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Big Bend Part 1: Boquillas Canyon

west Texas

There’s something about west Texas. It’s hot, dry and flat but also cool, lush and mountainous. And it’s Texas which means lots of friendly Lone Star State swagger. Distances are far and skies are vast. I remember my parents visiting me in Atlanta after road tripping through west Texas. Coming from Colorado, they weren’t overly impressed. And their review of Big Bend National Park was especially harsh. So, I was always curious to explore it for myself. I’ve been twice over the years and love it. Big Bend is isolated, uncrowded and relaxed. Plus, there’s something about a national park on an international border that makes it seem more, well – exotic? I’ve created four essays on Big Bend plus another on the (sorta) nearby Davis Mountains. This first video centers on the eastern part of Big Bend. But first, it starts in the three nearby eclectic towns. If you’re driving and not coming from Mexico, you’ll pass through Marfa, Alpine or Marathon. All three are small towns with varying degrees of artiness, good coffee and lodging options. But the minute you see two dozen huge turkey vultures roosting and warming their wings with another 20 high in the air, you remember Dallas, Houston and El Paso are hundreds of miles away. Heading south of Marathon on US 385, I soon encountered pronghorn grazing. And the natural awe of Big Bend was off and running. It’s 40 miles from Marathon to the park boundary and then another 28 to the Panther Junction Visitor Center. At Panther Junction, I turned left and drove 25 miles to the eastern part of the park. Like almost all of west Texas, Big Bend is located entirely in the Chihuahuan Desert, the biggest desert in North America. Anyone who has spent time in the western U.S. knows its deserts are harsh, stark and perhaps intimidating. But it doesn’t take long to marvel at the color, energy and diversity of life. On my Big Bend visit, the endless sea of succulents was accentuated by thousands of yellow, purple and white blossoms. Of course, a goal and highlight is reaching the Rio Grande. One of the largest and most important river systems in North America, the Rio Grande forms the border between the U.S. and Mexico. Its waters also give rise to a narrow band of lush vegetation along the shore. The highlight of Big Bend’s eastern side is magnificent Boquillas Canyon. A short hike climbs hillside and follows riverside before dead ending inside the start of the canyon. Back on the road, this essay leaves the eastern part of the park and heads west. The next story follows the journey to Chisos Basin.

Route & Map  

Marfa then Alpine and soon Marathon: following US 90 east and then US 385 south, tiny Marathon is the entry to the eastern side of Big Bend and, ultimately, Boquillas Canyon.

Length & Time

It’s about 90 miles from Marathon to the start of the Boquillas Canyon Trail. Plan on about a day for driving, picture-taking and hiking.

Best Time to Visit

Summers are really hot and dry which means the least number of fellow travelers. But nothing beats the spring and fall when the weather is cooler and the landscape comes alive with blooming color.

Major Towns

Marathon, Alpine and Marfa are very west Texas: unique and independent. Alpine offers the most services, Marathon the fewest and Marfa the hippest. That said, from camping to luxury lodging, gas, organic groceries and excellent coffee, you’ll find what you need.

Links

Big Bend National Park is the place to start for the latest on fees, road conditions, closures and what’s blooming. Each of the three groovy towns runs a helpful site, too: Marfa, Alpine, Marathon.

Next rides along this route: