Big Bend National Park Headquarters is at Panther Junction. It’s busiest and most complete visitor center is here too and a must-stop specializing in Big Bend history. My favorite exhibit, however, was about roadrunners.
Hoping to see these appropriately named birds at Rio Grande Village, Ruth & I headed southeast on the empty, hauntingly beautiful RGV road with grand views of Mexico’s Sierra del Carmen Mountains eventually dominating the landscape.
Since The Village is the Park’s hottest place during summer, its visitor center with a bat exhibit is closed from April to November. The very small store that selling drinks, snacks, etc., however, is open all year.
We checked out what’s left of the Daniels ranch–one empty, adobe building near something you see rarely in the Chihuahuan Desert–trees. The photo of the spectacular cottonwoods above was taken at Daniels where we saw the anemic Rio Grande for the first time. We climbed up to the Boquillas Canyon overlook and down to where the wadeable not-so-grand rio enters Boquillas’ shady cleft. Gas, camping facilities, and a very popular picnic area (in winter) are at Rio Grande Village.
Summer temperatures are at least 20° hotter here than elsewhere in broiling Big Bend. It’s a tough place. The not especially difficult Marufo Vega Trail is Big Bend’s most popular hike but the one where visitors most tend to get themselves into trouble requiring ranger assistance. We didn’t attempt it, nor did we make it to BBNP’s 3rd river canyon, the Mariscal.
There are a couple of places where we could easily wade across the Rio Grande but didn’t. Those who do and return risk a $5,000 fine/and or prison time. When the water’s high enough, which it wasn’t, canoes, kayaks, etc., can be seen on it. Should an emergency situation develop and boaters touch Mexico, the Border Patrol will likely forgive.
On the way back to Panther Junction, I wanted to see the hot springs. At the end of a bad road and a long dusty trail was an ancient, spa-sized pool of hot water filled with many generations completely ignoring a wildly gesticulating boy on the Mexican side.
Those who go west from Panther Junction and turn south on the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive eventually come to Castalon, the other easy-access River stop in Big Bend. The RMSD has many attractions, our favorite being the Burro Mesa Pouroff.
Historic Castolon has human history and several well-kept buildings dating from The Mexican War. The barely visible, unvisitable Mexican town of Santa Elena is across the Rio Grande. Castolon was once a place of cotton fields, then army tents. The stories in its April to November visitor center are about bandits, farmers, and recruits surviving intense heat.
Still existent barracks went up in 1919. However, the War ended in 1920 and the soldier’s new housing became the La Harmonia Store until the 1950s. The barracks building now holds an abandoned, period post office inside the best store in BBNP with some interesting souvenirs like pecan pie in a jar. Eight miles of paved road further west was my absolutely favorite Park experience, the Santa Elena Canyon Trail.