• Scott Carnahan

Bury My Heart in Big Bend National Park


white and grey clouds partially obscure a brilliant blue sky over the brownish scrubland plains of Texas

Big Bend National Park, TX - Photo Credit: Dana Kurth



Adventures in the Lone Star State can be found across a diverse range of ecosystems: from the Great Plains in the north, the Chihuahuan Desert to the West, the swamps of the Southeast, and so much more.


In all of the wonders of Texas, one place stands above the rest as an absolute treasure, though it lives far out of the way for any interstate traveler - a sure champion of beauty that makes the long journey worth it. It lies on the magical land between two countries, beside the edge of one of North America’s greatest rivers - the mighty and legendary Rio Grande.



The mighty Rio Grande cuts through a reddish orange slot canyon in Big Bend National Park, Texas

Santa Elena Canyon: Big Bend National Park, TX - Photo Credit: Dana Kurth



Big Bend National Park is that place - nestled in the elbow of Texas. This park is as unique as it is mystical, an absolutely precious landscape with a soul unlike any other. Over three hundred miles from El Paso, and four hundred from San Antonio, this Lone Star Lovely is a remote desert paradise lined with scenic mesas and grand mountains.


The crown jewel of the Chihuahuan Desert - the Rio Grande - cuts its way through this rain-starved land and forms the border between the United States and Mexico. There is no river-floating opportunity more unique than that of the Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park. The Langford Hot Spring is on the edge of the river, and is an excellent soaking opportunity made only more impressive by the ability to hop in the river immediately afterwards. For those truly adventurous souls - you can venture from the hot spring and float down the famed river for a stretch in the watery purgatory between two countries, only to hike back and soak in the warmth of the spring again.



The Rio Grande carves its way through a ruddy brown canyon lined with Prickly Pear Cactus in Big Bend National Park, Texas. Purple Mountains in the distance contrast beautifully with the blue sky above

Rio Grande: Big Bend National Park, TX - Photo Credit: Scott Carnahan



The picturesque desert hamlet of Boquillas del Carmen, Mexico, is just across the river and its colorful buildings add a special charm to the valley. Providing a glimpse into another world, the high cliffsides of the park allow viewing of the residents of the town as they live out their desert lifestyle - mostly on horseback. It is common to see the locals resting in the shade of large pecan trees on the other side of the river, basking in their view of curious tourists gazing upon them. It is this dichotomy of nations and people that makes Big Bend so unique.


The people of Boquillas del Carmen often cross the river and leave beautiful trinkets inspired by the desert out for sale - also leaving a payment jar for cash ruled by the honor system. The Park Service frowns upon any such purchases, yet there is nothing in their gift shops that rivals these handmade offerings, lovingly delivered to trailheads and river banks across the park.



The people of Boquillas del Carmen often cross the Rio Grande and leave beautiful trinkets inspired by the desert out for sale - also leaving a payment jar for cash ruled by the honor system. Big Bend National Park, Texas

Big Bend National Park, TX - Photo Credit: Scott Carnahan



In the heart of the park stands the marvelous Chisos Mountains. This unique stand of rocky peaks created by volcanic activity was named by the Spanish: hechizos, meaning enchantment in Castilian Spanish. Long before Spain’s conquests into the land, the Native American tribe known as the Chiso inhabited the mountains, it was their belief that spirits ruled the canyons and crevasses of the range, and to this day it is believed to be haunted. Topping out at an elevation of 7,835 feet, the Chisos Mountains are the only range contained fully within a single National Park. Chisos Mountains Lodge, the only lodge in Big Bend, is positioned beautifully in the mountains and is an unforgettable stay.



A purple and green prickly pear cactus stands tall in front of a grassy plain leading up to the enchanting Chisos Mountains in the distance. A desert haze partially obscures the partly cloudy blue sky

Big Bend National Park, TX - Photo Credit: Scott Carnahan



No matter the trail, the park is full of beautiful vistas blessed with amazing flora and fauna - painting the perfect picture of this harshly gorgeous desert that stretches across three American states and deep into the heart of Northern Mexico. Of all of North America’s deserts, the Chihuahuan is the largest and mildest due to its higher elevation and inland position - making its winters and summers less dramatic than its arid cousin to the west, the Sonoran Desert.



a towering orange slot canyon looms above lush desert vegetation at the bottom. Santa Elena Canyon, Big Bend National Park, Texas.

Santa Elena Canyon: Big Bend National Park, TX - Photo Credit: Dana Kurth



This article is only a fraction of what Big Bend has to offer - one could write a novel about the beauty, culture, and charm of the park - but perhaps it is better for you to explore and create your own memories of a land so rich it was dubbed: “Texas’ gift to the nation”.



The chocolate brown plains of Big Bend National Park rest peacefully beneath blue Texas skies

Sierra Del Carmen: Big Bend National Park, TX - Photo Credit: Scott Carnahan



For any adventurer, Big Bend is a must-see. This long-term cradle of desert life is rife with just as much beauty as history - it may be far from the usual beaten path, but that adds so much to this unparalleled darling of the desert. No expedition into the Southwest is complete without a visit to this land of a wealth of adventures. The epic beauty of this diverse landscape left such a stamp on my soul that I’d happily have my heart buried in Big Bend. Or at the very least, I count the days until I return and find my luck asleep in the desert.



Check back in every Monday for more by Scott Carnahan on the Pathloom blog!

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