Wow! That has been our overall response to visiting Big Bend National Park. Absolutely spectacular vistas. It is definitely desert territory but despite getting only 10 inches of rain a year there was surprisingly diverse and abundant vegetation.
We caught a PBS show several months ago about Big Bend and decided that when we were in Texas we needed to visit. It is a bit out of the way but we are very glad we did. It is supposed to be the least-visited national park in the lower 48 and that is mostly because it is so far off the beaten track. It is a 35 mile drive from where we are camped just outside the park boundaries to the park headquarters and there are stretches where you can see several miles in both directions and we were often the only ones on the road. We came at the right time of the year. It’s been in the 60’s and 70’s during the day and the 30’s at night. In the summer it is routinely over 100 degrees and they close most of the park down.
We are camped at Stillwell’s Store and RV Camp about seven miles from the park’s boundary. Other than full hookups there is not much in the way of amenities here, but everybody is very friendly. A couple of days ago I was talking to a couple that lives in Brewster, Massachusetts most of the year and found that they have been coming to Stillwell’s and Big Bend for the last sixteen years and they are fairly typical of the people here. There is live country music four nights a week from a couple from Michigan, the Whitford’s, that spend four months a year here and we’ve gone every night they’ve played.
In the center of Big Bend Park are the Chisos Mountains which are the remnants of one or more volcanoes that were active up to about 17 million years ago. All that is left are the parts that were solidified lava; all of the pumice and ash have long since been washed away. The first time we drove into the park we drove to the Chisos basin, which is where the mouth of the volcano would have been. It’s a bit above 6000 feet and there is a campground and lodge inside with the walls of the Chisos Mountains on all sides. Very rugged views in every direction.
The next time we went into the park we drove to Castolon which is on the western border of the park. Spectacular scenery with a different view every time we went around a corner. Castolon is more or less on the Rio Grand river, which is quite low right now. You could easily wade across if you wanted to, but on the Mexican side there was a several hundred foot high limestone cliff with no way to get up or down.
Yesterday we drove down to Rio Grande Village on the eastern end of the park which is also on the Rio Grand river. There was a small Mexican village just across the river but there were several signs warning that buying anything from Mexican nationals was illegal and subject to confiscation, fines and possible jail time. There was a RV campground there but it was literally an asphalt parking lot with hookups. This drive had the least spectacular views, not that they weren’t interesting, but we saw more flowers in bloom than anywhere else in the park.
There are hiking trails, 4-wheel drive dirt roads and primitive campgrounds all over the park. This is the first time I wish we had something other than our Ford Transit. We took a side trip on a dirt road approved for cars but even though the speed limit was 25 MPH I don’t think we ever got above 15 MPH and there were a number of places where the road had been washed out that I took very gingerly. Stillwell’s has a section on the other side of the road with just water and electric hookups and when we first came there were over a half a dozen pickups and horse trailers there. There are many miles of horse trails outside and into the park from here.
We are very glad we came. Big Bend is well worth visiting. We’d give it a B for accessibility. There were enough handicap accessible bathrooms and most – but not all – vista points were wheelchair accessible but there was only one wheelchair accessible trail in the entire park and we wish there had been more.