Santa Elena Canyon

Big Bend National Park, TX

January, 2017 – Santa Elena Canyon was my destination when driving the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive.  I read on the NPS website that it has the tallest cliffs forming the canyon wall – up to 1,500 feet.  I definitely wanted to stand at the bottom and look up at those big guys!  (Click pictures for larger versions)

Santa Elena - start

I knew that it was about 1.7 miles round trip and not a difficult trail. I read on All Trails that “Following rains, flash floods, or periods of high water, Terlingua creek can be impassable, effectively closing the trail.” But today the creek crossing getting over to the trail was easy and I was excited about this trek already.

Santa Elena Canyon - steps

There are some steps and a few rocky inclines, but with views like this certainly nothing that makes it not worthwhile. This was taken looking back after climbing to the highest point on the trail. Around this point there was a sign telling you to look at the walls for fossil seashells!  “The Big Bend Country has not always been arid desert land. Marine fossils prove this region was once beneath the sea. These oyster-like animals lived … about 100 million years ago.”  So interesting, but hard to imagine!

Santa Elena - walls 1

Getting into the canyon more now, the colors were amazing!

Santa Elena Canyon - rocky trail

Descending further down into the canyon now and getting close to the end.

Santa Elena Canyon - moon

Looking back upriver again, I caught my breath when seeing the moon at the top of the canyon wall.  It may look small, but is still a magical sight. Also loved the colorful cattails (or whatever they are).

Santa Elena Canyon kayak

I was really jealous of this guy in the kayak, especially after I read this sign on the trail:

“Except during flood season, the quiet waters below do not seem powerful enough to have carved Santa Elena Canyon. Hike the short trail to the river and look closely at the water, cloudy with sand and silt. Like liquid sandpaper, the swift current files away at Santa Elena’s hard limestone, cutting it deeper. In a raft or canoe you can actually hear the grit hissing along the hull.”  Wouldn’t that be a cool sound to hear?

I later read on Visit Big Bend: “The best way to see the canyon is by raft or canoe. Local outfitters offer trips from one to three days in length when conditions allow, and river runners of intermediate or better skill level often go on their own. ”  I would definitely want to do this next time!

Santa Elena Canyon end

By the time I got to the end, check out the golden light!

My one minute You-Tube video where you can hear the echo of my voice at the end of the canyon.  It is moments like this that I am most thankful for the lifestyle that lets me experience them.

Santa Elena - river access

On the road not far from the trailhead, you’ll see another sign to Santa Elena River Access that can be used to put in canoes, rafts or kayaks. It’s really beautiful down here, too, and if I had more time, I would have walked along the river here.

All Malia’s Miles Big Bend Pages:

Main pageRio Grande Village CampgroundBoquillas Border CrossingChisos Basin Road and Mountains LodgeRoss Maxwell Scenic DriveSanta Elena Canyon

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