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Big Bend National Park, Texas

santa elena canyon

Big Bend National Park contains 1,100 square miles of some of the most beautiful areas in Texas. The Rio Grande, flowing through 150 ft gorges, makes a ninety degree turn south of Marathon to form the southern border of this park. Thanks to its isolation, it is one of the least visited national parks, and very much of a kind with the great desert parks of the Southwest.

Sometimes considered "three parks in one," Big Bend includes mountain, desert, and river environments. Once in the park, unless you're prepared to do some strenuous hiking, there are few opportunities to see the river itself. A road starting west of the headquarters at at Panther Junction leads south for six miles, up into the alpine meadows of the Chisos Basin, ringed by dramatic peaks. Driving south of Panther Junction brings you to Rio Grande Village, where you can bathe in natural hot springs.

At three separate places in the park, the river runs through gigantic canyons. The westernmost, the Santa Elena, is the most common rafting trip, being accessible from from Lajitas. It boasts the technically challenging Rock Slide, and two Mexican side canyons that can be hiked, as well as stretches where the river swirls between awesome high rock walls.

The ease of crossing the international border adds to the thrill of this park, although you can get no further into Mexico than sandbanks. This area is so remote that casual traffic across the river is regarded as insignificant.

 
 
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