Now that we have explored some of the Chihuahuan desert, the Rio Grande and the Mexico border; it is time to set our sights a little higher. We are now heading into the Chisos Mountains where the elevation approaches 8,000 feet. The Chisos Basin is the most popular area of Big Bend National Park, and it holds a visitor center, a lodge with a restaurant, accommodations, a large camp store and most importantly, the trailheads to some of the major hikes in the park. There are campsites available, but they do not recommend RVs over 24 feet. There are no hook-ups, but they do have a dump station. Due to the amenities and trails, this is one of the few places in the park where you will find an almost full parking lot. Yet, even here, you will not pass many people on the trails. If you enjoy less traffic and more solitude, Big Bend is the national park for you.
Due to the elevation gain, this area of the park is forested and supports more wildlife with mountain lions and bears at the top of the food chain. There are reported to be over 20 mountain lions in the park, the majority of which live in the Chisos. I read in the park’s paper that no matter where you are in the park, you are always in the range of at least one mountain lion. I am from Pennsylvania, I have faced many black bears in the woods and even in my own backyard at times; but mountain lions are new to me and with their feline, stalking ways are something to be feared in my mind. When hiking in the Chisos, talk to the rangers about safety.
I may be obsessing a bit on the mountain lions, but I was reading Bendigo Shafter by Louis L’Amour at the time of our visit. The night before we were in the Chisos, I read the part where Bendigo fights off a mountain lion single-handedly. Despite my brain reminding me that an encounter is extremely rare in the daytime, I seriously carried a rock in my hand once we were deep on the trails just to have something to throw! Thank you Louis for scaring the pants off me! Come on!
The below photo is from a trail looking down at the Basin. On the left, is the Window (a popular place to view the sunset, and there is a trail to it for a closer view). In the center-right is some of the accommodations available. On the right, you will see the start of Casa Grande…
Basin Loop Trail: This trail is just under 2 miles and listed as moderate due to some steep grades. We loved this trail for the views and as an introduction to the Chisos. Many of the more serious trails branch off of this one, and it is a great place to view wildlife. Here is a map of the trails leading from this trailhead.
South Rim Trail: This is the trail that we want to do for our next visit. It is about 15 miles round trip and takes you to the rim of a cliff overlooking the desert far below. It is considered strenuous and includes a 2000 foot elevation gain. Most people were making two days of the hike and camping at the top. We hiked the first mile of it off of the Basin Loop Trail and were awed with the views.
Pinnacles Trail: Again, we hiked the first mile on this trail from the Basin Loop Trail, and Pinnacles is steep from the get go! It is the trail that links the Basin Loop to the Emory Peak Trail. It is about 3.5 miles long and strenuous.
Emory Peak Trail: If you want to hike to the highest point in the park, this is the trail for you. Add about 2 miles and another 400 feet to the South Rim Trail specs, and you made it. There is some rock climbing at the end of the trail.
Lost Mine Trail: Some say that this is the most beautiful trail in the park. It is just under 5 miles round trip and includes an 1100 foot elevation gain. Decidedly less rigorous than the South Rim, yet maintaining competitive views of the Chisos. We enjoyed this hike, but this one was for enjoying the moment and experience – no photos this time. This trail begins off Basin Road before you enter the Chisos Basin parking lot area.
Again, I am just giving you a limited view of what Big Bend has to offer. There were plenty more trails in the basin to help you enjoy the Chisos Mountains.
A final tip for the Chisos, this is a major birding area, like we have seen in other parts of southern Texas. They do have peregrine falcons that nest here annually, and during nesting season, some trails may be closed to protect the birds. So, if you have a specific trail in mind, it wouldn’t hurt to contact the park to be sure it is open.