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Big Bend National Park in Texas

April 15, 2006

Hello again to all new and returning visitors. We do hope you have been enjoying the stories and photos we have been providing.

In my last update, I said we were headed to Davis Mountain to see the observatory. Well we did and didn't. We arrived on Sunday the 9th. But they only had space available for one night. The problem was that the observatory's night show was only on Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday. So we just stayed the one night and then headed down to Big Bend National Park. We'll stay there for a week so I can reserve a few days back at Davis Mountain.

Big Bend National Park is located in west Texas and runs along the Mexican border. The park is over 800,000 square feet of mountains, canyons, and flat desert. It was beautiful. We setup camp at the Rio Grande Village.

Our first day here we decided to take some short hikes and do some 4x4 off-road driving. We started out near the campground taking a short hike down the Rio Grande Village Nature Trail. It was a 3/4 mile trail that climbed just 125 feet and overlooked the Rio Grande River and Mexico.

The next stop was a few miles up the road. It was a short road and hike that led to Hot Springs. The water in the springs was about 102 degrees all year round and it was right next to the cooler Rio Grande. The springs had a square rock formation around it that keeps its water separate from the river during the most part. When the river is running high, it blends together. After parking the Blazer, we took the short hike to the springs. Cricket was the only one who wanted to go into the springs. But when we got there, there were about 50 other people there also making it very crowded. Needless to say none of us got wet.

Then we drove on up to Glenn Spring Road. Cricket wanted to drive first so we switched places. Now these trails are recommended for 4x4 vehicles only, so I wouldn't try these in your regular car or mini-van. For most of it, yes you could drive it. But there were also a lot of spots that you needed the higher clearance a 4x4 gives you. Some needed the Low Gear as well. Anyhow it was a lot of fun! Very bumpy, but fun.

With Cricket driving, I was able to get some good photos from out the window. As you can see, Lucas (and Adam on the other side) were also getting to use their new binoculars.

After about an hour at a slow pace we had only made it about 8 miles down the road. With the temperature also at about 100 degrees outside and being dinner time, we decided we have had enough and turned around. Once we made it back to the paved road, it was sooo smooth, we decided to go eat dinner at the lodge within the park. The food was pretty good but the service was really slow. I guess when you have a captive audience you don't need good service. The next closest restaurant was about 60 miles away!

On Tuesday, we drove 26 miles down the paved road to get to another off-road trail called Grapevine Hills Road. We then had to drive 6 miles down Grapevine Hills Road to get to the hiking trail. The Grapevine Hills Trail was a 2.2 mile hike along a sandy wash through a boulder field. At the end was a short climb up to a large balanced rock archway. It looked as though the rock could fall on you at any moment.

That trail ran between two rock walls that were probably 75-100 yards apart and 60-70 feet tall. Twice while walking through there a couple of fighter jets flew past fairly low. The first past by itself. The second time there were two of them. I tried to get a picture but they were halfway across before I could even hear them to know they were there. And then I had only a second before they disappeared. It was cool to see anyway.

After the hike and driving back down the dirt/gravel Grapevine Hills Road, since there wasn't anybody else driving down this section, we decided to let Adam and Lucas drive. This road wasn't as rough as Glenn Spring so we figured it would be ok. We had told them before that when we ever arrived somewhere in the middle of nowhere that we would let them drive.

Adam went first and drove for about 2 miles. Because of the type of road he couldn't go very fast anyway. I think at the most was about 25 mph. But for a bumpy, gravel, and narrow one-lane road, it was plenty! He did pretty good for the first time. He said driving a real car was actually easier than the video games.

Next came Lucas. Although he was a bit shorter he could reach the peddles, but now good enough that I felt comfortable with him trying to steer at the same time. So we adjusted the seat all the way back and I got in first to control the gas and brake. Then Lucas climbed in and sat in front of me to steer. He did pretty good too although I think he would have rather have done donuts in the sand instead! But he'll have to wait until he buys his own car for that one.

Now the first two days we didn't get started out until midday. On Wednesday though we decided to get started in the morning and have the boys do their school work in the afternoon while it was hottest. This way they could stay in the RV with the a/c on.

Wednesdays adventure took us 46 miles all the way across the Big Bend National Park to the west side. We went to the Santa Elena Canyon Trail and River Access. The hiking trail was 1.6 miles long and crosses a shallow creekbed, climbs a hill, and then descends along the river into a 1500 foot deep limestone canyon. It was beautiful. And the temperature difference must have 20 degrees from beginning to end. It was also a weird feeling for me having grown up in Central Florida. I mean just to get to another state was a couple of hours driving. Here in this canyon I was looking across a narrow and shallow river called the Rio Grande at the huge canyon wall that was Mexico. I could easily toss a rock over into Mexico. It just felt strange.

On Thursday we decided on a trail closer to home. We had heard from other hikers that on the Boquillas Canyon Trail there were Mexicans who had crossed the river, setup up little souvenir "stands", and then crossed back over into Mexico and watched from their shore. They hikers told us that we could buy the same walking sticks that the parks gift shop sold for $20 from the Mexicans for just $5.

So we drove a short distance over to the Boquillas Canyon Trail. When we arrived we thought that we would not be able buy anything because the Park Rangers truck was there. But we hiked down the trail anyway. On the way down we passed the ranger who was returning. Now we figured there was no way the Mexicans would have their displays. However when we rounded the corner there they were. There were several different little "displays" along the river each having walking sticks and figurines made of twisted copper wire. Adam had wanted a hiking stick for months so he brought his $5 to buy one. After choosing, he put his money into the little can and we continued on. The Mexican waited across the river and would retrieve the money after we left.

At the end of the trail we sat underneath a shade tree by the river for a snack. Afterwards there was this huge sand slide coming down from one area of the canyon walls. I started up the climb and got about halfway when Cricket and the boys decided to go also. It was fairly steep, but the first park was easy due to the smaller rocks at the side. Using the rocks as steps kept you from sinking into the sand. It was like walking on deep soft snow only it was HOT! The closer you got to the top the less rocks there were.

Going down was really fun! You didn't want to sit and slide down because you'd end up with hot sand in your pants. But we'd take a fast walk down the sand. Your foot would sink down into the hot sand being completely covered. If you walked too slow, your shoes would get too hot. If you went too fast there was a good chance of falling over! When we reached the bottom, I emptied what seemed to be about a pound of sand out of my shoes.

After that we just went back to the RV, had lunch, and the boys did their school work.

Later that afternoon it had reached 106 degrees. Cricket and the boys didn't want to go anywhere, but I did. So I hopped into the Blazer and took off for the Old Ore Road. It was a 26 mile off-road trail that started about 4 miles from the campground and went north past the Ernst Basin, Roys Peak, Telephone Canyon, and McKinney Spring. It was a slow going trail that took 2 1/2 hours to complete. There were a few spots that were fun leading down into a dry river bed and then climbing back out. A couple of time it would have made a great photo, but I didn't want to stop for fear of getting stuck!

Now before I had left, I discussed with Cricket and we decided to eat dinner at the lodge again. By the time I completed my off-road adventure it was already almost 5 pm. The problem was the I was still a good distance away from the RV. Now I had to either drive the shorter but slower off-road trail back home or take the paved roads 46 miles back to the campgrounds. I choose the paved roads.

The problem with the National Park system is that it is a Federal Park and there isn't logic used within anything controlled by Congress. The maximum speed limit in any National Park is 45 mph. Whether it be a one square mile historic battlefield or an 800,000 acre Big Bend National Park. On these roads you could drive for miles without seeing anybody or any animal, especially with these hot afternoon temperatures. If this same road was in Texas but outside the park, it would be posted at 75 mph.

Anyway, I'm cruising back to the RV, passing the lodge to pick up Cricket and the boys. As soon as I get there we turn right around and have to drive the 29 miles BACK to the lodge and restaurant. Now I'm driving down this long stretch of road at 60-65 mph which plenty safe and here comes the park ranger in the opposite direct. He pulls me over and gives me a speeding ticket. Yes, I know I was guilty of breaking the speed limit but I wasn't driving recklessly. It was a safe speed. He could of just warned me about slowing down later that evening when the animals start to come out, which I do. But he tells me that 45 mph is required at all times because of bikers and animals crossing the roads. So far this week I've only bikers in the morning hours and animals out before sunset, which is about 8:30 pm this time of year.

Ok, enough of that.

On Friday morning we drove to the Lost Mine Trail near the lodge. The Lost Mine Trail was located in the Chisos Mountains and was 4.8 miles long round trip. The hike was all uphill getting there climbing 1100 feet and downhill going back. We had magnificent views at the top of Lost Mine Peak which had an elevation of 7550 feet. Even though there wasn't any shade, there was a nice breeze that kept us cool. There were also some other hikers up there and we were able to get a rare family photo at the top.

Saturday came and everyone wanted to stay at the RV. After a while the boys and I went on another off-road driving adventure. I choose to start on the River Road East because it was only a few miles from the campgrounds. The East Road connects via several other shorter roads to the River Road West for a total of over 50 miles. For the most part it travels nearby the Rio Grande River until you get to the Mariscal Mountain area when it goes around the mountain.

Along the River Road, we saw and drove through many different types of turrain. Some of the interesting areas were the old abandoned Mariscal Mine Ruins in which many of the buildings still exist. There were also the remains of the Johnson Ranch which was operational until the late 1940's. Only the foundations of the buildings remain, but there are the gravesites of about 7 family members there. Also on the site was the back end of an old 1920's or 1930's car.

The boys also got to drive again on this trip. Including the drive back on paved roads, we drove over 100 miles today that took about 4 hours.

Tomorrow we leave Big Bend National Park and drive back up to Davis Mountain State Park. Enjoy the rest of the photos below from Big Bend. I'll see you back again in a few days.


This was the old store near the Hot Springs.

The road looking toward the Chisos Mountains. The lodge is up on the other side.

Cricket and the boys hiking through Grapevine Hills.

Jake swimming in the Rio Grande. Does he need a Passport?

Sitting under a shade tree in the Boquillas Canyon.

(above) Views along the Old Ore Road. (below)

At the top of Lost Mine Peak. The insert shows Cricket and the boys under the only shade tree up there. If you look close right below the insert is that same tree.

Returning from Lost Mine Peak, the circle is where we parked, and the white line highlights part of the trail back along the ridge.