Desert Days & Starry Nights in Big Bend National Park – Texas

Located in the southwest Texas region. From the Chisos mountain range to the Chihuahuan Desert. The massive Santa Elena Canyon that the Rio Grande carves into. Steep limestone cliffs. The Langford Hot Springs and Native American pictographs near the foundation of an old bathhouse. The Old Maverick Road. Emory Peak and the Window Trail. Hiking and exploring the desert landscapes has been a pastime of mine since I was a kid.

I fondly remember river rafting for a few days with my Dad and brother along the Rio Grande. We camped out along the border (pre 9/11 days when Mexicans on the border were allowed to sell souvenirs. Now, border patrol and park rangers escort tin cans between the US and Mexico. Tourists can leave money in exchange for walking sticks or wire twisted toy lizards and scorpion souvenirs.)

We slept out and looked up at the night sky. Staring long enough and with the absence of light pollution, stars fill the sky. Some moving fast, but then realizing that they’re not stars, but actually satellites you can see orbiting the Earth. The Milky Way can be seen. You feel insignificant, small, and more in-tune with nature. Something greatly lacking these days, given our migration to the digital world.

I ended up taking a road trip out to Big Bend around the end of March. If you’re ever traveling to Texas, Big Bend is a must. Even if you live in Texas and haven’t been yet, it’s definitely a place to go.

We took the long road trip from Houston (9-10 hour drive). Along the way, we spent the night outside Del Rio at Seminole Canyon State Park. Sleeping in a car isn’t all that bad and we’ve made it a part of our options to travel around. Transport plus accommodation is the way to go.

There’s even a way to take the AMTRAK train to Big Bend.

Even out in the desert there’s pizza

Make sure to grab a slice at big Bend Pizza in Marathon.

T-Rex skull. Little girl for scale.

Fossil Discovery Exhibit

On the way to the Chisos Basin, we stopped off to check out the dinosaur bones and see what 130 million years of geologic time does to a place. There’s a short trail to get a better view. Using our imaginations we tried to picture what this must have looked like. The life that lived here, and the fact that this was all underwater.

Old Maverick Road

Just between Maverick Junction and Santa Elena, this 14-mile stretch of road that takes about an hour to drive offers a scenic route. Along the way make sure to stop by and check out the abandoned structure of Luna’s Jacal and contemplate how rough it must have been to live the primitive lifestyle.

Hiking Emory Peak

At an elevation of 7,800 ft. it’s the highest point in the Chisos Mountains. The hike is pretty long and rough but the breathtaking views of this spectacular park and the deserts of Mexico off in the distance are worth it.

Window Trail

Hiking the trail seemed easy. I had done it before many times in my youth. We arrived at Chisos Basin and parked the car. Thinking it’d just be a quick hour or so hike as it was posted being around 3 miles roundtrip. Wrong.

Not following the main Boy Scout motto of “Be Prepared”. We quickly packed up, bringing only 2 bottles of water. Big mistake.

The sun beat down and with the air being extra dry, thirst began to be an issue and before we knew it, we were rationing off sips. Luckily at the end of the Window Trail, there was shade and a place to lay on the smooth and cool rocks. We made it there, but could we make it back?

Chisos Basin on the Window Trail

Hiking we were getting desperate and at one point Bella took cover under the shade of a tree. It was up to me to run up to the campsites and find a tap. Luckily the trip wasn’t too long and I managed to get us some water. It never felt so good to drink water. Just a reminder. Stay hydrated when hiking these trails. It may seem like you’re not sweating or it’s not that hot, but being out directly in the sun your sweat evaporates quickly and you can get dehydrated easily.

Santa Elena Canyon

Dirt road up to Santa Elena
Santa Elena
Santa Elena & Rio Grande
Bear cub sighting in Chisos Basin
Rock paintings
Joseph Pallante
Joseph Pallante
An avid traveller, Joe enjoys spending time exploring the New Zealand countryside. In his spare time, he travels around in his campervan, writes about nature and how to live a frugal and sustainable lifestyle.

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