Big Bend National Park

"Traveling fast, but where are you going? Traveling slowly, always at home."
Mari Rhydwen

No matter where we park the truck and its camper, we are always at home. For the New Year's holiday at the end of 2001, Lisa and I went down to Big Bend National Park, in southwest Texas.
We camped in Rio Grande Village, which is in the southeast corner of the park near Boquillas and the Mexican village across the border, Boquillas del Carmen. You can pay a small fee to boatmen who will ferry you across the Rio Grande to Boquillas del Carmen if you wish to visit. The high peak near the center of this picture, which is in Mexico, is Pico del Carmen.

Rio Grande Village has a small RV park with full hookups - sewer, electricity, and water - which is usually full, and was the entire time we were there. We didn't want to stay in there anyway, as the sites are all crammed together up by the camp store.

We stayed in the 100 site campground which has no hookups of any kind. It does have restrooms with flush toilets, and there are water faucets scattered about the campground. Part of the campground is designated as a no-generator area, which means that motorhomes cannot run generators at any hour, nor can automobile or RV engines be run to recharge batteries. In other words, in the no-generator area, if your vehicle is running, it better be moving.

The campgrounds in the park are often full during the spring and holidays, and there are no reservations - first come, first served. There is a two-week limit to your stay in any one campground from May through January, with a 28-day limit on your total stay in the park. During February through April, there is a two-week limit on your total stay in the park. The key to getting a campsite is to show up in the middle of the morning when most people are on the move. One way to do that, if you have a long drive, is to drive into either Study Butte, Terlingua, or Lajitas on the west boundary of the park, and camp there overnight. There is a quite large commercial campground in Lajitas, which does accept reservations. Then you could drive into the park the next day early enough to have a high probability of finding a vacant campsite.

Besides Rio Grande Village, there are developed campgrounds in the Chisos Basin, and the Cottonwood campground near Castolon. The Basin campground has flush toilets, and a store. The Cottonwood campground has pit toilets and there is a small store at Castolon, but it's not as well stocked as the stores at Rio Grande Village and the Basis, both of which sell beer and wine in addition to a good selection of food items.

There are also primitive campgrounds accessible down dirt roads in the park. A free backcountry permit is required to stay in those campgrounds. Permits are available at any visitor center not more than 24 hours prior to your stay.

Most of the park roads are accessible to a vehicle with good ground clearance like a pickup truck. A couple of the roads require four-wheel drive capability. Discuss your vehicle capabilities with a ranger at one of the visitor centers before heading down any of the unpaved roads in the park, and always, always, always have camping equipment, food, and water for everyone in your party in case you have to make an unplanned overnight stop if you get stuck or have other vehicle problems. If you are not willing or able to carry that equipment, stay on a paved road.

Gasoline is available at Rio Grande Village, and at the park headquarters at Panther Junction, which also has diesel fuel. The prudent visitor would have sufficient gasoline to get to either Alpine or Fort Stockton upon leaving the park, as the stations in Marathon are not always open.

Other information about visits to the park may be obtained at this link. However, at the time I am writing this, this site, which is the official Park Service site for Big Bend, has temporarily suspended operation, and it doesn't say when operation will resume.
Sunrise, sunset, and general sky watching in the park are popular activities. There is a hill to the east of Rio Grande Village campground which has good views both to east and west where several of these pictures were taken. It's a popular spot with photographers.

Moonrise very near sunset over Pico del Carmen.

This is the moon near sunrise over the Chisos Mountains. That's the Rio Grande river in the foreground. It's amazing how quickly the lighting conditions change near sunrise and sunset.

This picture was taken only a few minutes after the previous one, from a spot a bit lower down the hill behind the campground at RGV, yet it's a very different picture.

Sunset, Pico del Carmen.

There is a pond behind RGV which is fed from the river. It has some dead trees in it which are interesting.

This is the Window, a geological feature in the Chisos Basin. Visibility is specified in the park by how far one can see through this opening from the Basin Visitor Center, and often exceeds one hundred miles.

There are more than a hundred miles of hiking trails in the park. They are of two types - the high altitude trails in the Chisos mountains, and the low trails. The high trails have designated campgrounds, which require permits obtainable at a visitor center not more than 24 hours before the first night out. The low trails are regulated by "zone camping", which means you get a permit for the zone, but can camp pretty much anywhere in the zone.

There is no water on the trails. You will carry what you need - a gallon a day is the minimum recommended for warm weather. Up in the Chisos, that's normally not a problem, as the distances are not great. Down on the lower, longer, trails, you might wish to cache water in jugs near a road which could be reached from a trail. Consult the Park Rangers for advice on doing this.

We didn't do any hiking on this trip, as Lisa was busy painting, I was taking pictures, and we were otherwise relaxing from the Christmas holidays. We are planning to go back in the spring for more exploration.

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Copyright 2002 by Linden B. Sisk
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