Texas, Where We've Been

Big Bend National Park

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Big Bend National Park

The headwaters of the Rio Grande River begin in the mountains of southwest Colorado, then turn south through New Mexico to meet up near the border of El Paso, Texas. Forming the southern border of Texas, the river winds southeasterly through the landscape, bends back north to make a small “bump” before continuing southeast again to empty into the Gulf of Mexico.

Big Bend National Park is located in the first “bump” of Texas’s southern border. It’s from this bend in the river that the park gets its name.  

Big Bend National Park is the largest protected area of Chihuahuan Desert in the U.S., protecting many different kinds of plants and animals that live in the region. The land encompassing the park stretches approximately 1,250 square miles. We probably didn’t see 1/10th of it while we were there, but what we did see was fascinating.

On our first day, we went out to the fossil exhibit on the north side of the park. Looking back to the center of the park, you see a massive collection of mountains that seem out of place. Most of the surrounding landscape is made of low-lying layers of sandstone. The mountains in the middle were the remains of a once active volcano. The core of the volcano has since eroded away, but at one time, it made a dome from peak to peak in the photo below.  

At the fossil exhibit, dinosaur fossils are on display. Over 90 different species of dinosaur fossils have been found in the park with new discoveries being made every day. Numerous marine fossils and plants can be found here among the limestone layers that make up much of the park.

One of the largest flying dinosaur fossils found was on display in the pavilion, spanning much of the ceiling in the open pavilion. I wouldn’t want to be in the sights of this flying beast.

A short drive up into the once active volcano, you get a wonderful view of the surrounding landscape. This view is called “The Window.”  From here, you can look back to the rolling hills below. This was a short hike to reach this point (less than a mile), but if you’re adventurous, you can reach the end of the window, about a five mile trek round trip, and peer out over the valley below.

In the southwesterly section of Big Bend is Santa Elena Canyon. This towering monolith separates to allow the Rio Grande to flow between it. On the left (in the picture below) is Mexico and on the right is Texas. If you step out into the middle of the river, you’ll be on the border of both countries… yes, the kids crossed the border and have now been to Mexico. Does that count?

We hiked up the stone wall pathway on the U.S. side of the border and looked back toward the amazing view of Big Bend. (Below: U.S. side on the left and Mexico on the right.)

For a sense of scale, take a look at the picture below. Notice the man in the kayak? 

Any sound made in the canyon echoed amazingly through the canyon. It’s the same sound one would get when they sing in the shower. I’ll put up the YouTube video of it later. That was so much fun!

Standing in between the canyon walls was disorienting. The river was relatively slow moving and therefore flat, but the canyon walls are tilted at an angle, protruding up. This made it feel like the walls were actually straight and the river was flowing rapidly down the stream. It was an odd feeling.

On our way back down from the mountain, we took a moment to overlook the Rio Grande River and Big Bend National Park.

I love this picture. The evening clouds gave us an amazing sight. They parted just above this mountain, making a halo of light above it. 

There aren’t many who travel to Big Bend… especially compared to Yosemite or the Grand Canyon. Is it worth the trip? We think so… 


Study Butte RV Park

This campground is located just outside of the entrance to Big Bend National Park. We were met by the owner at our site at check-in. He let us know that these sites are full hookup but black water can not be dumped in the sewer, just gray. When we left, we’d have to dump at the larger sites to the southeast. (The new site locations do not show up on google as they are a recent addition to the park, but would be to the northwest of the main campground).

The campground could use some cleanup work. There’s a boat in the weeds and other stuff lying around. Looks like it may have been a nice place at one time.

On Thanksgiving, he came by and invited us (and everyone else at the campground) to a free Thanksgiving meal at the pavilion. That was nice!

Starlink was 85 down 25 up. Our Verizon phones were on 3G roaming. AT&T was at 4 bars with the cell antenna. Verizon on the cell antenna was 0.