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Big Bend National Park ~ Interesting History ~ Pictures of Vacation in West Texas

Updated on March 13, 2017
Peggy W profile image

Visiting national, state & local parks rates high on my wish list when it comes to vacations. Each & every one is distinct & memorable.

Big Bend National Park

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

The Rio Grande River literally means "Big River" in Spanish. The river has its origins in Colorado flowing southward to ultimately turn in a southeastern direction and end 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.

West Texas

"Paisano Pete" roadrunner sculpture in Fort Stockton, TX
"Paisano Pete" roadrunner sculpture in Fort Stockton, TX | Source
Approaching Big Bend country
Approaching Big Bend country | Source
Big Bend National Park (National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map)
Big Bend National Park (National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map)

You will definitely want a map once you enter this very large national park so as to know how to plan your time while there.

 

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 hub 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, a giant sculpture of a Roadrunner Bird that one sees 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!

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.

Chisos Mountains

Our assent into the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend National Park
Our assent into the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend National Park | Source
My hubby in Chisos Mountains
My hubby in Chisos Mountains | Source
Chisos Mountains
Chisos Mountains | Source

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 1930's 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.

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!

Chisos Mountains are entirely contained within Big Bend National Park.
Chisos Mountains are entirely contained within Big Bend National Park. | Source


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.

Chisos Mountains Basin photos

Click thumbnail to view full-size
View of our lodging in the Chisos Mountains of Big Bend National Park with Casa Grande looming overhead.The restaurant where we ate our dinners.One can watch movies presented by Park Rangers here in the Basin of the Chisos Mountains.Bird sitting on cactus within the Basin.  Worker's cars and buildings below.Buildings within the Basin of the Chisos MountainsChisos Mountains BasinPicture of me taken by my husband.Chisos Mountains sunset.
View of our lodging in the Chisos Mountains of Big Bend National Park with Casa Grande looming overhead.
View of our lodging in the Chisos Mountains of Big Bend National Park with Casa Grande looming overhead. | Source
The restaurant where we ate our dinners.
The restaurant where we ate our dinners. | Source
One can watch movies presented by Park Rangers here in the Basin of the Chisos Mountains.
One can watch movies presented by Park Rangers here in the Basin of the Chisos Mountains. | Source
Bird sitting on cactus within the Basin.  Worker's cars and buildings below.
Bird sitting on cactus within the Basin. Worker's cars and buildings below. | Source
Buildings within the Basin of the Chisos Mountains
Buildings within the Basin of the Chisos Mountains | Source
Chisos Mountains Basin
Chisos Mountains Basin | Source
Picture of me taken by my husband.
Picture of me taken by my husband. | Source
Chisos Mountains sunset.
Chisos Mountains sunset. | Source

Geology of Big Bend

Big Bend National Park

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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...approximately 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 the Big Bend into the fascinating place that can be viewed and enjoyed today.

Jumble of Volcanics within Big Bend
Jumble of Volcanics within Big Bend | Source

Evidence of past settlement within Big Bend National Park

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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 (stores) 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 | Source

Santa Elena Canyon

Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park

Looking at Santa Elena Canyon from a distance.
Looking at Santa Elena Canyon from a distance. | Source
My husband walking on some rocks in the Rio Grande River.
My husband walking on some rocks in the Rio Grande River. | Source
Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park
Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park | Source

Original Painting of Santa Elena Canyon

A painting that I created of Santa Elena Canyon using mostly a palette knife with acrylic paint.
A painting that I created of Santa Elena Canyon using mostly a palette knife with acrylic paint. | Source

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.

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 tip-toed 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.

Views of the Rio Grande River in Big Bend National Park

My hubby with river below
My hubby with river below | Source
Rio Grande River in Big Bend NP
Rio Grande River in Big Bend NP | Source
Yours truly
Yours truly | Source

Candelilla Wax Industry in Big Bend

My hubby in Big Bend NP with desert plants.
My hubby in Big Bend NP with desert plants. | Source

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.

Big Bend National Park
Big Bend National Park | Source
Hiking in Big Bend
Hiking in Big Bend | Source

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 would have done much more hiking up in the mountains.

Additional images taken in Big Bend National Park

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Big Bend National ParkMy husband and me in Big Bend National ParkBig Bend NPBig Bend NPOcotillo cactus in foreground of Big Bend National Park.Big Bend National ParkBig Bend National ParkYours truly in Big Bend NP
Big Bend National Park
Big Bend National Park | Source
My husband and me in Big Bend National Park
My husband and me in Big Bend National Park | Source
Big Bend NP
Big Bend NP | Source
Big Bend NP
Big Bend NP | Source
Ocotillo cactus in foreground of Big Bend National Park.
Ocotillo cactus in foreground of Big Bend National Park. | Source
Big Bend National Park
Big Bend National Park | Source
Big Bend National Park
Big Bend National Park | Source
Yours truly in Big Bend NP
Yours truly in Big Bend NP | Source
A markerBig Bend National Park -
Big Bend National Park, Mesquite St, BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK, TX 79834, USA
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Have you visited or would you wish to visit Big Bend National Park?

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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.

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    • Peggy W profile image
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      Peggy Woods 3 months ago from Houston, Texas

      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 profile image

      Dolores Monet 3 months ago from East Coast, United States

      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 W profile image
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      Peggy Woods 3 years ago from Houston, Texas

      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! :))

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 3 years ago from North Texas

      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 W profile image
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      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      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.

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