Big Bend National Park, TX
January, 2017 – I hadn’t even gotten to Big Bend before friends told me not to miss driving the 30 mile Ross Maxwell scenic road that leads to Santa Elena Canyon and to do the short hike there. I love scenic drives when I’m feeling too tired for heavy hiking, and I love short easy hikes when I’m in the mood for that, so this sounded like a perfect combo to me. (Click pictures for larger versions)
There are lots of overlooks to stop and gape at where you’ve been. I got a kick out of catching this lone camper trucking down the road.
Blue Creek Ranch Overlook: This overlooks provides a view of the headquarters of the Homer Wilson Ranch, one of the largest in the region prior to the establishment of the park. I didn’t stop here, though, because my destination was Santa Elena Canyon and I wasn’t sure how long it would take to see that. I later found some good pictures of the ranch here on American Southwest.net, so I was happy enough with that, although I’m sorry I missed seeing the hoodoos on that trail.
I always love to play “that looks like…” and this one was easy since Mule Ears Peak is a pretty well known landmark here. I also passed on the 3.8 mile Mule Ears Trail that would have gotten me closer to them, but by going farther past the springs, I later read that if you keep going another mile to Smoky Creek, you encounter a lot of beautiful quartz rocks and crystals. I’d have to have been better prepared for that 6 mile round trip, but that reward sure makes it sound like a worthy destination.
But there are other very worthy sights easily seen from the road here. The colors, shapes and textures of the mountains here caused by ancient volcanic activity are fascinating.
The formation to the right here looked just like a lion’s head to me with the flowing mane. When I posted this to Facebook, some friends agreed and others said it looked more like an armadillo to them. What say you? Comment below!
I thought this white mound was such a differing contrast! It looked like some kind of alien crawly creature to me.
One of my favorites, Castolon Peak looking particularly lovely with the moon shining down on it.
Castolon Peak (Cerro Castellan) info sign: The layers visible reveal millions of years of volcanic events. Stacked in this tower are several lava flows and volcanic tuffs (ash deposits), with layers of gravel and clay from periods of erosion between eruptions.
OK, I have no problem with the scientific explanation, but to me, it’s simply a beautiful miracle that I’m thrilled that exists in our world and that I could see it.
In the Castolon Historic District is the Alvino House (see more history below). In the far background you can see the entrance to Santa Elena Canyon, my ultimate destination. It was phenomenal and another page on that coming soon.
But with scenes like this all along the way, I couldn’t be in a rush for the road to end. I wonder how long it will take this guy to give in to gravity and just let go.
Driving straight toward a mountain like this, the views and shadows are ever changing and makes it look like a completely different thing every few seconds.
And the road goes on forever… (thank God!)
More Info on Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive:
NPS: The thirty-mile Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive leads to the Castolon Historic District and Santa Elena Canyon. Along the way the road showcases some of the historic and geologic features this region is famous for.
Visit Big Bend: Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive is the most interesting of the paved sightseeing routes in Big Bend National Park, giving the greatest variety of habitats, geology and a variety of interesting short walks and interpretive pull overs.
History of the Castolon Area (NPS): In the early 1900s, people began to live and farm along the banks of the Rio Grande, downstream from Santa Elena Canyon. The fields were fertile and the community grew. Farmers in the area raised corn, beans, wheat, squash, tomatoes, and melons. In 1901, Cipriano Hernandez started the first store in the area and sold goods to his neighbors and to the mining community in Terlingua. He operated the store out of his home, which is today known as the Alvino House (named for Alvino Ybarra who lived there with his family from 1918 to 1957).
Magdalena House – Castolon Historic District: The Magdalena House is listed as a contributing building to the Castolon Historic District at Big Bend National Park.
I thought this was an interesting account I read about this area: (I couldn’t help but think how different attitudes are now.)
Encountering a Squatter – 1909: I saw an umbrella of smoke rising from the brush further down the creek. I learned from Enrique that the smoke came from the fire of one Cleofas Natividad, who lived with his family in a dugout in the side of the hill.
“What is he doing living on our land?” Bessie wanted to know.
In a voice that indicated how patient he was trying to be, Enrique explained that Cleofas was farming some of the land and running a herd of goats on the rest. Enrique said, “El Senor Natividad, she – how you say – rent your land?”
I frowned, trying to decide what to do. After all, we didn’t know the customs here and we didn’t want to make enemies unnecessarily. Still, this was my land; I had my papers from Austin to prove it.
And that’s when it came to me what a trifling thing a deed to a piece of land was. Here I was, a stranger, with a mere piece of paper, considering whether or not I should allow a family to live on land that had probably been their home for generations…
“That will be fine,” I said to Enrique. “Tell him that I will be glad to rent my land to him.”