Three large canyons dot the southern border of Big Bend National Park along the Rio Grande river —the Santa Elena Canyon on the west end, Mariscal Canyon in the middle, and Boquillas Canyon on the east. In the center of the park, surrounded by Chihuahuan desert, is an even more unique phenomenon-- the Chisos mountain range, contained fully within the park’s boundaries! The Chisos form a 360-degree circle of 7000 to nearly 8000-foot peaks around an ancient volcanic caldera now known as the Chisos Basin.
After enduring one afternoon of mid-80 degree temperatures at our campsite, we were ready to get up to the Basin’s 5500 foot elevation to hike and cool off. The drive up to these mountains was spectacular! Hard to imagine that you’re still in the state of Texas—it looks much more like Arizona!
Most of the Basin’s hiking trails are around 12 miles and were far too long and difficult for the amount of daylight still left, so we chose to hike the short, moderate 1.6 mile Chisos Basin Loop trail which gave us some nice views of the 360-degree panorama of peaks. These photos just don’t do justice to the experience of being completely surrounded by mountains in such a relatively small area. This is a place you really must visit someday to see it for yourself!
On another evening, we decided to try the 1.4 mile moderate Boquillas Canyon hike located along the Rio Grande river near our campground on the far east side of the park. This trail first climbed up to an overlook of the river valley, and then descended down into the impressive Boquillas canyon.
We managed to catch the overlook at precisely the right time of day as the spring green trees along the riverbank were brightly illuminated for “golden hour”!
Also a great time for Suzanne and I to pose for some hiking portraits as well!
There were some curious things along the trail, like these ancient mortar holes (believed to once be used to grind grains and spices)
There were also a few spots along the trail where Mexican souvenirs were being sold on the honor system. The park service warns people to not buy these (as they’re considered illegal contraband when sold this way—the more appropriate way to buy these items is to cross the border into the town of Boquillas and buy the souvenirs directly in Mexico).
We both wondered how and when the Mexican nationals ever came to collect any money left at these stands, or how they replenished their goods. Well, on our return hike back to the parking lot after sunset, we soon found out!
A Mexican man and his horse were coming down the trail from one of these stands (clearly just having restocked goods and emptying emptying his cash jar). We greeted him in Spanish and exchanged a few kind words. He was obviously just a peaceful, young father trying to generate some extra income to support his family—surely, no harm in that!
Boquillas Canyon, with its 1000-foot sheer rock walls was quite an impressive sight (we never did make it to Mariscal canyon, and I’ll save our visit to Santa Elena canyon for a separate post!).
Since sunlight was fading fast, I decided to sit along the shoreline, take some photos, and absorb the quiet solitude of the place. Suzanne kept hiking further when she turned around to snap this photo of me along the river bank.
Incredible to think that the shore just a few feet across from me was Mexico, and that this impressive canyon was shared equally by the US and Mexico! Fortunately, Mexico has now made national parks on their side of the Rio Grande along the entire border with Big Bend so that these magnificent views can be preserved for many generations to come!