat, Utah and turn left on highway 261 and then take another left towards Goosenecks State Park and then turn right on the first dirt road and then keep left at the dilapidated water tower thing and then park at the top of the big hill and walk about a mile down the rocky road to were some resemblance of a hiking trail takes you to the edge of the canyon where the number 147 is painted onto the rock then you know you are at the Honaker Trail. At least that’s how I hoped I knew as I descended into a canyon on what might be a trail.



This trail was built during the Utah’s gold rush with the idea of bringing water up from the canyon for the hardworking miners. Unfortunately Utah’s gold rush came and went quickly and the trail was left unused for sixty years until geologists decided to take a look at the earth exposed by the San Juan River. Today it is used by hikers to explore the wild west! Not too long after hopping down some large rocks the trail seemed much more traily and made us feel better that we weren’t just following where a bighorn slid down the canyon. This hike is rocky and has long and winding switchbacks that give you many gorgeous views of the goosenecks of the canyon. 


Somewhere around what I would guess is halfway there is a large flat rocky rectangle that stretches out from the canyon wall and gives some more nice views. In the middle of the rock is a two foot wide gap that drops down maybe twenty feet. Despite being such a short hop we were too scared to make the leap (I’m a chicken).



So we moved on down a sketchy rock staircase to the next set of long switchbacks. This trail is on only five miles round trip but the hot Utah sun blazing down on you adds a couple miles I think. Once reaching the canyon floor you will find it very sandy with plenty of bugs living down by the only water for miles. You might be tempted to hop in the cool San Juan river after your 85F degree hike but it’s striking resemblance to chocolate milk with water spiders in it will deter that thought. I climbed on a big rock where a lizard was sitting while Erin took pictures of stuff and the lizard glared at me for taking its spot. After some time chilling at the bottom we had to make the hike back up before the sun set too fast on us. The hike back up is steep and rocky but went by quickly. We stopped to take pictures often and made sure we drank plenty of water. I kept an eye out for bighorn sheep but didn’t see any sadly. From the top of the canyon you can spot Monument Valley in the distance despite it being maybe thirty miles away!


We finished up our hike and got back to camp just in time for the sun to set on us and the stars to come out and fill the sky. This hike is one of my favorites for many reasons, it isn’t too long but takes some effort, it is in the middle of nowhere desert, and it is beautiful! If you decide to hike the Honaker Trail make sure you bring plenty of water and snacks as well!
Thanks! – Josh

Mexican Hat

About twenty miles north of famous Monument Valley is the town of Mexican Hat. Named after a rock formation that looks like an upside down stereotypical sombrero (like the one Speedy Gonzales wears). On a recent road trip we got to stop by and take some pics in the Utah heat! 




Picture of the Day: Deer in Great Sand Dunes NP


These deer were grazing in the field by the sand dunes and we crashed their breakfast to take pictures so one of them decided to crash our morning coffee! 


Thanks! – Josh

Sunday Hikes: Wildcat Trail

The Wildcat Trail is a 3.2 mile loop in Monument Valley Tribal Park on the Utah-Arizona state line. I have wanted to visit Monument Valley for a while now and finally got the chance on a recent road trip! 


We started on the trail around 11am despite it technically being closed in the middle of the day due to “heat waves”. The trail is very sandy in the beginning and will fill your shoes if you don’t have boots on (or high top converse might do the job as well). The trail is marked pretty well with little arrow signs pointing you towards the trail when it gets lost in one of the many arroyos. Within 30 minutes of starting we were sweating to death but still enjoying the iconic views. 


The hike takes you around and in-between the buttes and lets you feel like John Wayne (if John Wayne payed $20 to park his horse for a couple hours). Despite the sun beating down on us and being probably one water bottle short of what we needed, this hike was great and there were few people on the trail (probably because it was 100 degrees). I love a good desert hike and Utah definitely showed off its best weather with scrawling blue skies to compliment the red dirt. 


The last 50 feet of the trail is a steady incline of loose sand that felt easy to walk down but going up was a struggle for sure. We walked back into the parking lot from the trail and to our car for a sandwich lunch. The Wildcat is easy to pass over because of the desert heat but is well worth it and gives you views that you can’t get from your car! 

“Monument Valley is where God put the West” – John Wayne 


Thanks! – Josh

Kelso Sand Dunes

The Mojave Desert stretches from Southern California to the southwest corner of Utah and takes up almost 50,000 square miles. We recently visited the Mojave National Preserve while driving from Joshua Tree National Park to Las Vegas. We had been hiking a bunch that past four days and were pretty tired so we decided to hike at the Kelso Sand Dunes. The sign at the trailhead said the trail was 3 miles to the top of the 600ft high Kelso Dune and back but we thought it looked like much less.


It was high noon in the desert with barely a cloud in the sky. We set out towards the big sand dune and about half a mile in the sand dunes began to get so tall it was almost a struggle to get up them. After the next half mile we were all tired and really hot with the temperature being close to 90F that day. Being low on water we were tempted to turn back but we wanted to conquer the giant sand dune ahead of us so we kept going. We reached the bottom of the largest sand dune and Anya decided to sit down in the sand while dad and I attempted to climb the sand dune. We followed the very hard to see trail up the side of the sand dune. Some parts of the sand were black and a little easier to walk on for me but dad wasn’t wearing shoes and burned the bottoms of his feet on the sun baked sand.


I reached the crest of  the sand dune’s ridge and the peak was in sight. Dad who seemed like the heat was getting to him sat on the sand for a minute and drank the little water we had left and we finished the last stretch to the top. The views at the top were beautiful and we could see pretty far in every direction. We agreed the view made the trek up definitely worth it as we took pictures and enjoyed our sand dune conquering.


The next step was getting down via the steep 600 foot slide to the bottom of the dune. You can’t really slide down on your bottom (I tried) but if you walk down and lift your feet quick enough it feels like you are gliding down. This was a lot of fun to me and I would have gone back to the top just to do it again!


I reached Anya and the bottom and dad soon followed. We all began going back but dad decided to run back so he got there before us but when we arrived we all hopped in the car, chugged some water, and dumped out the pounds of sand in our shoes. Despite being a little more strenuous than expected I really enjoyed this unique and beautiful 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