Big Bend National Park is the unsung beauty of America’s great national parks. One of America’s largest and most scenic national parks, Big Bend is also one of the least visited. It averages just over 375,000 visitors a year. Compare that to the Great Canyon, which draws 2.9 million annually, or Yellowstone, which draws 3.8 million, and you’re talking about a park that’s seriously unappreciated.
Part of the reason for this is the park’s remote location. Tucked away in an arid corner of southwest Texas, Big Bend is 300 miles south of El Paso and a nearly six hour drive from San Antonio, the nearest large cities. Yet it’s huge. Big Bend stretches over 1,258 square miles. That’s bigger than the island of Maui or the state of Rhode Island. You could put three New York Cities, including all five boroughs, within the boundaries of Big Bend National Park.
The park is so big it has its own mountain range, the Chisos Mountains, which are fully contained within the park and rise to 7,825 feet.
Because the park is so out of the way there are few lodging options nearby and no major developments within a hundred miles. One of the few places to stay is the Ten Bit Ranch in Terlingua, a bed and breakfast consisting of rooms made to look like the buildings in an Old West town. You can stay in the bank, the gunsmith, the school house or the general store.
The park has a rich biodiversity including more than 1,2oo species of desert plants and 600 animal species including bears, cougars, eagles, wild pigs and golden eagles.
Interesting rock formations are scattered throughout the park. The most visited is Balanced Rock, whose bizarre configuration boggles the mind as to how it could have got that way.
For 118 miles the Rio Grande winds its away along the southern boundary of Big Bend National Park. Summer temperatures that soar to more than 100 degrees dry out parts of the river bed forming these intricate and beautiful patterns.
Along the river’s shallow course the desert bursts to life in reed grass, salt cedar, bulrush, and mesquite. A distinct vegetative belt borders the river and hugs the banks of creeks and arroyos.
The park’s most striking feature is actually outside of the park. Santa Elena Canyon with its 1,500 walls lies across the river in the Mexican state of Chihuahua.
There’s no need for a border wall in Big Bend National Park. The soaring cliffs of Santa Elena Canyon provide a physical barrier few would dream of trying to overcome.
For those who’ve known the frustration of fighting the crowds at the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone, Big Bend is comparable in terms of size and beauty, but with none of the congestion or commercialization of those parks. It’s worth a trip off the beaten path to discover its unsung beauty.
Previous Stop on the Odyssey: Langtry, TX
Next Stop on the Odyssey: Roswell, NM
My American Odyssey Route Map
All images by Malcolm Logan, except…
South Rim of Chisos Mountain, Adam Baker
Balanced Rock, TakeMyTrip.com