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May 11, 2021 / mws

Big Bend National Park March 1995

Here’s a very brief history of the park:

Around ten thousand years ago, natives of the Big Bend area hunted camel, horses, bison and elephants in extremely cold temperatures. There were ice-age glaciers that gradually receded into a much drier climate. Hunters and farmers then lived in the Big Bend region until the United States acquired Texas in 1848. Mining, agriculture and cattle were primary businesses at that time. In 1944 the area of West Texas bordering Mexico became Big Bend National Park and the grasslands, plants and animals fell under the protection of the U. S. The name Big Bend refers to the massive U-turn of the Rio Grande River as it forms the park’s 118 mile southern border. Due to it’s remoteness, Big Bend National Park is one of the least visited parks in the United States.

When we traveled to Big Bend in 1995, I barely knew that this park existed. I’m very glad that we did this early in our traveling years. There is likely a better way to approach Big Bend, but we were visiting areas in Texas and decided to drive west from Del Rio through some extremely isolated areas. (We really enjoyed our dinner at the Cripple Creek Saloon in Del Rio!) This was before cell phones. (not that cell service would be available in those areas!) I recall that we passed one other vehicle on the entire drive. Prior to the digital evolution, we carried a mini recorder to remember our trip activities. Believe it or not, I still have it and it still works. I have the recording from our visit to Big Bend. We were only there two days, and to be honest, we were a little out of our comfort zone in this area.

Entrance to Rio Grande Village

The remoteness of Big Bend was astonishing to me. When we arrived, I was again stunned by the smallness of the Rio Grand Village. There were no phones anywhere in the hotel or the visitors center. According to the hotel staff, there was only one pay phone in the community center that you had to stand in line to use! I had no clue!! Of course, there was no internet then, so we only had maps and travel books to guide us.

We stayed in at the Mission Lodge in Study Butte, about 2 miles west of Big Bend Park. We were brave enough to try the only cafe in the tiny town of Study Butte. Both our uncrowded hotel and the local cafe were acceptable.

The landscape around the Big Bend Basin was brown and gray rocks, canyon, cliffs and cactus with a few blooming wildflowers. The Chinos Mountain was easily recognizable and there was a walking path at the base where visitors could take a stroll. We also visited a Desert Dwellers abode in Big Bend, drove the Ross Maxwell scenic drive, and visited the Homer Wilson Ranch. Along the way, we spied road runners, javelina, mule deer and coyotes.

We heard about an area where you could cross into Mexico by boat. With some basic info from someone we met at the hotel, we found the gravel and grass parking lot. Even as naive as we were, when we saw the tiny boats and the river crossing area with no visible facilities on the U.S. side or the Mexico side, we knew to turn around and leave. It may be different in 2021, but then there was no organization, no information about what do to on the Mexican side and we had no idea if the boats would be there to bring us back to Texas.

Boquillas Canyon

It was so long ago, but based on information from current visitors, I believe this may have been the Boquillas Crossing Port of Entry before any rangers were based there. Now there’s plenty of facts available about the crossing and visitors enjoy the experience.

St. Elena Canyon and the Rio Grande River

The highlight of our visit was seeing St. Elena Canyon. We travelled to the canyon via the 14 mile gravel Old Maverick Road. This road runs between Maverick Junction and Santa Elena Canyon and passes by the Terlingua Creek badlands on the west side of the park. At the end of the Old Maverick Road, there is a gradual descent to the Rio Grande and St. Elena Canyon. We took our time and wandered around. Standing there looking at the canyon walls with our feet on U.S. soil, it was difficult to believe that the opposite canyon wall was Mexico! We walked along the bottom of the canyon as far as we could go and then drove to an overlook of the Rio Grande. In all of our time at St. Elena Canyon, we did not encounter any other tourists!

St Elena Canyon Overlook

Our adventure in Big Bend National Park was definitely not an ordinary tourist visit. It did have a lasting impact on our impression of National Parks. Certainly, in 2021, Big Bend is more tourist friendly, but we will never forget the memories of our 1995 journey to this secluded and wondrous area!

“Big Bend National Park is intensely wild and extraordinarily beautiful – tucked away at the end of a couple of roads in southwest Texas.”
― Stefanie Payne

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