Big Bend National Park is one of the largest, yet least visited national parks in the US. It covers nearly one million acres in a remote location near the Mexican border. It is one of the driest places in the country and so only adventure seekers tend to visit. The reward is priceless for those that come: breathtaking views on all sides for miles and miles.
This article is part of a series about Driving Around Texas
Hiking Around Big Bend National Park
According to the National Park Service, “there is a place in Far West Texas where night skies are dark as coal and rivers carve temple-like canyons in ancient limestone.”
“Here, at the end of the road, hundreds of bird species take refuge in a solitary mountain range surrounded by weather-beaten desert. Tenacious cactus bloom in sublime southwestern sun, and diversity of species is the best in the country. This magical place is Big Bend.”
I arrived at Panther Junction, which is where the Big Bend headquarters are, at around 5.30 pm. The park has several entrance stations that sell entry tickets, but they only sell the back country passes at the HQ. These passes allow for camping anywhere in the park, not only at the designated camping sites. The HQ normally close at 6 pm, so I was the last one they served that day.
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The ranger takes the details of solo hikers and he also needs to know about a visitor’s hiking history. The ranger then takes photos of the clothes the hiker is wearing and what car he/she is driving. He even takes a photo of the shoe sole in case they needed to launch a search and rescue operation.
I’ve hiked in many places before, including the Transylvanian Highlands, the Tatra Mountains, the Cairngorms and also in Wales. In addition, I have done some hiking in the Andes and the Atacama Desert so I thought I would be just fine. I couldn’t have been more wrong…!
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Nothing can really prepare someone for Big Bend. It’s dry, hot and in many places there is no access to fresh, potable water. Although they named it after a big bend in the Rio Grande, the park rangers advise against drinking its water unless absolutely necessary. This is because the Mexicans pour raw sewage into the water on the other side of the river.
The Grapevine Trail
After I got my pass I headed out to the Grapevine Trail, which is a relatively easy trail just North of Panther Junction. I got to the hill around 7 pm and parked the car on the road side. As the sun was just about to set I took some amazing photos and then headed up to the hill where I was planning to pitch up my tent.
This trail leads to a group of balanced rocks in the heart of the Grapevine Hills. Initially, the trail follows a gravel wash, then climbs steeply for the last quarter mile into the boulders. The National Park Service says that the Grapevine Hills is an exposed laccolith, with many giant boulders tempting to climb, “but watch for snakes”.
As the sun was setting in between the hills everything was coloured in the darkest orange I had ever seen. The sun brought out that orangey-yellow colour of some of the rocks, which I had never seen before.
It rained during the day and some clouds were still hanging over the hills – it looked fascinating. As the wind was blowing, some of the bigger clouds slowly poured over the hill tops. It felt like out of some Hollywood movie.
Pitching Up My Tent
It was getting darker, so I decided to look for a place halfway up the hill to pitch up my tent. I managed to find a flat area on a massive rock, just at the edge of the hill. I finally set up camp after two failed attempts by which time it was pitch black so I ate and went to sleep.During the night I couldn’t stop wondering how many tarantulas, snakes and other wild animals would walk past my tent.
Halfway through the night I had to go outside for a short while and the sky at night was just as amazing as during the day. There were a million small and large stars dotted along the sky. I was quite lucky because by then the clouds had cleared up so I had quite a view.
Later I woke again to thunders and lightening, which was a bit scary and made me think that it would be the end of the hiking tour. Fortunately the sky cleared up by the time I woke up in the morning. As soon as I packed up my tent I headed out to the shop to get some more food for that day’s hike along the Marufo Vega Trail.