Trip Number: 12445A
Staff: Phil Snyder
- Hike classic trails from the Chisos Mountains to the Chihuahuan Desert
- Soak in historic hot springs
- Float on the Rio Grande through towering Santa Elena Canyon
- All meals and kitchen equipment
- Full-day raft/canoe trip on Rio Grande River
- Permits, fees, and maps
Photo: Phil Snyder
Big Bend National Park in Texas is the perfect place to wander and wonder.
Experience stunning desert and mountain scenery, unfamiliar creatures and plants,
and absorb the solitude of this remote, isolated corner of the world.
Hike, Soak, and Float visits the highlights of this vast territory, with 50
miles of dayhiking in the park’s three ecological zones: the rugged Chisos
Mountains, rising 5,000 feet above the surrounding desert; the Chihuahuan desert
with its arroyos, cliffs, and hoodoos forged from volcanic and erosive activity;
and the lush floodplain of Rio Grande River. The itinerary includes classic
Texan trails, from the South Rim Loop and Marufo Vega to Lost Mine and The Window.
In addition to hiking, we’ll soak in 105-degree, historically significant
hot springs, and spend a full day floating on the Rio Grande River, through
towering canyons that divide the U.S. and Mexico.
Spring comes early to the lower elevations of Big Bend with early wildflowers
blooming in March, depending on seasonal precipitation. Some of the 70 species
of cacti also may be blooming. With luck, we’ll be visited by many of
the 450 species of birds in the park, a number that amounts to more than half
of all species in North America.
Hike, Soak, and Float is one the Sierra Club’s first domestic hiking
trips of the year. Get an early start to your hiking season in sunny, southern
Texas by exploring never-to-be-forgotten Big Bend National Park.
Photo: Phil Snyder
There is information about all of the hikes and the rich history of Big Bend
on the park’s Web site. Participants will receive copies of topo maps
for the hikes before the trip begins.
Day 1: Meet at Chisos Basin Group Campground at 4 p.m. for
a Welcome to Big Bend reception and orientation.
Day 2: Hike the 4.8 mile (all distances are round-trip) Lost
Mine Trail this morning to some of the best views in the park, including the
distant Rio Grande River and the Sierra Del Carmen range in Mexico. The highlight
of the afternoon is a 4.5-mile hike on The Window Trail that takes us through
a slot canyon to get to the top of a 200-foot pour-off that drains most of the
Day 3: Enjoy the 13-mile South Rim Loop Trail, considered
the classic hike of Texas. We will have lunch on 2,500-foot cliffs with breathtaking
views of hundreds of square miles of desert and mountains.
Day 4: In the middle of the six-mile Hot Springs Canyon Rim
Trail, we can soak in 105-degree hot springs on the banks of the Rio Grande
River. The springs are enclosed within the foundation of an 80-year old bathhouse
that was part of an historic and semi-restored resort. Later in the day, we’ll
take a side trip to Boquillas Canyon near the nation’s newest border crossing
-- an unstaffed, water-only crossing scheduled to open in April 2012.
Day 5: Hike one of the most famous trails in the park, The
Marufo Vega Trail, a strenuous but spectacular 14-mile loop over the Deadhorse
Mountains to the Rio Grande. An alternate hike will be offered: the eight-mile
historic Ore Terminal Trail, which follows an abandoned tramway that carried
silver, lead, and zinc from Mexico until 1919.
Photo: Phil Snyder
Day 6: The Chimneys, a 4.8-mile hike, features prominent petroglyphs,
while the goal of the 6-mile hike to Mule Ears is a lush spring in the midst
of the beauty of the Chicuahuan Desert. Both Chimneys and Mule Ears are large
rock outcrops that have been used as landmarks for centuries.
Day 7: Float on an all-day raft or canoe trip (depending on
water levels) on the Rio Grande through the 1,500-foot walls of Santa Elena
Day 8: After a morning hike to the top of Devil’s Den
for a last panoramic view of the park, we will descend to Dog Canyon for a shady
lunch before saying goodbye to Big Bend and our new Sierra Club friends.
Big Bend National Park is in one of the most isolated corners of the country,
resulting in relatively few visitors. The closest airports in Texas are Midland-Odessa,
which is 225 miles from the park; El Paso, 325 miles away; or San Antonio, 420
miles away. Amtrak stops in Alpine a few times each week, about 100 miles away.
A late Friday arrival in one of these gateway cities should allow plenty of
time for the drive to the park Saturday and start of the trip at 4 p.m.
Carpooling is strongly encouraged to help reduce participant costs and our
environmental footprint, and because there is limited parking in campgrounds
and at the trailheads. Each vehicle will need a national park entrance pass,
which is $20 for the week.
Accommodations and Food
Photo: Phil Snyder
We are staying at three developed, car-accessible campgrounds in Big Bend.
The group sites are large, private areas exclusively for tents, with picnic
tables, pit or flush toilets, and some shade ramadas. Showers are available
in Rio Grande Village. All campgrounds have a small store nearby.
The trip price includes meals, beginning with dinner on day one through lunch
on day eight. We provide all cooking equipment, including stoves and fuel. One
of the benefits of a base-camp trip is that the kitchen can be more elaborate,
starting with plenty of strong, percolated coffee (or tea) in the morning, and
including fresh food, from eggs to salads to vegetables. Fish and chicken are
on the menu, but vegetarians can easily be accommodated; however, if you avoid
dairy products, this trip is not for you. If you have special dietary requirements,
contact the leader before signing up. We follow the Sierra Club tradition that
everyone helps cook and clean.
To fully appreciate this outing, you should be in good physical condition
and enjoy challenging day hikes. Our hikes will vary from half-mile nature walks
on flat terrain to a rugged 14-mile hike with up to 2,000 feet of elevation
gain. Although we're only carrying relatively light day packs, water is rare
on Big Bend hikes, and as much as a gallon may be needed on the 14-mile Marufo
Vega Trail. Our highest expected elevation is 7,250 feet.
Equipment and Clothing
Photo: Phil Snyder
A detailed equipment list will be shared with the group. Participants will
use their own personal camping gear, including a tent; sleeping bag rated to
at least 20 degrees; reliable raingear; daypack; and well-broken-in, lug-soled
boots. Hiking poles are helpful on the rough and often steep terrain. Birders
will want good binoculars and everyone will want cameras to photograph the terrific
scenery. Group commissary equipment will be provided.
- National Geographic/Trails Illustrated Map of Big Bend National Park
- Parent, Laurence, Hiking Big Bend National Park.
- Big Bend Natural History Association, Hiker's Guide to Trails of Big
Bend National Park and Road Guide to Paved and Improved Dirt Roads of Big
Bend National Park.
- Abbey, Edward, Disorder and Early Sorrow, an essay in The Journey
- Big Bend National Park: http://www.nps.gov/bibe/
- Big Bend National Park Daily Report (weather): http://www.nps.gov/bibe/daily_report.htm
- Big Bend Now: http://www.bigbendsentinel.com/
Photo: Phil Snyder
Big Bend has been preserved as a national park since 1944, but influences past
and present, inside and outside the park affect the integrity of its various
ecosystems. We will see and discuss destructive activities such as overgrazing
in the early part of the last century, introduction of exotic, invasive species,
degradation of air quality from industries outside the park, and the disappearance
of the area's historical and pre-historical archaeological record by the thoughtless
removal of artifacts. We will also delight in the ways the landscape is repairing
itself with the return of native grasses, black bears, and Mexico’s Carmen
Mountains White-Tailed Deer. We will talk about and practice Leave No Trace
Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from Big Bend National Park.
See the How to Apply for an Outing section for more details on registering for this trip and details
about our Reservation and Cancellation Policy.
The payment of a deposit does not confirm you as a member on the trip. Participants must be approved by the trip leader. After signing up for this trip, you will be sent a confirmation packet containing approval materials (Participant Approval Questionnaire, Medical Form, Liability Release Form). Each applicant (including those on the waitlist) must fill out these forms and promptly mail them to the trip leader. The leader will review the approval materials and notify you of your acceptance in a timely manner.
Phil Snyder's passion for hiking began on the Appalachian Trail in 1975. Although his AT project is incomplete, Phil's enthusiasm for walking in woods, canyons and desert remains, and is especially high for Big Bend, where he is returning for his seventh consecutive year. One of his Sierra Club goals is to introduce hikers to the challenging, picturesque trails of the Midwest, especially parks around Lake Superior. Phil is mostly retired, a freelance writer, Motorcycle Safety Instructor, and community volunteer in Appleton, Wisconsin.
Melinda Goodwater has been leading backpack trips for Sierra Club Outings for more than 16 years. She quit her full-time job when it got in the way of her trips and has been leading adventures ever since. She leads treks from Nepal to Alaska to the desert Southwest. When not in the wilderness, Melinda still does consulting work as an electronic engineer. Melinda has training in CPR and is a wilderness first responder. She is an avid fan of long trails (a reasonable section at a time), so don't be surprised if you bump into her in the wilderness sometime!
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips