Big Bend To Terlingua, TX – Santa Elena Canyon Hike, Mule Ears Spring Hike, Starlight Theater and Las Ruinas Tent Hostel – March 2, 2011

by Adam on March 2, 2011

A Woodpecker At The Cottonwood Campground At Big Bend National Park

A Woodpecker At The Cottonwood Campground At Big Bend National Park

After a full day of hiking and photos in the Castolon section of Big Bend National park including the Sam Nail Ranch, the Home Wilson Ranch, Tuff Canyon, The Burro Mesa Pouroff, The Sotol Vista Overlook and the Mule Ears Overlook this would be the last day at Big Bend National Park.  The day started with the sun blazing into the tent and a quick “bucket bath” to get some of the grime off.  With no shower and no running water in the Cottonwood Campground it was the only way to get a little bit clean.

The Building That Houses The Visitor Center And Store In The Castolon Section Of Big Bend National Park

The Building That Houses The Visitor Center And Store In The Castolon Section Of Big Bend National Park

The first stop of the day was up at the Castolon Visitor Center in Big Bend.  There were a few displays and sights to see both inside the visitor center and outside the buildings.  The general store had the usual selection of souvenirs and junk food.  A couple of microwave Hot Pockets made for a late breakfast/early lunch.  After talking to the park rangers for a little while, the Santa Elena Canyon seemed like the best place to start the day.  The Mule Ears Spring Trail would be the second hike.  Other Big Bend trails might be explored after than if time permitted but the plan was to make it to Fort Davis before calling it a day.

The Start Of The Santa Elena Canyon Trail At Big Bend National Park

The Start Of The Santa Elena Canyon Trail At Big Bend National Park

The Santa Elena Canyon Trail was located at the far end of the park.  In order to save a little gas and not have to backtrack as much the first hike was the Santa Elena Canyon Trail.  There was plenty of parking right by the trailhead.  It seemed to be a rather popular spot as evidenced by the numerous cars and motorcycles in the parking lot.  The Santa Elena Canyon hike goes for a total of 1.7 miles covers an elevation gain of about 100 feet and is one of the most stunning areas and canyon hikes in Big Bend National Park.

Adam Jewell In The Santa Elena Canyon At Big Bend National Park

Adam Jewell In The Santa Elena Canyon At Big Bend National Park

The hike starts out along a boardwalk of sorts on the sandy area that leads up to the canyon.  After walking across the boardwalk the trail goes up a number of switchbacks and made up of steps that go up a small hill.  The views of he Rio Grande and the canyon before even entering the canyon were spectacular and kept on getting better while walking up the switchbacks to the peak of the trail.  The limestone cliffs tower as much as 1,500 feet above the trail and the Rio Grande.

Paved Switchbacks Into And Out Of The Santa Elena Canyon At Big Bend National Park

Paved Switchbacks Into And Out Of The Santa Elena Canyon At Big Bend National Park

The hike down from the high point of the trail is a nice gentle slope back down to the bank of the Rio Grande.  It continued about .85 miles into the canyon.  There was no end of he trail marker but the trail soon becomes the Rio Grande and it wasn’t possible to hike any further into the canyon.  A few people lay around on the rocks in the canyon enjoying the cool temperatures in the shade of the canyon walls.  Ravens occasionally flew in the canyon.  Their calls echoed through the canyon.  After about 30 minutes of photographs in the canyon and just enjoying the sights it was time to hike back out.

A View Out Of The Santa Elena Canyon At Big Bend National Park

A View Out Of The Santa Elena Canyon At Big Bend National Park

The hike back out was a slow one with many stops to frame photographs and try different perspectives and angles in the canyon.  A little more time was spent in the canyon than planned so the hike to the Mule Ears Spring would have to be a quick on in order to get out to the spring and back by sunset.  The drive up to the Mule Ears Spring trailhead took about 25 minutes.  Nobody else was in the parking lot so it would be a solo hike out into the desert to the Mule Ears Spring.  The Mule Ears spring trail is a relatively easy hike except for the 3.8-mile length of the trail.  It went over a number of rolling hills and arroyos through a variety of washbasins and seemed like a lot more than 1.9 miles out to the spring.

A View From The Highest Point Along The Santa Elena Canyon At Big Bend National Park

A View From The Highest Point Along The Santa Elena Canyon At Big Bend National Park

The Mule Ears rock formations started to look a lot larger as the trail got closer to these rock formations.  The soft light of sunset made for some great photos of the Mule Ears, the Chisos Mountains and the other sights along the way.  There was no shade on the trail; only cacti and other small plants along the way.  The Cottonwood trees out at the spring provided some shade, however since it was late in the day it wasn’t really needed.

The Mule Ears Rock Formations At Big Bend National Park

The Mule Ears Rock Formations At Big Bend National Park

The hike back to the car from the Mule Ears Spring was a bit rushed.  It seemed to take longer to get out there than a 1.9-mile hike would take over level ground and rolling hills.  Just as the car came into view the sunlight was almost gone.  A flashlight and plenty of water was in the backpack but wasn’t needed on the way back.  After taking a few more photos and filming a little bit the next stop would be toward Ft. Davis.

Adam Jewell At The Mule Ears Spring At Big Bend National Park

Adam Jewell At The Mule Ears Spring At Big Bend National Park

After leaving Big Bend National Park the town of ghost town of Terlingua appeared just a short distance from Big Bend.  Since it was late and dark it seemed like a decent place to stop and look for a campground.  A stop at the first pub in Terlingua confirmed that there was a indeed a campground in Terlingua.  The campground turned out to be the Las Ruinas Tent Hostel.  There was nobody who worked there to take money or provide any information but one gentleman who was camping there provided the details of how it all worked.

The School Bus "Lobby" and Kitchen At The Las Ruinas Hostel In Terlingua, Texas

The School Bus "Lobby" and Kitchen At The Las Ruinas Hostel In Terlingua, Texas

As campsite was $7.00 and a military tent with a wood floor was $10.00 per night.  There was a shower and an old school bus that served as the office and the “lobby”.  There was a kitchen of sorts under an awning that looked as if it might buckle under a hard storm or wind.  A stop up at the Terlingua Starlight Theater for dinner proved to be fruitless.  They were still serving dinner and it looked like a good menu but the staff was too busy to take an order after a wait of about 15 minutes.

The Military Tents At The Las Ruinas Hostel In Terlingua, Texas

The Military Tents At The Las Ruinas Hostel In Terlingua, Texas

The microwave at the Las Ruinas Hostel facilitated making some microwave popcorn for dinner.  The self-inflating air mattress provided a little bit of comfort on the wooden floor of the military tent.  A pillow helped provide a little more comfort along with a sleeping bag.  It wasn’t the most comfortable night but at least it was fairly level, there was a shower and it was only $10.00 for the night!

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