Tag Archives: Big Bend

Big Bend National Park: Santa Elena Canyon


Sunday morning, November 10, Sean and I climbed into the car and turned left out of Cottonwood Campground. We headed down the final, westernmost eight miles of the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive toward Santa Elena Canyon. The road curved through scrub land on a bench above the river’s floodplain, which was green with plant life below. A roadrunner ran across the road and then flew to some nearby branches.

Greater Roadrunner

Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive ends at the parking lot for Santa Elena Canyon Trail. In front of us loomed a massive miles-long uplift known as the Mesa de Anguila on the northern (American) side of the Rio Grande and the Sierra Ponce on the southern (Mexican) side. The uplift, which was formed by the Terlingua Fault at its base, is bisected by the 1,500-foot deep Santa Elena Canyon.

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Big Bend National Park: To the Rio Grande

Cerro Castellan from Cottonwood Campground

Sean and I flew from Chicago to El Paso on Friday evening, November 8, after work and after having both taken our gear to work that morning. There’s something fun about wearing a full backpacking pack on the CTA during the morning commute. I had been a bit nervous that our backpacks would surpass the 50-pound limit, but without water, they didn’t. It was the first time we’d checked our big packs.

In what has become a new tradition at O’Hare, we had dinner at Frontera Tortas. Complete with vacation-launching margaritas.

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Big Bend National Park: Planning


Big Bend National Park is massive. Established in 1944 on 801,163 acres along a great curve of the Rio Grande in far southwest Texas, it is larger than Yosemite. It contains hundreds of thousands of acres of Chihuahuan Desert as well as entire mountain ranges, canyons, mesas, and of course, the US side of the Rio Grande. The best, most famous description of the park is quoted in the Official Handbook, which I actually did not read until we returned from our trip. This poetic description of Big Bend is attributed to a 19th century Mexican cowboy:

Where the rainbows wait for the rain, and the big river is kept in a stone box, and water runs uphill and mountains float in the air, except at night when they go away to play with other mountains…

In the weeks leading up to our trip to Big Bend National Park, I’d quipped, “If you’d ever told me that I’d be excited to spend my 35th birthday in Texas, I’d have told you you were crazy.” My only previous experiences with the state involved sometimes lengthy layovers at Dallas-Fort Worth airport. Not the thing to spark the imagination.

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