Tag Archives: Big Bend National Park

Throwback Thursday Post: Crossing to Mexico from Big Bend National Park

A year ago at this time, we were visiting the Big Bend area of Texas and experienced one of the most unique border crossings ever. Enjoy this Throwback Thursday post!


Just on the other side of the Rio Grande River in the Big Bend National Park lies Mexico, and the small border town of Boquilles del Carmen. Years ago, crossing to the small towns just on the other side was casually done, with no border crossing formalities. That all stopped after 9-11, when the border was closed indefinitely.

The tourist town dwindled to almost nothing when tourist traffic stopped. In April 2013, the border re-opened as an official port of entry, open Wednesday through Sunday only.  The tiny border village revived, and exists primarily as a tourist village with two restaurants, a tiny hotel, and one telephone line.  I have been through many border crossings, but this one has to be the most unique.

002We parked and entered the small border crossing building. The park ranger explained the process, including what we could (and could not) bring back across the border. We could bring handicrafts, but no minerals, animal bones or alcoholic beverages. Since there was no mechanism to collect taxes at this small station, no tequila allowed over the border (except in your stomach!)

From the building, we walked down a winding path to the bank of the Rio Grande River. Seeing us arrive, a rowboat was dispatched for us from across the river. Technically, one could swim across, but looking at the swift current dissuaded us from even the thought. 27750846_10212958025119151_1434082334826610130_nOnce rowed across, we climbed up the other side,  paid the $5 per person round trip fee and were asked if we wanted a ride to the village, about 3/4 mile away. We had the choice of a burro, horse or truck. We could certainly have walked the distance, but hey, how often do you get a chance to ride a burro! We ponied up the $5 each (round trip) and mounted our donkeys, and plodded off on the only road toward the village, led by a guide. Frankly we could have walked faster, but riding a donkey was a whole lot more fun.

Once we reached the outskirts of the village, we dismounted and our guide gave us a tour of the town. He spoke almost no English, but Jeff’s Spanish was just sufficient to make communication possible.  He escorted us first to the Mexican customs office, a white trailer surrounded by a chain link fence. We filled out the necessary forms, showed our passports, and were on our way in a few minutes.

006We walked through the town, littered with tables full of local handicrafts for sale.  We trekked to the nearby hot springs  — but had to hastily retreat because the spring was in use as a makeshift bathing facility. I usually enjoy meeting our Mexican neighbors, but not quite that intimately. As we continued, we learned about their clinic and toured the town hotel. It was more like a hostel, but for $20 person, it offered a lodging option. If you missed the 5 pm closing time for the border crossing, you would need it! Our guide’s wife worked at the hotel and just coincidentally had her own collection of handicrafts for sale where I picked up a couple of things (of course).

Growing thirsty and a big hungry, it was close enough to lunch time, so we backtracked to one of the two town restaurants. We could choose from burritos, tacos or tamales, and we both opted for the tamales. They were delicious, especially when chased down with a local beer (or two).  The restaurant owner (who spoke perfect English) coincidentally had a few things for sale, and I picked up a supply of Mexican vanilla extract.

After lunch, we figured we had pretty well done the town. We checked back in at the Mexican office, turned in our paperwork and had our passports stamped.  We then headed back to mount our burros for the slow amble back to the river. After dismounting, we thanked and tipped our guide and clambered back into the rowboat for the return trip across the river. Back at the US border crossing building we were metered one at a time to a kiosk where we scanned our passports and were interviewed by a remote customs agent. It took just a couple of minutes each. Formalities concluded, we were officially back on US soil.

It was as very interesting day, although more expensive than one might expect. Transportation (boat and burro) was $20, lunch was $25. Adding in souvenirs and guide tip, the total was around $80 for a few hours in town.  But, this is the village’s primary source of revenue so in my opinion, it’s money well spent for a unique experience.

Big Bend Adventures Part 2: Crossing to Mexico

Just on the other side of the Rio Grande River in the Big Bend National Park lies Mexico, and the small border town of Boquilles del Carmen. Years ago, crossing to the small towns just on the other side was casually done, with no border crossing formalities. That all stopped after 9-11, when the border was closed indefinitely.

The tourist town dwindled to almost nothing when tourist traffic stopped. In April 2013, the border re-opened as an official port of entry, open Wednesday through Sunday only.  The tiny border village revived, and exists primarily as a tourist village with two restaurants, a tiny hotel, and one telephone line.  I have been through many border crossings, but this one has to be the most unique.

002We parked and entered the small border crossing building. The park ranger explained the process, including what we could (and could not) bring back across the border. We could bring handicrafts, but no minerals, animal bones or alcoholic beverages. Since there was no mechanism to collect taxes at this small station, no tequila allowed over the border (except in your stomach!)

From the building, we walked down a winding path to the bank of the Rio Grande River. Seeing us arrive, a rowboat was dispatched for us from across the river. Technically, one could swim across, but looking at the swift current dissuaded us from even the thought. 27750846_10212958025119151_1434082334826610130_nOnce rowed across, we climbed up the other side,  paid the $5 per person round trip fee and were asked if we wanted a ride to the village, about 3/4 mile away. We had the choice of a burro, horse or truck. We could certainly have walked the distance, but hey, how often do you get a chance to ride a burro! We ponied up the $5 each (round trip) and mounted our donkeys, and plodded off on the only road toward the village, led by a guide. Frankly we could have walked faster, but riding a donkey was a whole lot more fun.

Once we reached the outskirts of the village, we dismounted and our guide gave us a tour of the town. He spoke almost no English, but Jeff’s Spanish was just sufficient to make communication possible.  He escorted us first to the Mexican customs office, a white trailer surrounded by a chain link fence. We filled out the necessary forms, showed our passports, and were on our way in a few minutes.

006We walked through the town, littered with tables full of local handicrafts for sale.  We trekked to the nearby hot springs  — but had to hastily retreat because the spring was in use as a makeshift bathing facility. I usually enjoy meeting our Mexican neighbors, but not quite that intimately. As we continued, we learned about their clinic and toured the town hotel. It was more like a hostel, but for $20 person, it offered a lodging option. If you missed the 5 pm closing time for the border crossing, you would need it! Our guide’s wife worked at the hotel and just coincidentally had her own collection of handicrafts for sale where I picked up a couple of things (of course).

Growing thirsty and a big hungry, it was close enough to lunch time, so we backtracked to one of the two town restaurants. We could choose from burritos, tacos or tamales, and we both opted for the tamales. They were delicious, especially when chased down with a local beer (or two).  The restaurant owner (who spoke perfect English) coincidentally had a few things for sale, and I picked up a supply Mexican vanilla extract.

After lunch, we figured we had pretty well done the town. We checked back in at the Mexican office, turned in our paperwork and had our passports stamped.  We then headed back to mount our burros for the slow amble back to the river. After dismounting, we thanked and tipped our guide and clambered back into the rowboat for the return trip across the river. Back at the US border crossing building we were metered one at a time to a kiosk where we scanned our passports and were interviewed by a remote customs agent. It took just a couple of minutes each. Formalities concluded, we were officially back on US soil.

It was as very interesting day, although more expensive than one might expect. Transportation (boat and burro) was $20, lunch was $25. Adding in souvenirs and guide tip, the total was around $80 for a few hours in town.  But, this is the village’s primary source of revenue so in my opinion, it’s money well spent for a unique experience.

Big Bend Adventures Part 1: Big Bend National Park

IMG_3569The Big Bend area of Texas is a vast corner of wilderness where desert meets mountains and the Rio Grande River. The area includes two large parks (Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park) and several small towns to explore. Our RV park was tucked right into the middle of it all.

Big Bend National Park is one of the least visited parks in the US due to its remote location, averaging only around 380,000 visitors per year. In contrast, our beloved Great Smoky Mountain National Park hosts over 11 million visits per year! As a result, Big Bend definitely feels wild and remote by comparison. At times, you will literally see no one on the roads or trails.

The National Park amenities include scenic drives, hiking trails of varying lengths, several visitor centers, campgrounds (both primitive and  with hook ups) and even a lodge. The volcanic origin Chisos Mountains occupy the interior of the park, thrusting  to nearly 8,000 feet in altitude. They are surrounded by a vast desert expanse, interrupted at intervals by massive water carved canyons. At the south end of the Park winds the sinuous Rio Grande River. Due to the terrain’s variety, there are a number of ecosystems contained within the park including deep desert, grassland, river floodplain and forested mountain. It is a geologist’s playground, with its ancient seabed, marshland, volcano and water erosion past all written in the rocks. Fortunately, I carry my own geologist with me. The area is a hotbed for fossils – a dinosaur bone exhibit describes the extensive fossil record found there.

IMG_3580I haven’t spent much time exploring the desert and was struck with how harsh the environment seems. The sun is intensely hot, making even a cool day seem overly warm. I can’t even imagine how hot the summer would be. Everything growing is spiky and uninviting. Yet, hiding under the spikes is the occasional shy flower. You can see for miles, making distances deceiving. It’s beautiful, but a forbidding beauty. It’s nice to explore and see, but frankly, not someplace I’d want to stay for a long visit.

1B1ED27F000005DC-2982714-The_star_of_each_show_was_the_Road_Runner_and_his_nemesis_Wile_E-a-37_1425649607845It amazes me that anything can live successfully in this environment, but wildlife and people do indeed live here. Driving around the park we spied a coyote and then, shortly after, a road runner. Immediately the cartoon theme song jumped into my brain and stayed as an earworm for the rest of the trip. [Road runner … the coyote’s after you. Road runner … if he catches you you’re through!]  Now it’s in YOUR brain too! <evil chuckle>

javelina-cballouWe also caught our first glimpse of a small mammal – the javalina. It looks something like a cross between a feral pig and a guinea pig. I “borrowed” this photo from the national park service website so you can see what it looks like. These tough little guys munch down prickly pear and other spiny vegetation with no problem at all. He scuttled away from us quickly, but I don’t think I would want to tangle with him.

People have also weathered this harsh environment for thousands of years as evidenced by ancient rock art and crumbling remains of settler homes and outbuildings. 100 year old windmills still pump water into cisterns, maintaining small oases in the desert expanse.

27658076_10212958027679215_620040175042453053_nSpeaking of oases, the south end of the park includes a small hot spring which bubbles up and over into the Rio Grande. Once a resort, the corralled spring still delights tourists looking for a relaxing dip. I wouldn’t want to test it during the summer, but on a 50-degree day, the 105 degree hot spring was quite inviting.

Next up:  the Big Bend adventure continues!