Big Bend National Park: Hot Springs


After our visit to Boquillas del Carmen, Mexico and Boquillas Canyon, there were still two major sights we wanted to see in the eastern part of the park before returning to our campground: Ernst Tinaja and the Hot Springs. But first, we drove down to the Rio Grande Village visitor center. At the center, we paid our backcountry fee an reserved a primitive campsite in the Chisos Mountains for our backpack the next night. This season, the park has switched over to a computerized system for backcountry reservations, and ours was the first that the ranger at Rio Grande Village had processed.

Both to and from the short drive to Rio Grande village, we were afforded breathtaking views of the Sierra del Carmen across the river in Mexico.

Sierra del Carmen

After the visitor center, we attempted to reach Ernst Tinaja, one of many depressions in the rock in various parts of the park. The depressions act as natural water holes, trapping rainwater, and are both dramatic and great places to see wildlife. Ernst Tinaja is several miles up Old Ore Road from the main park road. Unfortunately, after about three quarters of a mile, we decided that the road was just too rough for the rented Captiva. We turned around and returned to the main road.

Our next stop was the hot springs along the Rio Grande, just west of Rio Grande Village. The springs are at the end of a twisting, bumpy dirt road. Easy compared to Old Ore Road. At the parking lot, a large sign cautioned against leaving items visible in your car because this is an area where thefts were fairly common. That worried us since so much of our gear was in the car. We decided not to change into bathing suits, but to check out the springs first.

Alternating layers of limestone, claystone, and shale create striking features in Boquillas formation rock in the vicinity of the hot springs.

The hot springs at Big Bend are naturally occurring along the river. The area was a resort in the first part of the twentieth century and continued to operate as an official park concessionaire for a decade or so after the park was established. There are the remains of a general store, a lodge, and some cabins. The California fan palms, obviously non-native, date from the resort era.

General store
Rio Grande in the vicinity of the hot springs.
Fan palms
The ruins of the resort’s lodge

The signage was confusing, and it took us a few minutes to find the actual hot springs. They were located amid cane breaks down a trail that cut between the river and some cliffs of the Boquillas formation. The cliffs above were covered with cliff swallow nests.

Cliff Swallow nests
Rock Nettle
Both Sean and I thought that this piece of rock looked like a piece of pan-seared tuna.
Cane breaks

Ultimately, we opted not to take a dip in the hot springs. We still had a somewhat long drive back to our campground on the other side of the park. Instead we climbed up a hill above the parking area and ate peanut butter and potato chip sandwiches in front of the ruins of a cottage.

We discovered that someone had left a pair of “doinger” shorts in the ruin.
The view of the general store and the Sierra del Carmen beyond from the window of the cottage.

After finishing our sandwiches, we climbed back into the Captiva for the drive to our camp.

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