Visiting Big Bend Country

In my previous post, I wrote about the Acorn Woodpeckers that we saw during our visit.  With this writing, I would like to talk more about the trip itself.  To appreciate it more you must know where the Big Bend country is.  In far southwest Texas, the Rio Grande bends southeastward away from El Paso.  Then it abruptly makes a sharp bend and travels northeast.  That vast area in between contains Big Bend National Park.  The park and surrounding areas north and west is what we call simply the Big Bend.

The land there is raw, desolate, seemingly forbidden.  Mountains, canyons, isolated areas where it is dangerous to go unprepared.  But, having said all of that, it is also awesomely beautiful.  Ann and I made our first trip there in the mid 1980s.  We had already lived in Texas since 1961, but had never ventured there.  We had no idea that such a place existed in the state.  We were struck by the beauty, isolation, and the ever-changing views when driving through the area.

Mt. Casa Grande

It is said that on the busiest day in Big Bend NP, it is still not as busy as the Smoky Mountains NP on their slowest day.  At over 800,000 acres it is one of the largest in the park system.  But it is also one of the least visited.  Definitely one of Texas’ best kept secrets.  On our recent trip, at one point Ann and I encountered four other cars, yes, that’s right four other cars traveling behind each other.  Ann remarked that it was a traffic jam.  Although that is what actually happened, including Ann’s quote, we may have exaggerated.  But you certainly have the feeling sometimes that you are only person there.

The purpose for our trip was to go birding, do bird photography and just enjoy the quite solitude.  We have our favorite places to visit.  The ruins of San Nail’s ranch for one.  There are a few adobe walls still standing and the park service has kept the windmill in good repair.  Otherwise it it pretty well overrun with mesquite, creosote bush, etc.  Some large cottonwood trees make for good birding there.

Red-tailed Hawk

We also like to go to Rio Grande Village RV park on the east side of the park.  It is adjacent to Boquillas Canyon.  There is a delightful nature trail with a boardwalk over a wetlands area.

The “Window” formation, Chisos Mountains, Big Bend National Park.

A must place to see is the Chisos Mountains Basin, high in the Chisos Mountains.  You must take a spectacular drive up through Green Gulch, over the pass, then drop down into the area that is called the Basin.  There the altitude is at 5,000 feet, surrounded by mountain peaks.  A lodge is located there where you can book rooms for your stay.  From your room you may, repeat may, see deer, bear, mountain lions, and various species of birds.

For our lodging we stayed at the Casitas at Far Flung Outdoor Center.  It is located in Study Butte, outside the western entrance to the park. There you can book rafting or canoe trips through the canyons, Jeep tours, ATV trips, etc.  But to stay there you are not required to participate in any of those activities.  In the past, though, Ann and I have rafted the Rio Grande, and also took a couple of the Jeep tours.

Santa Elena Canyon

The restaurant facilities in Study Butte or Terlingua, are limited but all offer excellent food.  One of our favorites is the La Kiva.  We ate there one evening, feasting on one of the best T-bone steaks I have ever tasted.  Margaritas were only a dollar at the time we ate, which was somewhere between 5 and 7PM.

In my next post I will get back to more bird photos, and birding tales.