March 11, 2012

More Scenery in Big Bend

Another beautiful day greeted us on our last day in Big Bend National Park.  Our plan was to leave Rio Grande Village and head for the west side of the park.  The drive was lovely, and we were able to see many of the features that had been hidden in the clouds and fog two days before.  I was on the lookout for bluebonnets, the state flower of Texas.  I had noticed a few beside the road on our earlier drive, and I coaxed Tim into stopping several times so I could photograph them.

Chisos Mountains from the East
Bluebonnets are prolific in Texas in the spring, and people flock to see them just as leaf peepers search for fall colors.  Bluebonnets are more common in the Hill Country and in other parts of Texas, but can also be found in parts of Big Bend.  We were a bit early for the height of the wildflower season, but enjoyed the ones that had already popped out.

The Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive skirts the west side of the Chisos Mountains and winds through hills and amazing geologic formations on its way to the Rio Grande.  We got great views of the Chisos and other landmark features, including Goat Mountain and Cerro Castellan.  The view from Sotol Vista was one of the best in the park.

Chisos Mountains from the West

Is This Tree a Mesquite?
Goat Mountain
Cerro Castolon
Near the end of the road is Castolon, a historic area that now houses a visitor center and store.  The U.S. Army built many of the structures here around 1919 for use as a border outpost during the Mexican War.  From 1919 to 1961 the Cartledge family used the structures as a store and trading post when they farmed and ranched along the adjoining land.  Castolon is a great place to get a feel for Big Bend’s history.

Trading Post at Castolon
Many Historic Buildings at Castolon Still Remain
Just down the road from Castolon is Santa Elena Canyon, one of the most spectacular canyons in the park.  We had hoped to hike down to the mouth of the canyon, but the parking lot was full, so we had to make do with a view from the overlook.  It was still an impressive sight.

Santa Elena Canyon
We retraced our route back along the road, stopping at a few places including the Sam Nail Ranch.  The ruins of the adobe house constructed by Sam and his brother Jim are still standing, as are the windmills they erected and fig and pecan groves they planted.  There are quite a few historic ranches and adobe ruins on this side of the park.  It seems that the park’s cultural resources are concentrated here.

Adobe Ruins at the Sam Nail Ranch
The Windmill Spins, But the Well Is Dry
Our destination for the evening was Terlingua, which is located just outside the western boundary of the park.  We made our way to Terlingua Ghost Town, which had its heyday during the first half of the twentieth century when thirty mines produced a huge quantity of mercury.  The mines closed after World War II and the town was left to die.  It’s no longer a ghost town, however, as many artists have taken up residence, and restaurants and inns are open to serve tourists and locals alike.

Cemetery at Terlingua Ghost Town
We had dinner at the most famous restaurant of all, the Starlight Theater.  The Starlight is a bar and restaurant now, but was a movie theater in the 1930s.  It’s a funky place that provides an assortment of live music and theatrical productions along with great food.  We arrived to find the front set up for a wedding reception.  The local singer was quite good, but it was painful to listen to the handful of karaoke singers who welcomed a chance at the microphone.  The Starlight is the kind of place that every town should have, and the fact that it’s located in the middle of the desert so far from any major city is remarkable.

Starlight Theater
We were happy to find a private campground in Terlingua, since all the park campgrounds were filled with people on spring break.  Unfortunately, the campground had to be one of the dustiest places I’ve ever encountered.  Kitty seemed to love it, however, and settled down in the dirt.  I don’t know how anyone could keep a house clean in such an environment, let alone an RV.


  1. What a beautiful park. I've enjoyed all the pictures and descriptions. It's so great that you always find the best places to eat no matter where in the heck you are! :-) LV

    1. LV, I'm so glad you enjoyed the entries about Big Bend. It's a park that you either love or hate, and we just loved it. We have been rather fortunate in finding amazing places to eat. Mostly, it's been dumb luck! Sarah