Adventures from the Big Bend – Thursday – Day 4


Thursday was our final full day in the Big Bend.  We decided to make the trip on the Ross Maxwell Highway that skirts the Chisos Mountains on their west side for thirty miles, then eventually ends up at Santa Elena Canyon.  It is probably the most spectacular drive in Big Bend National Park.  There are numerous pull-offs and scenic over-looks.

Mule Ears Peak (s)

First we started off with breakfast at the Roadrunner Deli.  We arrived promptly at 8:00AM and discovered that Frank actually opened at 7:30AM.  He had his great coffee brewing.  Ann and I ordered up.  Me, sausage and eggs, and I think Ann had the same.  Can’t remember for sure, but it is immaterial, as we were pumped up for our exciting day.

Desert scene - Big Bend National Park

To get to Ross Maxwell Highway, you enter the park from the west, at Study Butte, go another nine miles or so where you come to the intersection to take a right turn.

Windmill and Santiago Peak

Gathering Storms

Driving on down a couple of miles, you come to a pull-off on the right side of the road where there is a short trail leading to the ruins of the old Sam Nail Ranch.  Sam and his younger brother, Jim, built the place originally in 1916.  They had a garden, milk cows, chickens and hogs.  They were pretty well self-sufficient.  There are  just a couple of adobe walls left standing, but there is an abundant collection of birds that hang around the trees that are thriving because of the well that the brothers had built.

Pulliam Peak - Big Bend National Park

Further along the drive you will come upon Homer Wilson’s Blue Creek Ranch over-look.  A short moderate trail leads down to their line camp beneath Sentinel Peak.  It was built in the early 1900s and Homer’s foreman, Lott Felts lived there for many years.

View from Sotol Vista overlook

About a half-mile further on is the Sotol Vista over-look.  See the photo above.  You shouldn’t by-pass this stop.  It is the highest point on the highway and you have a view of the distant Santa Elena Canyon, still 14 miles as the crow flies, and another 22 miles of driving.  Covering those 22 miles is exciting as the scenery is outstanding.  Mountain and desert vistas about on each side of the highway.

Rio Grand River - Santa Elena Canyon in background

Just a few miles before reaching Santa Elena Canyon, is Castolon, a little village trading post.  A welcome stop to use the facilities, get some snacks, or just rest in the shade.  The place has been there since sometime in the 1800s.

Santa Elena Canyon

Arriving at the end of the road you will find a short trail that leads to the base of the canyon.  It is just a short, sandy hike of maybe 500 yards.  You will first reach the dry (usually) Terlingua Creek that enters the Rio Grande River from your right to left.  The river being on your left.  You can cross the dry creek bed then take a trail that leads to a concrete, hand-railed, switch-back path that takes you to a lookout about 100 feet above the river.  It is a stunning view from there as the canyon walls that are only about 50 yards apart, tower above you another 1,500 feet.

Butterfly in Purple Sage

So that ends our visit to Santa Elena Canyon.  We headed back to Study Butte and our casita.  We sat on our little post, watched the birds, and reminisced about our trip.  We also ate our left-over pizza from the evening before.  A fitting end to our latest trip to the Big Bend.

Desert Showers - Big Bend National Park

About my photos.  You may have noticed all the pretty clouds in all of my photos.  Usually when we are in the Big Bend, the skies are clear and sunny.  That, in itself, is all right, but the clouds make for many a pretty photograph.  I also left out the EXIF data for this series.  Click on any image to see an enlargement.  Also click on my Flickr Logo on the right side of this page.  I have been adding new photos there as well.

“It made me see God as I had never seen Him before”………..Captain E. E. Townsend, Texas Ranger, 1894, upon viewing the Big Bend area for the first time.