Big Bend National Park (Nov. 8-15) - Trip Report

3:40 p.m. on November 20, 2008 (EST)
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Since I posted a question last month, seeking input on Big Bend National Park in West Texas, I thought I'd post a quick update now that I've spent a week there.

(1) If you're looking for a National Park that is really off the beaten path, Big Bend is for you. One of the rangers I talked to said they get among the lowest visitor numbers of any of the Ntl Park system. And it's easy to see why -- the closest city of any significance (Fort Stockton, TX) is 120 miles away. And unlike a place like Yosemite, Big Bend doesn't offer car and motor home campers a whole lot of bells and whistle comforts.

(2) The Chisos Mtns are really the centerpiece (in more than one way!) of Big Bend. The hike up Pinnacles (from the Chisos basin) is a beauty and views from the East and South rims are gorgeous. One could do the entire 13-mile look as a day trip, but you could easily turn this into a one- or two-nighter (which is what we did) if you want to go at a slower pace to take in the scenary. That'll also give you a chance to bag Emory Peak (2 miles r/t, 1000 ft elevation gain), the highest peak in the park and the only one of the tall peaks with a groomed trail.

There are also two trails that come into the Chisos from west (Blue Creek Trail) and the East (Juniper Canyon Trail) for the more serious packers, which make up what is known as the Outer Mountain Loop, which is right around 32 miles. This is an excellent loop that affords you with a wide range of terrain, climate, weather, and plant/animal life.

(3) As one who's more familiar with extended trips in the western US, the big difference you'll discover about Big Bend is the lack of water resources. There are isolated places where you may encounter a spring, but they can be horribly unreliable (depending on the time of year). And the rangers I talked to strongly suggested that you not use that water, even if available, since it is so scarce to begin with.

Bottom line: be prepared to take your water with you. For those of you wanting 10 straight days in solitude, you may find that extremely difficult (if not extremely risky!) to do in Big Bend. A nice compromise that we found suitable is just divide up your time into segments, rather than one long backcountry trip. That way you aren't carrying 7 days worth of water (1 gallon a day, 8 lbs a gallon, 84 lbs total!!) to start with.

The Outer Mtn Loop does afford you a couple places (at the Eastern and Western-most points of the loop) to cache water, though that will take part of your first day just to drive that water to these locations. If you have more than one car in your group (which we did not!), this will save time.

(4) The other main area of the park I would suggest you check out would be the Rio Grande river regions, particularly Santa Elena Canyon. Many of your Big Bend pictures come from here, with the towering canyons lining the river. You can do multi-day raft-n-camp trips down the Rio Grande, or there are some 1-day trips that cover only part of the river.

(5) Big Bend is filled with tons of great day hike adventures that don't necessarily connect to multi-day backpacking trips. So consider pitching a base camp for 2-3 days and then driving some of these day hikes.

(6) Although a 4x4 will suck the gas just to get there, it will definitely pay off to have something with truck-like ground clearance once you arrive in Big Bend. That's because there are miles and miles of back trails that must be accessed to even get to some of the park's big-attraction trail heads. If you have something like a Toyota Corolla, you're going to be severely limited in how much of the park you can even get to.

(7) The main Panther Junction ranger station has number of helpful maps you can buy for backcountry usage. Unfortunately, I couldn't find them anywhere to buy ahead of time to help lay out my week.

A good book resource to get ahead of time would be Hiking Big Bend National Park (by Laurence Parent), part of the Falcon series. I picked it up cheap as a used book for around $6 post-paid. This will tell you a lot of specifics about each of the regions and all of the main hikes.

Happy Trails.

5:18 p.m. on November 20, 2008 (EST)
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Thanks for the detailed information on Big Bend! It is indeed one of the most underappreciated of the national parks. I have seen lots of photos, and was actually there once (when very young, so I don't remember anything much about it). I have friends who kayaked the Rio Grande and have shown me their fantastic pictures.

I believe that Omni Resources has the maps you referred to, although you have to do a bit of searching on their website.

6:25 p.m. on November 20, 2008 (EST)
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Well, great info. Sorry I could not have been more helpful.
I read a story once from a old spanish diary about indians that were discovered in what is now Big Bend. These indians to the amazement of the spainards were so primitive that they had never developed stone tools, aside from throwing whatever rocks they picked up, they wore no clothing, made no sandals and made no shelters, instead sleeping curled up on the ground like a dog. They made nothing from clay or had the remote knowledge to do so. They drank from whatever water sources they knew of. And they had little if any language.When they hunted they did not do so in co-opertive groups but each man on his own for his family and basically ran down their prey and ate everything and regurgated and passed anything they could not digest like and animal does.
When they died they did nothing with the body of the dead except perhaps remove it from their camp.
I read this while working on a caretaking job in the Gila Wilderness near Reserve NM. Other stories mentioned the death march along the Rio Grande in New Mexico.

2:34 p.m. on November 21, 2008 (EST)
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Some additional thoughts....

It's really amazing to see all of the remains from previous attempts to farm and mine the land, dating back to 50+ years ago. Gorgeous land and canyons....but so remote.

I should also mention the National Geographic map of Big Bend that you can pick up for about $10. Though not topo, it'll still help you see the layout of the place, particularly all of the back roads requiring truck-clearance and/or 4x4.

If you really want to take in ALL that Big Bend has to offer, you're going to need more than one week. I'd guess a minimum of 2 weeks. Things really are 'bigger' in Texas! :)

And one can't forget the price. The big expense is $20 bucks a week, which basically amounts to a car permit. But then it's only $10 *per party* for your entire backcountry stay, whether it's one day or 7, two people or 6. Pretty good value, me thinks!

12:39 a.m. on January 8, 2009 (EST)
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160 forum posts

This thread is worthless without PICTURES!! =^)

May 20, 2018
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