Big Bend National Park, Thanksgiving 2016 (part 1)


Oct 27, 2013
Nov 24-25, 2016

I had the unexpected opportunity to visit Big Bend National Park over Thanksgiving. The park hadn't been on my radar, but a week or two before Thanksgiving a friend declared he wanted to go camping and managed to pull together me and two others to join him. The timing worked out; he was taking the entire week off work, so he went out early to grab a campsite while the rest of us started the drive out Wednesday afternoon after work. The route from Houston was simple: drive 500 miles west on I-10, then another 100 miles south on US-385. After a brief overnight nap in the car, we finally made it to the park Thursday morning.


Our first look at the Chisos Mountains as we drove through the park.

After reuniting with our friend at the visitor center, we continued the drive to our first hike: the Window Trail.

We saw neither mountain lions nor the elusive stick people. IMG_8716_crop.jpg

Chisos Mountains, consisting of volcanic rocks IMG_8718.JPG

Nice, easy to follow trail IMG_8732.JPG

Silly rabbit, Trix are for kids! IMG_8733.JPG


Soon we encountered the creek, with flowing water this time of year.

View through "The Window" at the pouroff marking the end of the trail.IMG_8750.JPG

The return hike

After the hike, we climbed back in our vehicles for the drive to Cottonwood Campground. Along the way, the road passed this neat perpendicular intersection of a dike through the country rock.

We set up our tents and scarfed down our Thanksgiving feast of ham, mashed potatoes, green beans, rolls, and homemade apple pie, then settled in for a little stargazing before bed. Probably one of the best Thanksgivings I've had!IMG_8790.JPG

We woke up dark and early the next morning to drive to one of the nearby overlooks to watch the sunrise with hot cocoa, coffee, and muffins.

After a stop back at camp for second breakfast (ham and eggs!), we set off for Santa Elena Canyon, our first hike of the day.

I loved the juxtaposition of the new green growth next to the old brown growth.

Cactus, in detail. IMG_8903.JPG

The Rio Grande. To the right is Mexico, to the left is the US.

The river running between the limestone walls of Santa Elena Canyon

Water running down the rock left this cool pattern. It looked like it should have been textured, but it was all smooth to the touch.

Iron concretions in the limestone IMG_8920.JPG

Spider dance IMG_8929.JPG

Fossiliferous limestone IMG_8930.JPG

Hiking back. The clouds that had lent themselves to such a beautiful sunrise now resulted in an overcast morning.

The mighty Rio Grande.
Onward to our next hike: Ernst Tinaja! The road was labeled as a 4WD road, but was in good enough condition that any high-clearance vehicle could drive it. I even saw a BMW sedan on the road; must have been a rental.

Flowers at the start of the hike. IMG_8943.JPG

Soon, the colors started appearing in the rock: reds, pinks, oranges, and purples. IMG_8947.JPG

Tiny faults!IMG_8951.JPG

We slowly meandered through this section, stopping often to examine the many folds and colors.

Faults and folds.IMG_8971.JPG


Ernst Tinaja IMG_8983.JPG

Fault gouge in a zone at least a foot wideIMG_8987_FaultGouge.JPG

Looking back in the direction from which we had come

More colors

With plenty of light left, we continued on upcanyon, climbing over some minor obstacles. IMG_9002.JPG

The first big obstacle: a dryfall which we easily chimneyed up.IMG_9009.JPG

It was followed by several other small dryfalls and big ledges to clamber up, one requiring a helpful hand from a taller member of the group.



The canyon walls opened back up, and we were back to easy(ish) walking. IMG_9042_edit.jpg

Spider IMG_9055.JPG

The return trip back downcanyon, negotiating the rock at the top of the first big dryfall.

Then an easy slide down. Whee!

Late afternoon sun IMG_9064.JPG

And back at the tinaja

Just one more picture of the folded rocks, I promise!IMG_9087.JPG

Enrst Tinaja was by far my favorite hike of the trip, with the colorful folded rocks and the scrambling upcanyon. I give it two thumbs up!

Quick stop in the late afternoon light at the Boquillas overlook, then onward to the hot springs for a relaxing soak.

Sunset on the walk out the the hot springs, a great end to a great day. IMG_9095.JPG

part 2 here:
Last edited:
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