Written by: Anna Sibal and Julian Fenn
10/02/2013 3:37 PM
Big Bend Country is a lonely, desolate but beautiful place. Located in the south western most edges of Texas and known to early explorers as El Despoblado - "The Uninhabited Land" - Big Bend Country is made up of wide desert landscapes stretching as far as the eye can see, punctuated by the only mountain ranges you'll find in Texas and the great curve of the Rio Grande from which the region takes its name. It is vast and seemingly empty, one of the remotest regions in North America and one of the last few places on Earth unspoiled by man-made structures.
This seeming emptiness, though, is entirely deceiving. Big Bend boasts of rich and diverse flora and fauna, many of which are endangered and not found in any other place in the world. The region is home to more species of bats, birds and cacti than anywhere else in the U.S.
And for all its desolation, humans have tried to conquer this land for millennia. The human history of Big Bend Country extends at least 10,000 years. It is a country Native Americans from the Chisos, Comanche and Mescaleros once called their own. It is the backdrop of many Wild West stories, of pioneers, frontiersmen and outlaws. And beyond the Rio Grande lies Mexico, a fact that adds depth and color to the history and culture of the region.
Big Bend Country is wild country. You can explore it and admire it, but you can never conquer and tame it. Enjoy its untamed beauty with the suggested six-day itinerary we have set here.
When to Go
The best time to visit Big Bend Country is from October to May. Big Bend Country is desert country, part of the greater Chihuahuan Desert of Mexico. It is scorching hot and dry in this region in the summer months, especially from May to June. On the other hand, the spring and fall months can be warm and pleasant, and winters are quite mild, sometimes with light snow. There are occasional thunderstorms and flash flooding from mid-June to October. The weather is changeable from autumn to spring; it can be warm and dry one moment and rainy the next. The adage "If you don't like the weather, just wait a minute" is very popular in this area.
How to Get There
The starting point of the camping road trip is Balmorhea State Park. If you're coming from the east, drive westward on Interstate 10 to Balmorhea Exit (Exit 206). From there, drive south on FM-2903 towards the city of Balmorhea, and then west towards the State Park on Route 17. If you're coming from the west, take the Toyahvale/Fort Davis Exit on I-10 (Exit 192), then east on Ranch Road 3078.
How Long Should the Trip Be?
We recommend six days to sample the highlights of the region.
What to See and Do
Big Bend Country may be a desolate place, but there are countless outdoor activities you can enjoy on a camping road trip here. If you're a hiking enthusiast, there are hundreds of miles of hiking trails you can explore - Big Bend National Park alone has nearly 200 miles. You can also discover the area on horseback, on a bike, or on a motorbike if you want. If you're into kayaking, canoeing or rafting, the Rio Grande passes through five towering canyons providing an experience not to be missed. There are also hundreds of miles of scenic routes you can leisurely drive through.
Do you like watching wildlife, maybe take wildlife photographs? As mentioned earlier, Big Bend Country is home to diverse desert wildlife, with 600 species of vertebrates and 3,600 species of insects living there. Big Bend Country is also a birder's paradise - there are 450 avian species to look out for. Sightings of roadrunners and coyotes (not necessarily chasing each other), of black bears and peccaries and golden eagles are also common. And did you know - there are spots in Big Bend Country where you can go swimming and fishing, almost unheard of in a desert habitat?
If you're a student of history, whether human or natural, there are old settlements you can visit, trails where you can track down fossils, and rock faces where you can clearly read the geological history of the region. Lastly, if you're an astronomy enthusiast, Big Bend Country is one of the best places for dark-night stargazing, as it is one of only twelve parks on the planet with pristine dark skies certified by the International Dark-Sky Association.
Six Day Visit - Balmorhea State Park to Fort Stockton - About 525 Miles
Day One - Balmorhea State Park to Davis Mountains State Park - 65 Miles
Day Two - Davis Mountains State Park to Big Bend Ranch State Park - 120 Miles
Day Three - Big Bend Ranch State Park to Lajitas - 60 Miles
Day Four - Lajitas to Chisos Basin, Big Bend National Park - 45 Miles
Day Five - Big Bend National Park - 60 Miles
Spend the day driving Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive or taking a float trip on the Rio Grande through Santa Elena Canyon.
Day Six - Big Bend National Park to Fort Stockton - 175 or 235 Miles
If you didn't do the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive on Day Five, then spend the first half of the day enjoying the scenic drive, see Day Five above for details. Then follow the itinerary below.
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