Big Bend National Park in Texas, USA

Big Bend is a 800,000 acre national park in southwest Texas USA, on the border to Mexico. The Rio Grande river separates the two countries. Rio Grance makes a big turn (or bend) in this area, giving the national park it's name. Big Bend is very remote, far away from any major roads, public transportation or regular airports. The only practical way to get there is a long drive. Once inside the park, a lot of beautiful scenery awaits you, and if you choose to go way out in the backcountry here, you may not meet anybody. If you do meet somebody, it falls natural to have a little chat. There are also more accessible highlights reachable by a regular car where you will not be alone, but the park never gives the crowded feeling some of the other national parks may do. The shifting landscapes from the high mountains to the hot desert plains to the green areas by the Rio Grande all in fascinating colors never stops to inspire me. The people you meet here are always nice, and the park rangers are very helpful and are pleased to assist you to get the most out of your stay. Coming back here one day is high on my list.

Fort Stockton is the nearest somewhat large town to Big Bend about 3 hours by car away. It has a number of motels, and I will suggest you stop overnight here and start early in the morning into Big Bend. The drive into Big Bend should be enjoyed in daylight. There is a good chance you will see roadrunners if you drive in the park at dusk or dawn. Then you will understand why these birds are called roadrunners.

Already at the entrance you have sensed the remoteness of Big Bend. You will not see many other cars. Further down the road you will pay the entrance fee of USD 10 valid for one week (2002). This includes free backcountry camping. The national Park Service has a good web-site at, and a good virtual map of Big Bend at

Rio Grande river. Not as large as one might think. In low water conditions like this you can wade across, but not recommended as there may be strong undercurrents. Mexico is to the left, USA to the right.

For most backcountry roads a high clearance vehicle is required. For some of the worst roads, like this one, the sign says 4WD required, road never maintained. However, I managed to get through with my Chevy Blazer using rear drive only, only because the road was completely dry. A raindrop, and the 4WD would be needed. I think it's fun to drive on these roads, and Big Bend has miles and miles of them. Some of the more interesting sights are only accessible on roads like this.

These buildings were abandoned around 1940 when the nearby Mariscal Mercury Mine was closed down. Some of the structures around the mine and processing facilities are still there, now being reclaimed by Mother Nature. An interesting sight and a short walk from one of the backcountry roads.

The Big Bend lanscape never stops fascinating me, and I have 100s of photos like this. Of course, viewing a photo cannot fully reproduce the experience of being there. The time close to sunset, and in the early mornings produce spectacular lights for photography.

More Big Bend landscapes...

Santa Elena Canyon is one of the most famous sights, and the road to the trailhead is very good suitable for all cars. The hike is short, but a bit steep. Go there close to sunset for the most spectacular light.

Gilberto Luna built this little stick house (or jacal) and lived in it most of his life until he died somtime in the 1930s, more than 100 years old. In his younger days, it was said he was a good friend with the indians in the area. One can wonder how he managed to survive here farming his little piece of dry land. This is just next to Old Maverick Road, a gravel road suitable for all cars.

This trade post just outside the park is typical for these remote border areas in south Texas. Don't expect cheap gas here: You just have to buy it or push it.

This is in the centre of the park where the mountain ranges are. This photo is taken from the highest peak in Big Bend. The hike to this peak can easily be done in an afternoon directly from one of the small hotels in the valley. The last few feet require a bit of climbing, but the hike is very nice and well worth it even if you don't finish the last climb. Decide when you get there. NB: There is a fibre glass antenna on the very top. Don't touch it, because many of the sharp fibres on it will attach to your skin.

Ernst Tinaja Canyon is one of the most well known sights in Big Bend. It is a short hike from a back-country road. It is best at sunset and sunrise. One of the primitive campgrounds are very close, so it's a good idea to plan to camp here. Establish the camp in daylight, go see Ernst Tinaja during sunset and head back for a good night's sleep afterwards. Enjoy it again next morning before you leave. If you bring climbing gear, you can make it further in than I did.

The Mexican side is not a national park, and there is a small village here. You can hire a horse, but the village is only 15 minutes walk away. The Mexicans bring most of their supplies from the US side, and make a living mostly as reserve firemen for the National Park Service. This is probably the closest you can get to the old wild west today, except that some horses have been replaced with old pickup trucks.

No custom or immigration here, and a local Mexican will take you across for a couple of dollars. Do bring your passport anyway, because US immigration have many checkpoints along the main roads in southern Texas.

Some cheap bars and restaurants exist on the Mexican side. It's a place you will not spend too much time, but it's interesting to see. Some locals will try various stunts to trick money out of you in addition to selling typical tourist rubbish.

The Mexican village seen from a distance. Not too much to say, but it do resemple the Mexican villages you see in dusty western-movies from the 1950s. Instead of sculls in the desert, you will find old abandoned pick-ups scattered here.

The Chisos mountain range in sunset. A hike in those mountains is a highlight I still have to do..

These rocks are one of the famous landmarks in Big Bend. It is an easy hike about 3 miles in flat terrain, and the trailhead is at a campsite on a good gravel road, so all cars can get there. When I was there, it was getting dark, and on the way back, moonlight was all I had (I did bring a flashlight, but didn't need it). The campsite was occupied by some very friendly people in a big RV that invited me in for a coffee after the hike. (Sorry, I lost your name, so I couldn't stay in touch)

(c) Thomas Høven 2004