Contributor Bill Brooks recounts his trip to Big Bend National Park and the tumultuous planning that was involved. Nevertheless, Bill and his traveling buddies kept planning, and were able to travel out to an amazing place.
My adventure to Big Bend National Park was put on hold last April due to Covid and it
completely bummed me out. Myself and my two traveling partners immediately made plans for
the following April. We were shooting for the first weekend in Big Bend NP when reservations
did not have to be made, which also coincided with free admission day for all national parks.
Come to find out due to Covid restrictions still in place, we had to make reservations since
capacity was limited.
When I found out about this the only places that were open for
backcountry camping were in the Chisos Mountains which is where I wanted to stay in the first
place. However, we suffered another setback. A wildfire broke out a week and a half before
our visit in the park where we planned to camp and the Chisos Mountains area was shut down.
We decided to go anyways and try our luck on back country sites that were set aside. Luckily,
we were able to secure two nights in the park, but one had to be done outside the park in Study
Butte, the first town out the west entrance.
As soon as we entered Big Bend, we had our eyes set on Santa Elana Canyon, probably
the most well known and visited site in the park. It did not disappoint. It’s a short half mile or so
hike one way with some of the best views along the Rio Grande.
On the trek in we could hear the echos of people in the canyon enjoying their visit. The towering canyon walls can’t be explained in words or pictures, but this is a must see while in Big Bend. There’s no need to
prepare for along arduous hike here. I went in with a bottle of water and came out with it half
Also on the hike list for our 3 day visit was The Window, Lost Mine Trail, Emory Peak,
and possibly South Rim depending on how much time we had left. Unfortunately, all of these
were located in the areas of the park shut down due to the wildfire. Keep in mind that Big Bend
is 800,000 acres and not one time did we ever see signs of smoke or fire. That’s just how big
this park is. It wasn’t until we were on our way out the gate on the last day and we saw a
helicopter flying out from the mountains that was dumping water on the hot spots.
Our first night of camping was close to the Boquillas crossing on the southeast side of
the park. The crossing was still closed, but when open you can take a boat across the border,
must have passport, to visit the local shops and restaurants. The park is how most of the locals
make a living and Covid has definitely taken a toll on their businesses. They did have some
items for sale at the Boquillas Overlook that worked on the honor system. You could drop $10
in a bucket and take an item of choosing (walking sticks, coffe mugs, koozies, pots, etc..).
As the sun was setting that initial evening we were marveling at how many stars were
appearing in the sky along with calm to no wind. That was the jynx that changed the rest of our
trip. Within the hour, 30 mph winds swept in along with clouds covering the sky and they both
remained for the rest of our trip. It was a blessing in disguise. I did want to enjoy the star
gazing and views of the Milky Way, but I will not complain about the temperature because it
never got above 70 at a time of year where they start to reach the 90s and even 100 degrees.
Next was our first mistake of the trip. Just down the road was a 14 mile trail we stumbled upon
that we decided on a whim to “check out”.
This trail was called Marufo Vega. Before I go into detail, this trail in my opinion is a must do, but only once. It kicked our butt, but probably because we were not aware of what we were getting ourselves into. I’ve hiked many trails across Texas and some in the Rockies.
This is by the far the most difficult trek I’ve ever been on. The elevation change alone was around 2,000 ft with half of that coming in about a one mile span just over half way through the trail. About 3 miles into the hike you come to a fork that makes a big loop then you hike back out the same 3 miles. When you go on this trail and you get to the fork, go RIGHT! We took this tip from someone we passed along the way. Along the loop we met a group coming from the other direction that was ready to turn around because of
how long the steepest part of the trail was. We just smiled and grinned as we went DOWN it.
The views were spectacular of the surrounding mountains and the Rio Grande.
This trail is hardly traveled as we only passed three other groups the entire seven hours. When we were done we were excited about the clouds and wind that blew in or this hike would’ve been unbearable. I
would not attempt in the summer months. According to most reviews I read, the best views in
the park were in the area that was currently closed. I can only imagine how great they are after
seeing the sights along Marufo Vega. That just gives me another reason to go back!
After the Marufo Vega trail we immediately hit up the brochures and one my buddies got on
Google to figure out what we just did. We saw all the reviews about how extremely difficult this
trail was and even the deaths that occur yearly on it. Again, I highly recommend Marufo Vega,
but I would not do it again.
Due to the soreness in our legs we picked another trail for our last morning in the park
that wasn’t too difficult, Pine Canyon Trail. This trail is a moderate 4-mile in and out hike that
starts at the base of a group of mountains and works its way up to a seasonal waterfall. This is
the closest we could get to Emory Peak to try and see any signs of the wildfire, but again
because of the size of the park we were unable to. The trailhead is located along a road that
requires a full tank of gas and a high clearance 4 wheel drive vehicle. This trail was in the heart
of Big Bend and to give you an idea of how vast the park is once we left the trailhead it took us
exactly one hour to get to the park exit.
I’ve been to a handful of national parks and they are hard to rank because they each
offer something unique. With Big Bend you can start in the mountains at 60 degrees, travel to
the desert regions at 100 degrees, and finish at the river basin around 70 degrees. Big Bend
also is the only national park with a single mountain range within its boundary, the Chisos. I
highly recommend Big Bend and will definitely be back soon to explore the areas we were
unable to visit. There is so much more to see and I left out many sites. I also hear Big Bend
State Park just to the west is just as marvelous. In between the two parks you can also visit the
historic towns of Lajitas and Terlingua.
It’s difficult to find cell service, but the visitor centers around the park offer wifi. As
always when visiting these parks, leave no trace. Only leave with memories and pictures.