American Locations 15 – Cottonwood 4

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

Cottonwood Campground, Big Bend National Park, Texas.

All through the park there are ruins of buildings left behind by people who tried to live in the desert but gave it up. None of these people were forced to relocate when this became a park. They just got tired of trying to make a go of it in the desert. One place my wife and I hiked to see had once been a ranch.

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The water pump is running, although it doesn’t run off the original surviving windmill. But it is the original well, which the park pumps water out of to irrigate the surrounding area like the rancher had done to show how he could create a little oasis in the middle of the desert.

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With the water still running, the grove of trees he had planted, and other plants, still thrive. Parts of some of the original buildings still stood. This was part of the main house. It looks like they had a nice view from up here.

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We hiked to see another abandoned ranch.

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These buildings were in better condition than the previous ranch, since they had been abandoned more recently.

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People built with whatever materials were at hand. These structures were mostly mud bricks and adobe, with very little wood. Wood is scarce in the desert.

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Wood shutters and doors such as these were added by the park to help preserve the building.

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In some of the windows and doors they installed wire mesh, so you can see inside.

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Most of the ruins we hiked to were not so well-preserved. This was an odd structure. I guess they ran out of bricks and finished up with stones.

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In this one the hearth is still standing.

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Here they found some wood to include in their home.

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I think it interesting to see how people used to live in such a harsh environment as the Chihuahuan Desert.

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The next Location is Terlingua and Study Butte, Texas.



American Locations 14 – Cottonwood 3

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


Cottonwood Campground, Big Bend National Park, Texas

Another hike my wife and I took while at Cottonwood was to see a dry wash. That is what a waterfall that no longer runs is called. We parked at the trail head.

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We followed a trail through the desert.

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This trail is easy to follow because it is a dried-up creek bed that used to run from the waterfall that used to fall. Other trails I’ve hiked in the desert have been marked by piles of stones. As you can see, this trail was wide and open and easy to follow. No markers were required.
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When I first ventured out into the desert I was afraid of encountering rattlers or other snakes. But on a trail like this I could easily spot one. Yet I never saw a single snake on the entire trip from Tennessee to Kansas. But a ranger told me I could be sure that snakes had seen me.

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I saw several rock formations like the one above along the trail and thought them unusual. They were comprised of several different kinds of rocks almost like they had been brought in and piled there. When I showed the picture to a ranger, he said the formation was just a trick of erosion, that the other surrounding softer rocks had been washed away when the creek was still running, leaving these heaps of harder rocks behind.

0431_Big BendI like this rock we passed on the trail because it reminded me of the strip of bacon I saw in the Caverns of Sedona.

We reached the dried-up waterfall. This picture with a person in it gives perspective to how high the waterfall had been.

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From this angle I am standing at the bottom of it looking directly up.

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And here is my wife and I standing at the base of it.

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The next Location is Cottonwood 4, Big Bend National Park, Texas.



American Locations 13 – Cottonwood 2

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

Cottonwood Campground, Big Bend National Park, Texas

The first outing my wife and I embarked upon once we were set up in Cottonwood was to hike up Elena Canyon. It is more impressive than the Boquillas Canyon on the eastern side of the park, and can be seen from quite a distance.

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That gash in the mountains toward the right of the photo is the canyon seen from miles away. Here it is getting closer.

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And closer yet.

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Almost there.

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At last we reached the parking lot.

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My wife and I took time to pose for a picture before we began the hike.

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The Rio Grande River goes through the deep canyon.

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Finally, we began our hike into Elena Canyon.

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Naturally, before you could go into the canyon you had to go up.

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The higher you go the better view you have of the Rio Grande River.

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You can tell how high we were climbing by how small the people who are just starting out on the trail appear to be.

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This is a steep narrow rocky trail, so rest areas at scenic views such as this one are provided.

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Eventually we reached the highest point on the trail and began descending into the canyon.

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You can walk into Elena Canyon much further than you can Boquillas Canyon.

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Once we were out of the sun and into the shadow of the canyon the temperature dropped drastically. To our relief, since it was a hot day.

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We walked deeper.

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And deeper.

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The trail kept going down until we reached the river’s edge.

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But we still hiked deeper into the canyon.

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Until we reached the end of the trail.

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Of course, what goes in must come out.

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It was a fun hike. I’d like to return some time when the river is high enough for rafting expeditions. It would be an adventure to float down the Rio Grande through these deep canyons.

The next Location is Cottonwood Campground 3 in Big Bend National Park, Texas.


American Locations 12 – Cottonwood

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

Cottonwood Campground, Big Bend National Park, Texas


When my wife and I left Rio Grande Village Campground for Cottonwood Campground on the western side of Big Bend National Park we drove north on Park Rte. 12 to Panther Junction Visitor Center. Here we turned onto Gano Springs Road and headed west to Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. We turned south on this road that was intentionally laid out, as the name suggests, in order to showcase the most interesting landscape features of the park.

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These white rocks are striking. A ranger told me they are the remnants of lava from an ancient volcanic eruption.

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Then there is the formation named ‘Mule Ears’. But I like my own name better. ‘Batman’. Doesn’t it look like Batman peeking over the mountains to see what the bad guys are doing?

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Here are some more interesting formations along Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive.

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Born and raised in the Midwest, views such as these amaze me. The desert floor, the cacti and other scrub, the varying contours and colors of the rocks, the crystal blue quality of the sky on a sunny day. God put a lot of detailed work into this one little remote corner of the world.

There are gravel roads like this all through the park.

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They are recommended for four-wheel drive vehicles only and can get pretty rough, so we didn’t venture very far on any of them. But a lot of people do. You can get a backcountry permit and camp out in the desert for weeks at a time. I talked to some people who do this, become a desert hermit for a short time. They take small compact solar arrays with them that unfold and look quite impressive. With all the sunshine, the desert is the perfect place for solar panels. These hermits have all the electricity they need out in the middle of nowhere. I met one man who had a small solar array set up on top of his RV and connected to some military-grade batteries. He said he could charge those batteries up and run anything off them he liked – his microwave or air conditioning, anything. I would like to try this sometime, just drive off into the desert away from everybody and camp.

One reason for doing this is the skies. The night skies are pretty amazing even in the campgrounds. Big Bend NP observes dark sky protocols and keep the light at night down to a minimum. But out in the middle of the desert there would be absolutely no light pollution whatsoever. I can’t imagine how glorious the stars would look there. Even in the campground I would lay flat on my back at night and stare up at the sky. Very restorative. I would advise anyone to get as far away as possible from light sources on some clear night and just gaze upward.

The Max Rosswell Scenic Drive ends at the Cottonwood Campground. The campground got its name from the cottonwood trees that shade it.

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This rock formation dominates the campground.

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Like Rio Grande Village, Cottonwood is on the Rio Grande River. The cottonwood trees are there because of the river. It created a ribbon of green on both sides as it twisted through the desert.

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There must be a ranch on the Mexican side of the river across from the campground. I saw cattle grazing and horses roaming free.

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The campground store is at the site of an old ranch. The park has left some old equipment once used there for people to see.

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Like all national park campgrounds, there are no hook-ups. And the RV size is restricted, but I forget what the size limit is. That’s because our unit is so small we fit in just about everywhere.

There is a section of the campground set aside for groups. While we were there a group of college students were present. They were very quiet and respectful. They were there to enjoy and study nature, not to party. College students get a lot of bad press because of the drunken antics that take place during spring break and at fraternities. I’m sure most college students are serious and decorous. This particular group was a pleasure to be around.


The next Location is Cottonwood Campground 2 in Big Bend National Park, Texas.