Long before Texas’ Big Bend country was made into a national park it was populated by a handful of small ranches. In 1900 Martin Solis discovered cinnabar near his farm and quickly tried to capitalize on it. Mining continued here sporadically until the creation of Big Bend National Park in 1944. The mine was fairly unprofitable in it’s day but has become a benefit to all future generation as a protected historical site. It is now an eerie reminder of the past in the heart of Big Bend’s backcountry.
We visited the derelict mining town after a long day of exploring backroads and canyons on the park’s east side. From the Rio Grande Village area we took the River Road East towards the center of the park. We set up camp at the Fresno backcountry site (the only place you can camp near Mariscal Mine) around 5:30pm and as the sun was setting we rushed to explore the mine.
At this point I will say that purchasing the Guide to Big Bend’s Dirt Roads book from any of the camp stores of visitors centers in the park. This book is a well of information for all the parks roads and it has a nice map of the Mariscal Mine complex telling you what each building is and what it was used for.
The hike begins in a small dirt parking area with rock houses scattered around where the former miners once lived. There is a sign at the trailhead with a warning not to touch anything because of the mercury that has soaked into the bricks. Up on the hill we could see the mine blending in with its surroundings as it is made of rock from the hill it sits on. The trail up to the mine is loose and rocky dirt so we had to be careful not to slip while trying to take pictures and hike at the same time. The largest structure in front is one of the many furnaces used to melt down the mercury containing cinnabar ore.
The trail curves past the large furnace and gains some elevation to get a view of the complex from above and to see the mines themselves. Large deep and dark pits with metal grates blocking entrance. some went like a doorway into the mountainside and some were just a hole in the ground dropping vertically to the center of the earth (or close to it at least). The only other people out there, some kids and two adults with them were dropping rocks and sticks into the largest mine shaft and counting before it hit the bottom.
We reached the end of the trail at a high point overlooking the mine with great views of Boquillas Canyon and the east side of the park as well as the setting sun and west side of the park. After enjoying the view for a bit we started to head back down, peeking in the mines along the way.
We spent about an hour hiking and exploring the Mariscal Mine area with the trail being about 2 miles out and back. The mine is in the middle of nowhere and takes an hour to drive to but it is well worth the trip!
Thanks! – Josh
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.
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
near Dragoon Arizona
Pictures like the one above make me think of some of the classic cartoons of my youth and the beautiful backdrops of the American West used by the cartoonists drawing my Saturday morning entertainment. I thought it would be interesting to try and identify the exact inspiration for some of my cartoon favorites.
Yogi Bear – Yellowstone National Park. That is obviously way too easy to identify. Jellystone = Yellowstone NP. Not to mention, what a great place to have a picnic.
Wile E Coyote and the Roadrunner – Monument Valley. That beautiful background scenery must be Monument Valley in southern Utah. Interesting side note, Monument Valley is not part of the National Park system. It is actually a Navajo Tribal Park.
Speedy Gonzalez – Saguaro National Park. Every time you see Speedy you see those Saguaro cactus in the background. The Saguaro only grows from Tucson up to the Phoenix area.
Saguaro Cactus in Saguaro National Park
Scooby Doo, Where are You – California. The original hipster detectives must be from California. That whole first season in 1968-1969 was set in California including notable episodes like the Miner 49er, Foulplay in Funland, and the one with the ghost of Captain Cutler in that glowing deep sea dive suit.
Quick Draw McGraw – Southwest Texas. Probably near some abandoned ghost town between Big Bend and Guadalupe National Parks.
Honorable Mention: Bugs Bunny – Albuquerque NM. How can you forget Bugs making that wrong turn in Albuquerque.
Honorable Mention #2: Not a cartoon, but who hasn’t ridden Thunder Mountain at Disneyland or Disneyworld and not seen the resemblance to Bryce Canyon in Utah?
Honorable Mention #3: Not a cartoon of my youth, but the Disney made Cars movie with Lightning McQueen is set on old Hwy 66 somewhere in Arizona. Have you seen Cars Land at California Adventure? Wow!