DMC’s Dallas and Houston teams recently made a 10-hour, 600-mile trek to Big Bend National Park for a long weekend of camping, hiking, and stargazing.
There were 15 campers in total: seven from Dallas and eight from Houston. The Houston caravan departed for Chisos Basin Campground mid-day on Thursday, splitting the drive over two days. The Dallas crew opted for a straight shot to the park on Friday morning.
The drive west through Texas wasn’t glamorous. No podcast was entertaining enough to save us from the flat fields of cattle and pumpjacks; however, things started to pick up once we reached Marathon, TX, about an hour north of the park. As we drove south towards the park, the flat land became hills and the hills became mountains with jagged points and steep cliffs.
Our campground was deep in the heart of the landscape, so, once we reached the park, we needed to drive another 40 minutes south. Scaling peaks resembling castle walls towered in the distance. They seemed to grow larger as we drew closer. At last we drove through a crack directly into the cliffs. We slowly wound our way down the cliff edges to the flatter basin between the peaks and found ourselves at the campground.
Friday night after our camp was set up, we ate dinner, the javelinas stopped squawking, and we kicked back in folding chairs to point out constellations and stargaze. Over the next two days, we broke into smaller groups and asynchronously explored all the best trails, peaks, and activities Big Bend had to offer!
Lost Mine Trail
During the most popular short-day hike at Big Bend, we weaved in and out of the juniper, oak, and pine forest for five miles. We even spotted a pair of deer snacking on a tree just a few feet off the trail. Lost Mine Trail offered vast views of Juniper Canyon.
We clutched our hats to keep them from blowing away in the wind as we took in the views at the top. The smooth rock ridge offered views of Pine Canyon and Sierra del Carmen in Mexico.
The Window Trail
The next most popular trail in Big Bend is The Window, which (thankfully) began at the group campground. This trail descends two miles through rolling hills and vertical rock walls to a narrow pour-off, which overlooks the surrounding Chihuahuan Desert.
This area can be very dangerous during flash floods as large runoffs flow down through the window. Even when it’s not wet, the rocks are extremely slippery due to the runoff. One large group made the trek down on Saturday morning and another went at dusk.
Santa Elena Canyon
We drove through Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive and arrived at a gaping cutout of a towering plateau. After crossing Terlingua Creek, the trail climbed several short switchbacks and then gradually descended along the banks of the Rio Grande.
On this trail, we were surrounded by lush riparian vegetation and 1,500-foot towering vertical cliffs of solid limestone. The trail ends where canyon walls meet the river, but we waded up the river through water levels that ranges from ankle to waist deep.
After a mile of trudging through the muddy river bottom and strong headwinds, we found a large cave, decided we didn’t want to find out what was living in it, and turned back around.
This was an over 10-mile roundtrip, and only a handful of us made it up the challenging and technical hike to the highest point in Big Bend (7,832'). Starting before the sunrise and guided only by the light of our headlamps, we didn’t arrive at the peak until the sun was high in the sky. The last 25 feet require a scramble up a sheer rock wall, but the reward is the ultimate panoramic view of the entire landscape.
Two groups were brave enough to make it up and out to South Rim. The bravest of them all, four in total, backpacked up to a remote campground for one night to be at the rim for the sun rise. As you can see from Nick practicing his Dragon Ball Z power stances, we made it.
We walked the rim for a couple miles, just feet away from the 2500 foot drop off, taking in the views of the valley below.
This trail offered an opportunity to step back in time and experience Big Bend before it became a national park. A short distance from the trailhead are the historic remains of J.O. Langford's Hot Springs resort: including a picturesque building that was the store and post office as well as a motor court that accommodated overnight guests.
The actual hot spring was a quarter mile further down the trail, contained within the stone walls of what was Langford’s bath house. Between the motor court and the spring, one can view ancient pictographs that people who live here thousands of years ago drew. The springs were a great place to rest our muscles after all the other grueling hikes.
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