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Big Bend, a hidden paradise that many are missing out on

Big Bend has it all-- Desert, mountains, scenic rivers, wildlife, some of the darkest skies in the country and more. But you know what really made me never want to leave... SOLITUDE.

By: brian johns + Save to a List

I left the United States Army in 2016 and decided to go on a huge road trip. Not knowing I would travel for 12 of the next 14 months.. I simply wanted to see the most magnificent national parks our country offered. So naturally my notepad was filled in with dreams of Zion, Yosemite, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon.  But seeing that I was stationed at Ft Hood Tx, i wanted to make sure I went to Big Bend as well.  I didn't really plan it into my itinerary I just simply thought I would drive thru it on my way back from the Grand Canyon.  However, I didn't spend just a day or even a week in Big Bend.  I explored this unique park by myself for 5 weeks.


If you are anything like most of the daring adventure seekers you see on your Instagram explore feed who like to do handstands on the summit of mountains; hike to your heart's content, or just get straight up lost in dazzling scenery you should really invest more time at Big Bend National Park.  The Chisos Mountain Range is hikers paradise. You can hike a fairly easy 5 mile round trip on the Rim Rock Trail to get a good view of the range if you are pressed on time.  But I hope you dig deeper into the Chisos.  Every time I go I ensure that I spend at least one evening  just staring at the sun as it pours thru two massive rock formations on the Window Trail. If you want more of a challenge I suggest hiking the steep, 5.5 mile (11 miles round trip ) to the summit of Mt Emory.  Its a hike that in a way reminds me of Angels Landing, without the crowds, and no chains.  However you also should plan at least one hike to the South Rim, where the above self portrait was taken. Its like you are staring into Middle Earth and definitely worth the 13 miles round trip. Wear a good pair of hiking boots.  The first time i hiked it I did it in sneakers, and I promise I won't do that again. The Chisos Mountains should be on every hikers bucket list.


Everyone knows that @Yellowstonenps has some of the best wildlife viewing in the world and I would be fooling you if I told you Yellowstone isn't my favorite park for my wildlife photography.  But would you maybe be surprised that Big Bend, a park many wildlife fanatics don't even go to at all is a close second of mine?  What If I told you that out of all the national parks in the US Big Bend may give you the best possible chance to see a bobcat or even a mountain lion in the wild?  How about if you heard that there are more species of birds that migrate through @Bigbendnps then any other national park in the United States; including the Everglades.  Would you maybe consider grabbing those Binoculars and given Big Bend a try? Coyotes, ring-tailed cats, Great Horned Owls and grey foxes are just a handful of other unique species you stand a good chance of seeing if you spend enough time at this park down near the Border. One of the only thing that separates Big Bend from the more well known wildlife parks is you likely won't have to share your wildlife find with a bunch of other visitors.   Interested yet?



You want to talk about a park with a vast change in scenery, Big Bend must be mentioned.  In a single day you can go from waking up to fog and clouds at the South Rim that make you feel like you are maybe in Norway or Finland, like the self portrait above; to ending a sunset shoot with a dip in the hot springs nestled in the beautiful Rio Grande; all while watching interesting animals run across the landscape that you probably never have seen or possibly never even heard of.  It truly is a diverse park and likely the only one that shares characteristics that remind me of Zion, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon in a single visit.


Now many travelers starting off on what I like to call the Classic American Road trip want to escape the city lights and see some epic star action. Am i right?  Did you know Big Bend has some of the darkest skies in the country;  some of the best chance to see the center of the milky way galaxy, at least if you visit between spring thru early fall.  Big Bend is among a select number of places in the country so far from major cities making the uplight almost non-existent.  Get away from the city lights and learn a few constellations!  But bring a flashlight; it can get dark.  I suggest bringing two flashlights.  I did have a ring-tailed cat steal one of my headlamps that I was using to do light painting with in the above photograph.  Those creatures are attracted to light.  I am actually not kidding. So be prepared!




In Summary; if you are an adventure go-er; backpacker; night photographer; wanderer; or all around awesome traveler filled with an unending addiction to wanderlust (I am making a broad assumption if you are reading this you likely fit into one or more of those categories!); you need to add Big Bend to your list of travels.  It is farther away from a number of national parks, and even standard national park road trip itineraries; however i am telling you it is a hidden gem! Being stationed in Texas gave me a unique desire to want to explore the relatively unexplored.. And seeing that I was so happy getting lost here I wanted to pass on the info.  I would love to hear your thoughts; have you ever been to Big Bend?

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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