American Locations 11 – Chisos Basin

The trip is from Natchez Trace, Tennessee, to Dodge City, Kansas, by way of Tucson, Arizona.

Chisos Basin, Big Bend National Park, Texas

 

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There are three campgrounds at Big Bend. We were staying in the one on the east side of the park and we were intending to stay on the one on the west side. The one in the middle of the park was full and we couldn’t get into it. So we drove to see it. There are so many interesting rock formations along the way it was an interesting drive.

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Which soon became much more interesting. This campground was different from the other two. Rio Grande Village and Cottonwood, the one on the west side, are on the Rio Grande River, while this one is up in the mountains. You can get an idea how high up it is from this picture, with the desert floor far below the mountain the road is on. These mountains don’t emerge from foothills, they rise up from the flat desert floor. So the ascent is steep. Which made it a fun drive, climbing quickly kickback after kickback, one hairpin turn after another, as we got higher and higher, and of course there are no guardrails, run a tire off the road and you are hanging off the side of the mountain. I had a lot of fun drives during our trip. This was only the first of many.

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The campground and the lodge – this was the only campground of the three to have a lodge – sat down in a bowl ringed by mountaintops.

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Those tiny structures in the center of the picture above is Chisos Basin Campground. In the photo below the little building on the left is the lodge. It isn’t fancy, but it has a restaurant. I and my wife ate lunch there.

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That’s where I saw the map. There was a large trail map posted on the wall detailing all the hiking trails through the mountains. On the map locations and dates were indicated where and when black bears and mountain lions had been reported encountered by hikers. There were several dozen of each, and that was just during the last few months. I’ve seen brown bears in the Smokey Mountains. But I have never seen a black bear or a mountain lion in the wild. Gazing at the map, it seemed they were plentiful in the mountains in central Big Bend. So I had no desire to go hiking up there, and my wife had less desire than me.

Still, after lunch we took a short hike.

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Which ended at a vista onto a rock formation called The Window.

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We could look out through a gap in the mountains that ringed the campground and see the desert floor. You get a better perspective of how high we were from a close-up of the same view.

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After that we began the drive back down the mountains to return to the desert floor.

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The Next Location is Cottonwood Campground in Big Bend National Park, Texas.

 

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American Locations 10 – Rio Grande Village 3

The trip is from Natchez Trace, Tennessee, to Dodge City, Kansas, by way of Tucson, Arizona.

Rio Grande Village Campground, Big Bend National Park, Texas

 

Another trek my wife and I took while camping at Rio Grande Village was visiting the ruins of a hot spring resort. The old gravel road was too washed out to drive on, so we walked about a mile to get there.

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In the early 1900’s this resort was established at a hot spring along the Rio Grande River. It went out of business after World War One, but the spring and some of the buildings are still there.

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And some of the landscaping survives.

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It was still a long way from the ruins of the old resort to where the hot springs were. That’s the spring where the people are on the American side of the Rio Grande, and a horse on the Mexican side.

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So it was another long walk.

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But once there you could slip into some refreshing water. As you can see in the picture, the horse on the Mexican side has been joined by some friends.

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So I joined in.

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The idea was to go from the warm water of the hot spring into the cool water of the river.

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It was a pleasant afternoon for the Americans in the hot spring and in the Rio Grande, and for the horses drinking out of the river on the Mexican side.

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Of course, once you hike in you have to hike back out.

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It was a hot day in the nineties, and about a mile and a half hike each way in and out, so by the time we got back to the campground we were ready for a siesta.

The Next Location is Chisos Basin Campground in Big Bend National Park, Texas.

 

American Locations 9 – Rio Grande Village 2

The trip is from Natchez Trace, Tennessee, to Dodge City, Kansas, by way of Tucson, Arizona.

 Rio Grande Village Campground, Big Bend National Park, Texas

 

This was our campsite at Rio Grande Village Campground.

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Notice the metal locker. They all had latches so the bears couldn’t get in them. I never saw any bears. But I did see several road runners. They look surprisingly like the cartoon version that Wiley Coyote is always chasing. And they are fast. I never had an opportunity to photograph one, they were gone by the time I got my camera out. I didn’t get any photos of a little pig-like animal running loose in the campground, either. Javalinas (pronounced ‘havalinas’), the rangers insisted, weren’t pigs, but they sure looked like them. Here is a photo I took of a statue.

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The first trip we embarked on was to Boquillas Canyon. It is the deepest easily-accessible canyon on the Rio Grande River in the eastern side of the park. It is named after a small nearby Mexican community. There is a border crossing in the park to this small isolated town just across the river. It was closed for some reason while we were there. But when it is open you can check in with the agent at a kiosk near the river, then be ferried by canoe across to Mexico. It is a short hike up a hillside to the small village. There are shops and restaurants and bars in a rustic setting. After being ferried back across the river you are required to check back in with the border agent.

The water level was so low when we were there that none of the outfitters were offering rafting trips. So the only way we could see Boquillas Canyon was to drive as close as we could.

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And then park.

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Notice at the left of the above photo on the Mexican side a parked van and a person standing by river. Here is a close-up.

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Now you can see several men. What they were doing was hawking their wares set up on our side of the river.

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It was on the honor system. Prices were marked, and you were expected to leave money for whatever you took. They either snuck across to set up their little market and then snuck back across to collect their money, or they had someone on the American side working with them to do this. Either way, it is illegal. Warnings are posted not to engage in this commerce. Whatever you bought could be confiscated and you could face a substantial fine. It was also posted that it was illegal to cross the river, and that if I did I could be arrested upon my return. Being a law-abiding citizen, I didn’t buy anything and I kept my feet dry. But I did stop to admire their crafts. Besides shouting their sales pitch across the river, which they did politely in excellent English, one of them also entertained by singing in a very good voice.

We parked at an overlook of the Rio Grande River.

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And began hiking.

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As we ascended we were presented with good views of the Rio Grande River.

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We soon were in sight of Boquitas Canyon.

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When we reached the Rio Grande.

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No one was hawking his wares from the Mexican side. But we did see a man in a blue boat just off the Mexican side.

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He could have been the man who ferried tourists across the river when the crossing was open. Or he could have been a Mexican border agent. Or an American border agent for that matter, keeping an eye on American tourists to ensure they didn’t cross into Mexico illegally. Or he could have just been fishing.

We hiked into the canyon as far as the trail allowed.

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Then we hiked back out.

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Intrigued by the laws concerning the border I had seen posted, I had questions for one of the park rangers when I got back to the campground. I asked who owned the river. I’m from Ohio, and although the river is named Ohio it is owned by Kentucky. All that Ohio owns of the river is about three feet off the north bank. He said the Rio Grande was owned by both countries. So I asked where exactly the border was in the river. He said that was kind of fuzzy. So I asked if I was allowed in the river. He said I would be good as long as I didn’t step out of the river onto the Mexican side. Then I asked what if I was rafting or canoeing down the river and overturned and had to swim to the Mexican side to save myself. He said a person had to do what he had to do in order to keep from drowning, but if I did emerge on the Mexican side I would have to be processed through immigration before I could re-enter the country, and I really didn’t want to go through that hassle unless I absolutely had to. So it is best to just stay on our side of the river.

 

The Next Location is Rio Grande Village Campground 3 in Big Bend National Park, Texas.

 

American Locations 8 – Rio Grande Village

The trip is from Natchez Trace, Tennessee, to Dodge City, Kansas, by way of Tucson, Arizona.

Rio Grande Village Campground, Big Bend National Park, Texas

 

Continuing south on Park Road 12 brought us to Rio Grande Village Campground on the eastern side of Big Bend National Park.

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The campground is on the Rio Grande River.

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That is the river in the upper left. The water at the bottom of the photo is merely part of a marsh on the American side, so that is not a pedestrian walkway crossing the Rio Grande into Mexico. It is part of a hiking trail through the marsh that leads to the top of a hill that presents a sweeping vista of the surrounding countryside. The land to the left of the river, and the mountains in the background, is Mexico.

People from the campground climb to this hilltop.

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They hike through the marsh.

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And climb up the hill.

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To see sunsets over Mexico.

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And also to see the sunset reflected off the mountains to the east.

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Besides sunsets, the vista also gives a good view into Mexico. It is surprising how narrow and shallow the Rio Grande is.

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Despite the name, there is no actual village here. But there is a camp store where you can purchase, among other things, a 5-minute shower for $2. There are no utilities in campground. Next to the store is a paved parking lot with utilities that can accommodate large RV’s.

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I preferred the real campground. Our 23 foot motor home is small enough to go just about anywhere, and we have a gasoline generator for electric and a 30 gallon fresh water tank that could be refilled at the campground. So we are small and self-contained. Besides these two sections of Rio Grande Village, there is also a group campground. While we were there a large group of teenagers from a private school were encamped there. It must have been a posh school, because we were passing by there once at dinner time. Catering vans arrived to set up a feast that smelled delicious. No cooking beans over a campfire for them. And we had to plan our showers around their schedule. They would come in after a hike in the desert and dominate the showers.

We used Rio Grande Village Campground as our base of operations for exploring the eastern side of Big Bend. But no matter where we went during the day, at sunset it was another trek up the hill to see another beautiful sunset.

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THE NEXT LOCATION IS RIO GRANDE VILLAGE CAMPGROUND 2