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.

Adventures from the Big Bend – Happy birthday to me.


So what do you think.  Do I sound any older?  No??  That’s good, ‘cuz I don’t feel any older.  But I guess I should.  Today I just finished my 77th year on this great planet.  I actually feel much younger.  I think I told you before, that I thought there was something wrong with my birth certificate, not that I want to start a Obama-like controversy.  I even asked my mother if I was adopted, and she said “Yes, but they brought you back.”   I may have even told you that before, but I guess it’s still good for another laugh.

On Friday, we got back from another trip to the Big Bend, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post.  There may be something to that old people stuff after all.  Despite what I said above, I feel a bit worn out after all that traveling.  But hey, young people get tired too.  So anyway, I can now get going on telling you about the wonders of the Big Bend National Parkand surrounding areas.

Audubon Yellow-rumped Warbler

Having said that, I think we spent most of the time in the BBNP than any surrounding area.  Of course, we stayed in Study Butte at the Far Flung Casitas so I guess that would be called part of the “surrounding area”.  Before I go any farther, we always started our day eating breakfast at this great little nondescript place, called Roadrunner Deli.  Dang, if Frank Jones doesn’t have the best breakfast in the area, I don’t know who does.  Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on who is doing the talking, the tourists head for another motel/restaurant up the way a bit.  So Frank’s place is the place to go if you have the inside knowledge.  Well, maybe enough people will read this and start filling up the place.

His breakfasts, are full menu meals.  He cooks everything to order, however you like your eggs, etc.  A super way to start the day.  So chalk up another piece of information for when you make the trip.

Our first day was spent getting there.  We left San Angelo at about 8:00AM, drove south to Sonora where we picked up I-10 West.  Now along there the speed limit is 80mph so you can cruise right along.  At Fort Stockton, we used the facilities, then took Hwy 385 south to Marathon.  From there, we continued south to the entrance to Big Bend National Park

Santa Helena Canyon - Big Bend National Park

We hit the kiosk at the park entrance around 1:00PM.  From there it still is another 40 miles or so the park headquarters at Panther Junction.  The speed limit is 45MPH, and rigidly enforced during peak times.  Last week it still was pretty hot, and the busy season hasn’t really started yet, so we could get on the gas a bit more to about 55MPH with no worry.  Could probably get away with a bit more speed, but why push your luck.  Anyway, if you do that, you are going to miss a lot of great scenery, and possibly not get to see much wildlife.

We stopped at the Panther Junction to check out the facilities again.  At this point there is a junction with the highway that runs east and west across the park.  If we turn left we go to Boquillas Canyon and Rio Grande Village campground.  We turned right and headed for our destination of Study Butte outside the west side of the park.  A distance of about 35 miles.

After we checked into our accomodations at Far Flung Outdoor Center we unpacked then decided on our evening activities.  Valynda at the desk had told us that Monday night was two-for-one hamburger night at the Starlite Restaurant in the ghost town of Terlingua.  The Starlite was originally a roofless theatre back early in the 20th century.  It was vacant and near falling down when some entrepreneur decided it was worth saving.  They put a roof on it and opened the bar and restaurant.

So we enjoyed a couple of large, juicy, cheeseburgers along with a couple of well-earned margaritas.  After that we had a nice evening of sitting on the porch of our casita, just laying back and watching the birds and wildlife.

About the pictures:

The Yellow-rumped Warbler was photographed at the Rio Grande Village Campground, Big Bend NP.

Santa Elena Canyon is the most accessible canyon in the Big Bend NP.  You can easily drive your car to within 500 yards of the entrance.  The walls at this point reach 1,500 feet.  A short trail from the parking lot takes you to a switch-backed, concrete walking trail , that leads you up to about 100 feet above the Rio Grande River.

More on my next post.  Click on the photos to see enlargements.