Big Bend was our “official” first stop on our full-time RVing lifestyle and it did NOT disappoint! It is very remote and you drive for hours through absolutely nothing to get there, but it is worth every mile. It’s hard to picture how large the park itself is when you look at it on a map, but once you drive in and you see you still have an hour to go before getting to the campsite; the vastness of the area starts to sink in. It takes about 2 hours to get from one end to the next.
We arrived mid-day on a Saturday, so we wanted to get some hiking in that day. We set up our camper and headed to the far end of the park. First stop was Santa Elena Canyon. There are 2 roads that lead to the canyon, one is the “scenic route” (which we took on the way out) and the other is an unpaved “off-roading experience.” Definitely not a road for vehicles that aren’t trucks or 4WD. Aaron had a blast driving down it, while I held onto all my extremities and tried to arrive in one piece. The trail was rated “easy” in the guide and for the most part, it was. It’s just a short walk from the parking lot to get to the Rio Grande River, separating the US and Mexico. The river itself isn’t super large and doesn’t flow too rapidly (at this part of it.) I made the mistake of trudging straight into a huge mud pit, instead of following the clues as to where the trail was; mainly the super deep footprints leading to nowhere of others who had made the same mistake. Once I had released myself from the mud trap, we set out along the river to find the trail. The trail is windy and dense to start before you hit the incline. It’s basically straight up to the top of a cliff and back down the other side. Once down the other side, we made our way along the river closer to the back of the canyon. We were fortunate with decent lighting, as we arrived towards the end of the day and got some amazing photos. This hike was definitely worth the long drive out.
On the way back home, we took the “scenic route,” which did not disappoint as we had the most amazing light hitting the mountains as we drove home.
On Sunday, we woke up early to hit the trails. We went up to the Chisos Mountains, which are the southernmost mountain range in the continental US. We hiked the “Window” trail; 5 miles round trip, straight down and then back up. If you depart from the lodge, the first mile down is steeper than the rest of the trail with switchbacks. Otherwise, the trail is pretty gradual, if you depart from the campground. The views were stunning and once we arrived at the “window” we were in awe. This tiny little crack opens up to a huge expanse on the other side. Absolutely stunning and worth the hike. The trek back up was easy enough, until you hit that last mile. It wasn’t THAT bad, but we were sweating and panting once we hit the top. Luckily a cold wind had started to blow, which was refreshing as we hiked back up to the top. The trail was considered “moderate” by the guide.
The Boquillas Canyon Trail is a short hike up a hill that brings you to sweeping views of the windy Rio Grande River and a view of a small Mexican “shanty” looking structure with horses and donkeys across the way. After hiking down the other side of the hill, you come to the shore of the river. The hike isn’t very long but takes you down through a little canyon. As we walked along, we were startled to see a donkey standing in the middle of the trail, just minding his own business, having apparently crossed the river from the Mexican side. He moved up the grassy hill as we approached and watched us walk by. Seeing him was definitely the highlight of the hike! From the road on the drive in/out you can see across the river to the small town of Boquillas. We, unfortunately, didn’t make it across to Mexico, but there is a Port of Entry right there and you can cross over to spend the afternoon in the little town for cold beers and some food (probably not vegan.)
The natural hot springs were one of our favorite experiences in the park. It’s a very shallow “hot-tub” like structure that sits right on the edge of the Rio Grande. Unfortunately, it’s probably one of the most frequented destinations and there are a lot of people enjoying the springs. We frequented the hot springs twice and went later in the day, with the hopes of being by ourselves, but alas, we were not. However, had we been alone, we wouldn’t have known about jumping into the river and swimming down a little ways before walking back to get into the warm springs. We had such a blast! If you can stomach sitting in a shallow tub with a bunch of other people (sometimes a gaggle of teenagers), then absolutely hit this spot.
There were 2 hikes that start from the campsite; The Rio Grande Village Nature Trail and the Hot Springs Trail. The former was a quick little hike near our campsite and the latter is a 6-mile hike all the way to the hot springs. On the nature trail, there is a “lookout” that gives you sweeping views of the Rio Grande, Chisos Mountains, and the Sierra del Carmen mountain range across the border in Mexico. Here, we found a little river rat, called a Nutria, who was super cute, going about his business in the shallow waters. The hot springs trail was pretty strenuous, but we only went about half way before turning around, since it was getting late.
We hit one more trail before our time was up and would not recommend missing the Balanced Rock on the Grapevine Hills Trail. You hike through a little canyon with crazy looking boulders, which are really petrified fire (how cool!) and basically rock climb up to the top. The other side of the mountain of rocks is vast sweeping views of the desert landscape. The Balanced Rock is super cool and is a popular spot for photographers. As we were heading back, we caught a gorgeous sunset over the Chisos Mountains.
Oh My Lanta, THE STARS! Holy moly, I have never ever seen stars like we did in Big Bend. It’s one of the darkest places in the United States and the stars go on for miles and miles and even come all the way down to touch the horizon. It was our first experience trying to take night sky photos, so we are excited to learn more to be able to get those amazing starry night shots that look so cool.
Here are a couple photos from the campsite, which was basically just a parking lot. However, we found out that the majority of the large mountains that are visible, are actually Mexico!
We saw some awesome birds, including Roadrunners and wildflowers. The bluebonnet is the Texas state flower. On our way leaving the park, we finally saw a javelina, one of the wild pigs that lives in the area.
Name: Rio Grande Village RV Campground
Location: Big Bend National Park, TX
Campground Notes:The only campground with full hookups in the National Park. However, it is basically just a parking lot. The spaces are very close together and are back-in only.
Dog-friendly: Yes, but dogs are only allowed where cars can drive and cannot walk on trails.
Cell service: None, but there was short-range Wifi at the campsite store.