Volcanic ash is heaped in great mounds, while unusual desert plants dominate the hillsides, including gigantic yucca, cacti of a dozen varieties, stands of lechuguilla, bunchgrass, alligator juniper, pinion pine, and creosotebush. This is the Chihuahuan Desert, flowing over the Mexico/Texas border, creating a timeless scene that remains largely untouched, even though mining has taken place in the region over the past century.
Big Bend is one of America's great national parks, still largely unknown to non-Texans, but gaining popularity among nature lovers who come here to gaze upon the stark landscape, and to enjoy the wild beauty of the Chihuahuan Desert. The park now sprawls over 1,252 square miles, include the southernmost tip of the bend, all of it an awesome scene, including flat sandy desert and badlands areas. The Rio Grande draws the park's southern boundary. From Rio Grande Village -- a park campground and RV facility about a half hour's drive from the park headquarters -- you can drive to the river's edge and take a private boat to a tiny, primitive Mexican town.
This is truly a magnificent collection of ecosystems, many of them seeming to be barren wastelands, but actually full of life. You just have to look closely to find and enjoy the Nature of Big Bend.
The northern park entrance is located at Persimmon Gap, 410 miles from San Antonio and 323 miles from El Paso. You reach the park at this gate, by taking U.S. Highway 385, leading south from U.S. Highway 90 at Marathon.
The southwest entrance to the park is just east of Study Butte. State Highway 118 leads south from U.S. 90 (at Alpine), and continues to the park entrance.
From the northwest and El Paso, take Interstate 10 to Van Horne, then take U.S. 90 to Alpine and then turn south on State Route 118.
To reach the southwest entrance by driving the scenic Camino del Rio (Texas Ranch Road 170), take U.S. 90 to the town of Marfa, head south on U.S. Highway 67 to Presidio (61 miles), and turn east onto Farm Road 170 in Presidio. This is the Camino del Rio, leading beside the Rio Grande, and passing by the towns of Lajitas, Terlingua and Study Butte, before reaching the park entrance -- 70 miles from Presidio.
The main visitor center is in the middle of the park, at Panther Junction (at the intersection of U.S. 385 and State Route 118).
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Inside the Park
Chisos Mountain Lodge is the sole lodging place inside the park. Operated by the concessionaire for Big Bend, the lodge offers comfortable motel-style rooms, plus cottages, in the incredibly scenic Chisos Basin, at the end of Basin Road. All accommodations have private baths (showers only in the cottages). These are not expensive rooms, with overnight rates ranging from about $60 to $70 for two people. Rooms in the lodge have one double bed. The cottages are furnished with three double beds: perfect for large families on a limited budget. Motel units have two large beds.
For information, or to make reservations, call (915) 477-2291, or write National Park Concessions Inc., Big Bend National Park, TX 79834-9999. The same concession operates facilities, including stores and RV/trailer sites in the Chisos Basin, and at Rio Grande Village, and the store at Castalon.
Developed campgrounds are located at Rio Grande Village, Chisos Basin, and at Castalon -- overlooking the Rio Grande above Santa Eléna Canyon. Camping is on a first-come, first-served basis, with no reservations taken. A fee is charged at these campgrounds, which accommodate RVs and trailers of varying lengths. Hookups are not available. The Castalon Campground has pit toilets, and a water supply, but no hookups. Trailers longer than 20 feet and RVs longer than 24 feet are not recommended for traveling on the road to Castalon (Ross Maxwell Drive). The same caution holds for the Basin Road, which has a 15 percent grade and tight curves.
Tent camping is also available at primitive sites along several backcountry roads, and in the Chisos Mountains. Free backcountry permits are available at park visitor centers (Panther Junction, Persimmon Pass, Rio Grande Village, and Castalon).
RV and trailer hookups are available in separate areas at Rio Grande Village and Chisos Basin. There is no size restriction, but each RV must be equipped with water and electrical hookups, and a three-inch sewer connection. Register at the store in each location. Remember that the road into the Chisos Basin is not recommended for long trailers and RVs. These vehicles should be parked at Rio Grande Village.
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