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Rio Grande Walk
BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK
The Rio Grande River comes down out of Colorado, heads south through New Mexico, and passes through El Paso Texas where it now becomes the border between the United States and Mexico. The river flows 1254 miles in a southeast direction toward the Gulf of Mexico, but before getting there, it turns to the North East, creating a momentary bend in the river; this Is Big Bend National Park. The mountains in this park are a continuation of a mountain range in Mexico that will continue into the US through Guadalupe National Park and New Mexico. The highest point in this park is Emory Peak, at 7800 feet. This park is probably one of the remotest parks in the contiguous United States. Despite being in the middle of nowhere, it has a lot to offer in hiking, camping, and general sightseeing.
SANTA ELENA CANYON TRAIL
The Rio Grande River enters the park on the west side, passing through Mesa De Anguilla through a canyon called Santa Elena Canyon. The Ross Maxwell Scenic Road ends where this river exits that canyon. The Santa Elena Canyon Trail is a short 1 mile in and back trail that follows along the river, and its endpoint depends on how high the river is. The canyon walls are impressive at up to 1500 feet straight up. This is a must-see canyon if visiting the park and doesn’t require a full day to do it, just a portion of your morning to go and hike this short trail.
The Santa Elena Canyon Trail starts at a parking area where the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive ends. From the trailhead, it is a short walk to the river with Mexico on the other side. When I was there, the river wasn’t too deep, and you could almost cross it on rocks without getting wet. Once you have checked out the river to the west about 100 yards, the trail takes a well-groomed path via switchbacks high up on the river bank, maybe 100 feet. The trail stays high for the first quarter-mile before dropping back down to river level. Some pretty impressive rockfalls give cause to ponder how long ago and what it must have been like when these fell from the cliffs above. The vegetation is thick along the river, but the popularity of this trail seems to keep it well trimmed from the trail. Since you are walking along the river bank at this point, how far in you can go depends on how high the water is. When we were there, it went quite a ways into a point where the trail has to end because there is no bank on either side of the river, just 1500 foot cliffs (I believe our GPS said 1.2 miles round trip). If it had been raining or the river was recently high, this trail will be extremely muddy and slippery.
Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.
This hike is listed as One-Way.
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