After our jaunt down FM 170, we grabbed some lunch in Terlingua and made some purchases at the gift store. With a little bit of afternoon left, we drove to Big Bend National Park!
It was my first visit to the park and Zach’s first time in 16 years. We didn’t have a lot of time before dusk and the weather was iffy, so we decided to do one of the shorter, scenic hikes: Santa Elena Canyon.
Since we entered the park from the Study Butte side, we were closer to Santa Elena than the main visitor’s center. We took the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, a long, winding road, down to the border and then followed the Rio Grande to the canyon. Since it was overcast and sprinkling as we drove, we decided to forgo the scenic pull-offs.
When we arrived at the canyon trail head it wasn’t raining, and it looked like the sky would hold off for a while. There were several families coming up off the trail as we headed down to the water. Due to the recent rains in our area, there was some water in Terlingua Creek, though not enough to interrupt our hike. We had to walk up the creek bed a little ways before we could cross onto the bank, and we found the trail weaving in and out of the brush.
Shortly after we got onto the regular trail we had to climb a rather steep ascent to enter the canyon. This was not difficult, but it was the most strenuous part of the hike. The rest of the trail led us on a gradual descent back down to the river’s edge which we followed until we couldn’t go any further.
The trail along the Rio Grande was incredibly lush and overrun with tall, thin shoots of bamboo. We weaved in and out of it at times as we made our way through the canyon to trail’s end.
The sheer magnitude of the canyon walls is what struck us the most. The walls are as tall as 1,500 feet in some places and show little mercy. There was hardly any room for a trail on the opposite side of the canyon, and there was no where to go. It was hard to put into focus that there was a completely different country only 40 ft. away – a country which shares the same harsh environment, yet there’s a barrier, a boundary that can’t be crossed.
We ended up timing our hike just right. We had enough time to drive out of the flood-prone areas and back toward the entrance before the sky opened up and poured down on us. It was a torrential rain, and it followed us all the way to Alpine before it let up. Even though our time in Big Bend was brief, it was enough to impress upon us what a vast and majestic park it is. We barely scratched the surface, but equipped with an annual National Parks pass, you can bet this was the first of many trips.