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map of Texas showing location of Big Bend National Park

The two RV Gypsies

at Big Bend National Park
in Texas

October 10-11, 2012

Big Bend National Park is in the southern part of the U.S. state of Texas. Big Bend has national significance as the largest protected area of Chihuahuan Desert topography and ecology in the United States, which includes more than 1,200 species of plants, more than 450 species of birds, 56 species of reptiles, and 75 species of mammals.

The park covers 801,163 acres (1,252 square miles). It is larger than the state of Rhode Island.

For more than 1,000 miles, the Rio Grande River forms the international boundary between Mexico and the United States, and Big Bend National Park administers approximately 244 miles along that boundary. The park was named after the area, which is bounded by a large bend in the Texas-Mexico border.

Because the Rio Grande serves as an international boundary, the park faces unusual constraints while administering and enforcing park rules, regulations, and policies. In accordance with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the park's territory extends only to the center of the deepest river channel as the river flowed in 1848. The rest of the land south of that channel, and the river, lies within Mexican territory.

The two RV Gypsies at the Big Bend National Park sign
Karen Duquette crossing the street by the Big Bend National Park sign

Ocotillo with a portion of the Sierra del Carmen Mountain Range in the background. Karen Duquette says the Ocotillo reminds her of a plant that should be in the ocean or an aquarium.

Ocotillo
Karen Duquette and Ocotillo

Across the street from the Big Bend National Park sign, the two RV Gypsies saw badland scenery that demanded to be photographed.

badlands scenery at Big Bend National Park
Lee Duquette filming the badlands at Big Bend

BADLANDS: A thin layer of gravel rests on colorful layers of slippery bentonite clay. Because bentonite swells when wet, exposed badlands slopes tend to slump away along fracture lines, collapsing the canyon back toward its rims. Notice the mounds of slump material at the base of the painted hills.

The dry stream bed in the canyon floor is more typical of desert erosion. After sudden storms in the mountains, flash floods roar down the channel, carving the canyon deeper and deeper.

The dry stream bed in the canyon floor
painted hills in Big Bend National Park
painted hills in Big Bend National Park
painted hills in Big Bend National Park
painted hills in Big Bend National Park
painted hills in Big Bend National Park

Homer Wilson Ranch

information sign about Homer Wilson Ranch
interior of Homer Wilson ranch

In the photo below, the remains of the Homer Wilson Ranch can be seen below the majestic mountain. As the two RV Gypsies continued throughout Big Bend National Park, they photographed this same mountain from different angles, but the ranch could only seen from this angle.

Homer Wilson Ranch
Homer Wilson Ranch

Below: A panorama of the mountain and surrounding area, (the glimpse of white under the mountain is the ranch)

Homer Wilson Ranch

Sotol Vista - the photos below are gazing toward Mexico, the Rio Grande, and Santa Elena Canyon--the destination of the Scenic Drive. Fourteen air miles away, Santa Elena Canyon appears to be a small gap in the mesa. Its giant scale is not yet apparent (but close-up photos will be revealed later on this page). At the end of the drive, a short trail enters the mouth of the gorge, where limestone walls tower 1,500 feet above the river.

sign: Sotol Vista mountains at Big Bend national Park
mountains at Big Bend National Park
mountains at Big Bend National Park

Two more views of the mountain by the ranch introduced above, taken from different lookouts in the park.

a big mountain mound
a big mountain mound

The two RV Gypsies continued to drive the Scenic Drive in Big Bend National Park and take photos of everything mentioned in the poster above.

Burro Mesa Pouroff

Burro Mesa Pouroff
Burro Mesa Pouroff
Burro Mesa Pouroff and painted hills
Karen Duquette at Burro Mesa Pouroff
Burro Mesa Pouroff and painted hills
Karen Duquette at Burro Mesa Pouroff  in Big Bend
Karen Duquette at Burro Mesa Pouroff
dead cacti

Scenic Drive Overlook

The vast distances viewed through the clear skies of Big Bend have long been one of the defining qualities of this unique desert land. The scope of the landscape is overwhelming. For example, Emory Peak, a vertical mile higher from where the two RV Gypsies stood to take the below photos, is 16 miles away. In recent years, visibility in the Big Bend region has declined dramatically as air pollution from developed areas far beyond the park's boundaries invades even this remote place.

panorama of Emery Peak from the Scenic Drive Overlook at Big Bend
Emery Peak and Ocotillo
Emery Peak and Ocotillo

Ocotillo is seen everywhere in Big Bend. It has soft leaves and sharp thorns.

view from the scenic overlook at Big Bend
Ocotillo leaves and thorns

Karen Duquette tried to blend in with the Ocotillo.

Karen Duquette trying to blend in with the Ocotillo.

As Lee Duquette walked the trail back to the car, the gap in the Santa Elena Canyon could be seen, although it was still a good distance away.

the gap in the Santa Elena Canyon

As the two RV Gypsies got back in their truck and continued to drive the scenic road, the gap in the Santa Elena Canyon kept appearing.

the gap in the Santa Elena Canyon

Santa Elena Canyon & the Rio Grande River that divides the USA from Mexico:

The two RV Gypsies walked a short path trying to see the Rio Grande River, but the path led to an area of soft, cracked mud, so the two RV Gypsies made their way back to the parking lot, and walked down the boat ramp to see the Rio Grande.

area of soft, cracked mud
Karen Duquette at Santa Elena Canyon
panorama of the Mexico side
the Rio Grande at Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend
the Rio Grande at Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend

From the boat ramp, the two RV Gypsies were able to look down the Rio Grande River, and they saw the gap in the Santa Elena Canyon once again. They were constantly getting closer to the gap.

the Rio Grande at Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend
the Rio Grande at Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend
Lee Duquette at the Rio Grande at Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend

Below: zooming the camera in to get a different view of the gap in the Santa Elena Canyon

the gap in the Santa Elena Canyon
the gap in the Santa Elena Canyon
the gap in the Santa Elena Canyon
Karen Duquette at the the gap in the Santa Elena Canyon

The man (in the photo below) said he was staying in the campground here at Big Bend, and there were not any showers, so he decided to bathe here. If he were to exit the water on the Mexico side, he could be arrested. He could actually be detained and questioned just for being in the water here.

someone bathing in the Rio Grande River
someone bathing in the Rio Grande River
the Rio Grande River at Big Bend
the Rio Grande River at Big Bend

The two RV Gypsies finally arrived at the gap in the Santa Elena Canyon

the gap in the Santa Elena Canyon

Except during flood season, the quiet waters below do not seem powerful enough to have carved Santa Elena Canyon. But the water is 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, the grit hissing along the hull can actually be heard. The view at river level gives no clue to the extent of canyon carving.

the gap in the Santa Elena Canyon
the gap in the Santa Elena Canyon

Santa Elena Canyon is 8 miles long and 1,500 feet deep. In some places the canyon is only 30 feet wide at the bottom.

the gap in the Santa Elena Canyon

Going on to the next area required the two RV Gypsies to drive down a curvy road with a 10% grade.

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go to the next adventure of the two RV Gypsies Please continue on to page 2 of 3 - because there is so much more beauty at Big Bend, including more of the Rio Grande River which divides the USA and Mexico, plus hot springs, and more.