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Big Bend National Park - Pictures of Different Areas Within This Impressive Park

Visiting national, state, and local parks rates high on my wish list when it comes to vacations. Every park is distinct and memorable!

Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park

Rio Grande River

The Rio Grande River forms a boundary between parts of New Mexico and Texas in the United States and the country of Mexico ever since 1848 after border disputes were resolved.

In West Texas about halfway between Laredo and El Paso the river makes a deep bend in a southern direction into Mexico. Perhaps that is where the name Big Bend originates. What is now a national park has a fascinating history dating back to the earliest of times.

Back in the 1980s my husband and I decided to spend a vacation in Big Bend National Park and many pictures will be shared in this post about that experience.

The Rio Grande River literally means "Big River" in Spanish. The river has its origins in Colorado. It flows southward to ultimately turn in a southeastern direction and ends up spilling into the Gulf of Mexico between Brownsville, Texas and Matamoros, Mexico. Much of it is utilized by both countries for irrigation purposes and actual water flow at times and in places sometimes negates the meaning of "big river" particularly in the Rio Grande Valley where much agriculture takes place.

We Begin Our Vacation

Starting from our home in Houston my husband and I had left our pets in San Antonio with family. We then started driving westward the next day on Interstate 10 to our vacation destination of Big Bend.

As indicated in the post written about Fort Davis distances are vast in Texas and seemingly even more so in West Texas. We had our car stocked with snacks and plenty of water since much of this trip was to be in desert country.

Passing through Fort Stockton we stopped to take a picture of Paisano Pete. It is a giant sculpture of a roadrunner bird that one sees in the wild in these parts. These birds can fly somewhat but navigate primarily on the ground with running speeds of 26 mph (42 km/h). The sculpture is 11 feet tall and 22 feet long so it certainly is an attention grabber!

"Paisano Pete" roadrunner sculpture in Fort Stockton, TX

"Paisano Pete" roadrunner sculpture in Fort Stockton, TX

Fort Stockton like Fort Davis was a frontier military post protecting westward travelers from Indian raiders who regularly followed one of the Comanche Trails in this part of the country going down into Mexico. It was primarily manned by the famed Buffalo Soldiers who were black when military units were still segregated.

We had made reservations to stay within the national park. One definitely needs to make reservations well in advance because lodging within the park is limited and surrounding towns with available rooms to rent are sparsely located near Big Bend in West Texas.

The town of Fort Stockton is located 135 miles north of Big Bend, Alpine is 105 miles northwest and Presidio is 100 miles west. We wished to spend as much time in the park instead of spending part of each day driving to and from the national park.

Approaching Big Bend country

Approaching Big Bend country

Our room reservations within the Big Bend National Park were up the Basin part of the Chisos Mountains.

The highest portions of the Chisos Mountains soar to elevations of around 7,800 feet, the highest one being Emory Peak at 7,825 ft (2,385 m) above sea level. The Basin is a depression within the mountains some 1,500 to 2,000 feet lower than the highest peaks and about three miles in diameter.

The CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) workmen started building the first road back in the 1930s as well as some camp structures in the Basin of the Chisos Mountains as a part of the New Deal when people were trying to recover from the Great Depression.

Today most of the amenities are found within the Basin and my husband and I were to spend three nights there exploring what we could see of the National Park in that time frame. In hindsight, we wish that we had planned more days there as it is such an effort to get there and there were many more trails that we might have wished to explore had we had the benefit of additional time.

Chisos Mountains are entirely contained within Big Bend National Park.

Chisos Mountains are entirely contained within Big Bend National Park.

The road going up into the basin certainly tests one's vehicle! An under powered vehicle would have a hard time making that assent. There are pullovers provided to let one's vehicle motor rest and cool down if necessary. Good brakes and the proper use of gears is a necessity!

Our assent into the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend National Park

Our assent into the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend National Park

After locating our room we wandered around the Basin taking some pictures, had dinner in the restaurant and watched our first beautiful sunset before settling in for the evening and planning the days ahead.

Geology of Big Bend

It is not surprising to learn that over the course of millenia the area comprising Big Bend National Park was once under the sea. Fossils of shells dating back to the Cambrian period of the Paleozoic Era (some 600 million years ago) are embedded in some of the oldest rocks found in Big Bend.

The uplift of much of the North American continent and development of mountains due to tectonic plate movements deep within the earth (also affecting the Big Bend area) occurred during the Mesozoic era some 230 to 135 million years ago. Plants, birds and dinosaurs occurred by the end of this era and those fossils can be found within Big Bend.

Teeth and scull fossils of mammals many of them now extinct are found in Big Bend from the Cenozoic era some 63 to 1 million years ago. This was also a time of much volcanic activity.

All of these many different rocks and minerals with fossilized remains tell a geologic story of how this area has evolved over time. Of course the forces of erosion have also served to sculpt Big Bend into the fascinating place that can be viewed and enjoyed today.

Interesting History

Big Bend in addition to having an interesting geologic history also has had an interesting history of people who have resided or passed through here. These people include nomads, Comanche and Apache Indians, Spanish and Mexican settlers, Anglo-Saxon settlers, soldiers, outlaws, ranchers, farmers and perhaps even miners. Some people are still searching for reputed lost mines in Big Bend hoping for riches.

The names of some of the areas within Big Bend National Park tell a story all their own as to what was found there or who lived there at one time or another naming these places. These include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Bee Mountain
  • Rattlesnake Mountain
  • Wild Horse Mountain
  • Dogie Mountain
  • Government Spring
  • Panther Peak
  • Lost Mine Peak
  • Elephant Tusk Mountain
  • Mule Ear Peaks
  • Cow Heaven Anticline
  • Burro Mesa
  • Goat Mountain
  • Maverick Mountain
  • Adobe Walls Mountain
  • Grapevine Hills
  • Government Spring
  • Dog Canyon
  • Devils Den
  • Dagger Mountain
  • Lone Mountain

All of these people have left evidence of their passage whether it be holes in the rocks used as mortars by Indian tribes, remnants left in caves by bandits evading the law, crumbling and abandoned adobe and other structures used as homes by settlers or even trading posts that once existed.

Living or working in the Big Bend area would not have been easy. Water sources in addition to the Rio Grande River were scarce and most of the springs were to be found in the hillsides and mountains...not the surrounding desert. Over time most people moved away to less harsh environments.

Blooming cactus in Big Bend National Park

Blooming cactus in Big Bend National Park

In the next two days of our vacation we drove in and out of the Basin of the Chisos Mountains to view more of the park. It was much cooler up in the mountains than out on the surrounding desert floor.

Jumble of Volcanics within Big Bend

Jumble of Volcanics within Big Bend

Santa Elena Canyon

One of the most spectacular of features and one that should not be missed viewing is the trail taking one to Santa Elena Canyon. Vertical cliffs approximately 1500 feet high meet the Rio Grande River in this section of the U.S. - Mexican border. In places the river is only about 30 feet across while at other locations in the canyon it can be over 500 feet from one country to another.

The 1.7 mile round trip trail takes one right down to the Rio Grande River and these magnificent cliffs. We seemed to be the only people traversing the trail that day in the spring of the year 1983. The sun was brightly shining overhead and the day was warm. Suntan lotion, sunglasses, hats and taking enough water with one on these sojourns into desert country is much advised!

My husband and I tiptoed out into the Rio Grande River on some exposed rocks, took pictures and soaked up the atmosphere. The power of nature as well as the beauty and solitude of this place became distinctly imprinted upon our senses.

The Rio Grande River had sparkling glints of sunshine hitting the surface as it churned its way towards the Gulf of Mexico. Reed-like vegetation near the banks of the river swayed in the hot breezes. In addition to the sounds of the moving river occasional bird chirps and the buzzing of insects could be heard. Santa Elena Canyon seemed to be solely ours for that moment in time.

Of course time stands still for no man much less any mountain. The Rio Grande River and other forces will continue to make changes in this landscape as long as our planet Earth exists.

Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park

Candelilla Wax Industry in Big Bend

Many old vats and abandoned steam boilers can be seen in Big Bend National Park when the candelilla wax plant was commonly being harvested in the early part of the 20th century.

This fleshy reed-like plant with few visible leaves grows in Big Bend, in Mexico and other desert areas. It has a waxy outer coating which when rendered in a boiling solution of water and sulfuric acid forms a waxy substance utilized in many different ways.

Some examples of uses included the following:

  • Waterproofing munitions during past World Wars
  • Floor and shoe polishes
  • Sealing wax
  • Making candles
  • Thatching roofs
  • Cosmetic industry
  • Chewing gum

In Mexico the candelilla plant (Euphorbia antisyphilitica) has also been used to treat venereal diseases by native people.

Today while still utilized primarily for chewing gum...less expensive petroleum based substances have come along taking the place of this once flourishing industry in Big Bend.

Candelilla plant (Euphorbia antisyphilitica)

Candelilla plant (Euphorbia antisyphilitica)

This remote southwestern national park founded in 1944 gets fewer visitors than most other national parks in the United States and is one of only two national parks in Texas the other being Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Consisting of over 800,000 acres and having both Chisos Mountain and Chihuahua Desert scenery it is well worth a visit.

There are some paved but also unpaved roads in the park and high 4 wheel drive vehicles are recommended for the latter. Since we were driving our sedan car my husband and I stuck to driving the paved roads since we had no wish to get stuck out in the desert.

People who like to camp can be accommodated as well as those who wish to stay in the Chisos Mountain lodge if reservations are made well in advance of any visit.

Plant life ranges from desert to alpine. We saw much of the desert surroundings and had we spent a few more days we would have done much more hiking up in the mountains.

I hope you enjoyed this look at some of the pictures we took while on vacation in West Texas at Big Bend National Park years ago and also learned a bit about its most interesting history. This is just a small sample of what you can discover if you visit this national park someday. Among many other Texas sites it takes a bit of dedicated planning and effort to get to this one but it is well worth it.

Beautiful video of Big Bend National Park

© 2011 Peggy Woods

Comments are welcomed.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on March 13, 2017:

Hi Dolores,

Big Bend National Park is a great place to visit. I only wish we had planned a longer vacation there. I am not sure that I have any other paintings shown on HubPages. Some of my linocuts may be featured but many of them are now on my own website embellishing other articles.

Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on March 13, 2017:

Hi Peggy - looks like a wonderful place to visit. I love your painting! I am going to look on your other articles to see if you have shared more of them.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 16, 2013:

Hi Au fait,

Your comment gave me a good reason to update this hub. Thanks! I know what you mean about traveling in west Texas. Big Bend National Park is worth the effort! :))

C E Clark from North Texas on June 28, 2013:

I think the reason it seems to take so long to get anywhere in W. Texas is that there's nothing much around for miles and miles. Just scrub trees (small) and weeds and brush or nothing. The Oklahoma Panhandle is another place where it seems to take forever to get anywhere. It almost makes W. Texas seem exciting. ;)

Beautiful photos as I know I can expect on your articles (great photos of you and hubby too!), lots of great information. Voting up, interesting, beautiful, and sharing with my followers. Pinning too.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on April 16, 2012:

Hi Leah,

I love to travel also. Hope that you get to see Big Bend National Park someday per your wish. Thanks for your comment.

Leah Lefler from Western New York on April 16, 2012:

What a gorgeous place to visit - I love the southwest and miss all of that glorious sunshine! The Rio Grande definitely carved out a beautiful place for people to visit. We're nowhere near Texas, but I voted that I'd like to visit Big Bend in the future. I absolutely love to travel!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 11, 2011:

Hi thelyricwriter,

Big Bend National Park is definitely a great place to go on vacation. Glad you liked the pictures. Thanks for your comment.

Richard Ricky Hale from West Virginia on October 11, 2011:

Voted up Peggy. You do great reviews and always good pictures. Seems like a great place to go, so beautiful. Best wishes.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 09, 2011:

Hi again ktrapp,

That makes sense! What were you studying? Botany? Just curious.

Kristin Trapp from Illinois on October 08, 2011:

I had a professor that I recall telling us that the roots for a Mesquite tree are as long as the height of the tree itself. I guess they have to go that deep to get water.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 08, 2011:

Hi ktrapp,

Yes, lots of prickly pear cactus grows in west Texas. In fact my very first photo of Big Bend National Park has some in the foreground. The Mesquite trees seem to thrive in conditons where water is scarce. Glad you liked these old slides recently converted into DVD form and consequently the photos for this hub. Thanks for commenting.

Kristin Trapp from Illinois on October 08, 2011:

I went to college in west Texas (Abilene) but not near as far west as Big Bend. I just remember cactus (I think it was called Prickly Pear, but I may be mistaken) and Mesquite trees. This is a really nice hub with such great photos that really depict the terrain.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 24, 2011:

Hello Jokylu,

Enjoy your trip to the Big Bend National Park and so glad that you could learn something from our travel experiences there. Thanks for your comment.

Jokylu from Waratah North, Victoria. on September 24, 2011:

Oh I absolutely loved reading this very descriptive account of your trip to Big Bend National Park. You make it so fresh as if you were right there recounting as you go. I also liked the way you drew in the history and other interesting facts about the area. It has just been added to our itinerary for a trip we are planning for next year.

Your photos were also lovely and the video was awesome. What an incredible landscape.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 16, 2011:

Hi Stephanie,

Hopefully you planned a few more days for your visit of Big Bend National Park than we did. It is so large that it would take a long time to see it all! Nice that we have some shared memories of visiting the same place. You are quite the traveler! :))

Stephanie Henkel from USA on September 15, 2011:

These are great pictures of Big Bend and remind me of the wonderful time we had during our visit there a few years ago. There were a few places we must have missed as I don't remember seeing the Jumble of Volcanos and a few other places you mention. Your hub inspires me to go back through my photographs and relive our visit! Great information, voted up!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 12, 2011:

Hi Nell,

So glad that you liked this hub about Big Bend and nice that it made you think of your Dad and what he liked. The people we loved remain in our hearts and minds always. Sometimes little things trigger our thoughts of them on a day to day basis. That is surely the case with me. Thanks for your comment and rating. :)

Nell Rose from England on September 12, 2011:

Hi, Peggy, this is amazing! what a wonderful hub! my dad would have loved it, he used to love all the old western films and would often say how much he would like to visit there, this was a really interesting and informative hub, rated up! thank you!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 11, 2011:

Hi James,

Thanks for the compliments on the photography of Big Bend National Park. Nice to see it in picture form instead of the old slides format. Plan to have more of our old slides converted to DVDs...and possibly more hub material. :) Thanks for your comment.

James A Watkins from Chicago on September 10, 2011:

You created a feast for the eyes, as you always do. Your photography work is stunning. I appreciate all the information you gave us too about Big Bend. I enjoyed the journey. Tell next time—adios!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 05, 2011:

Hi Diana,

Glad that I could take you along on this vacation trip that my husband and I took years ago to see Big Bend National Park. Wish we had planned to stay longer! Thanks for your comment.

Diana McNulty from Arundel, Maine on September 04, 2011:

What a beautiful and fascinating place! I really enjoyed this hub. It was so well researched and informative. Thank you!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 23, 2011:

Hi Billy,

That would be an ideal way to see Big Bend National Park. It will be a trip your family will long remember!

billyaustindillon on August 23, 2011:

Another great hub for the Texas Tourist Bureau! I look forward in a few years to traveling out to Big Bend with my boys on a family camping trip.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 22, 2011:

Hi agusfanani,

Our planet over the centuries has changed much and many land masses used to be under the sea at one time. Geology is actually a very interesting subject. Thanks for leaving a comment and nice to know that you enjoyed reading about Big Bend National Park in Texas.

agusfanani from Indonesia on August 22, 2011:

I think this national park has so vast and rocky areas which represents another part of America which has interesting geological facts and it's amazing to know that Big Bend used to be ocean long time ago. Wow !

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 21, 2011:

Hi Dim Flaxenwick,

The people that assembled the video at the end of this hub obviously spent a lot of time in Big Bend National Park and we can now enjoy the fruits of their labor. Like you, I found it to be amazing. Thanks for your comments.

Dim Flaxenwick from Great Britain on August 21, 2011:

You did a wonderful job on this hub. Thank you for such beautiful pictures to accompany your words.

Some of those rock formations made me think íf only they could talk!´

The video at the end was amazing. Loved all of it.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 21, 2011:

Hi Hello, hello,

So glad to be able to present this hub about Big Bend National Park to you. It is a unique part of West Texas especially with the entire mountain range of the Chisos Mountains contained entirely within the national park. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 21, 2011:

Hi Prasetio,

Like you, I love seeing and spending time in nature and the Big Bend National Park has plenty of that with even more to spare. Thanks for leaving your comment.

Hello, hello, from London, UK on August 21, 2011:

Thank you, Peggy, for this remarkable well written hub and showing this becautiful piece of nature. It was such a joy to read it and see all these pictures.

prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on August 20, 2011:

This was so beautiful, Peggy. I always love natural wonder and I can see how this place looks amazing. Chisos Mountain looks so great. You have done a good job again. I love this hub. Vote up and useful. Cheers...

Prasetio

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 20, 2011:

Hi Eiddwen,

Nice to hear that you enjoyed viewing Big Bend National Park via this hub. Thanks for your comment.

Eiddwen from Wales on August 20, 2011:

What a fantastic hub. A definite one to bookmark in my 'FavouriteHubs 'slot.

I vote up and up for this one.

Photos are awesome .

Take care

Eiddwen.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 20, 2011:

Hello htodd,

Happy to hear that you enjoyed this posting about Big Bend National Park. Thanks for letting me know via your comment.

htodd from United States on August 20, 2011:

Great post ...Thanks

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 19, 2011:

Hi Alastar Packer,

It is my great pleasure to have been able to share pictures and some of our experiences in visiting Big Bend National Park with you. Glad that you enjoyed it. Thanks for your comment.

Alastar Packer from North Carolina on August 19, 2011:

Read and heard so much about Big Bend but have never been able to visit, so what a pleasure it is too have such a well done and informative article and pics to enjoy like yours here Peggy. Thanks so very much.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 19, 2011:

Hi AliciaC,

Big Bend National Park truly is a great place to visit. Just takes some planning in advance because of the more limited places to stay surrounding that area of West Texas. Thanks for your comment.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on August 18, 2011:

Thank you for a very interesting description of Big Bend National Park and the lovely photos. The park certainly looks like a wonderful place to visit.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 18, 2011:

Hi dahoglund,

Roadrunners are definitely actual birds and many of them can be seen in parts of Texas. It is amazing how fast they can actually run and it is easy to understand how the birds got their name since most people probably see them running alongside roads.

Texas does have its share of cattle ranching however this year because of the drought, many are being sold off and the ranchers are being hurt financially.

When we lived in Wisconsin and thought of Texas... cowboys, ten gallon hats and oil wells were primarily what came to mind. There IS some of that, but most people live like people anywhere.

The landscape of Texas makes it unique. It is so large and has everything from mountains to desert to seashore; pine trees, palm trees and cactus; large populated cities to wide open spaces where one can drive endlessly without seeing another car or person and so much more.

Thanks for your memories of what Texas and the West meant to you.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 18, 2011:

Hi Cheryl,

Yes, Big Bend is a giant sized national park with many areas of it being left as wild and undeveloped...in fact the majority of it is that way. It certainly is filled with rustic and natural beauty! Thanks for the visit and comment.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 18, 2011:

Hi Gene,

You forgot to mention walking out to the mailbox or going for walks in the subdivision! See, Bruce DOES go outside occasionally. Ha!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 18, 2011:

Hello marellen,

Thanks for tagging along on our vacation to Big Bend many years ago. I enjoyed putting this together and felt as if I was reliving it again by writing about it. Happy that you found it informative.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on August 18, 2011:

Hello The Dirt Farmer,

Happy to hear that you liked these photos of Big Bend National Park. They were recently converted from slides to a DVD so that we could also view them in this way. Will have to have more old slides converted! Thanks for your comment.

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on August 18, 2011:

When I was young Texas was the first thing that came to mind when I thought of the west or Western stories.Now I think it is because of the cattle drive period after the Civil War. Marty Robbins comes to mind in reading this hub.I never really thought of the roadrunner as a real bird, however the cartoon is classic and Plymouth had a car model back in the 1950's named after it.Very good pictures, as always. Up, interesting and awesome.

Cheryl J. on August 17, 2011:

A very unique and interesting hub. Big Ben appears to be a great place to seek relaxation. I am amazed that Big Bend is one of the largest national parks in America. I really enjoyed your presentation, photos and videos of this wonderful and giant park. I would like to vist and enjoy the beauty, the solitude and the nature of Big Bend National Park. Another outstanding and awesome hub.

Gene Jasper on August 17, 2011:

Lovely place and I loved the shots of Bruce outdoors, a place I know he seldom goes without a golf club or a wonderful bottle of wine for a picnic.

marellen on August 17, 2011:

Awesome hub and very informative to say the least. Thanks for taking me along...

Jill Spencer from United States on August 17, 2011:

What a fun hub! Love your photos.