Texas Trip Notes: Hiking in Santa Elena Canyon

“Santa Elena Canyon provides our first glimpse of the Rio Grande.  The water is slow moving and pink with morning light, mirroring the red-streaked cliffs rising on either side of the river. . . . Most deserts have a memory of the sea and here is no exception.  Fossils embedded in the limestone create an ancient brocade woven through the stratigraphy of stone.”  — Terry Tempest Williams, The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks

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Our second hike in Big Bend National Park was in the Santa Elena Canyon.  The Rio Grande River cuts through it — Mexico just a few yards from the trail on our shore.  The river ran so low that we saw boaters wade in it knee deep.  In the canyon, natural walls of stone separate our two countries.

“These canyon walls, fourteen hundred feet high, resemble Puebloan pots — black paint on red clay.  Gradations of black, gray, and blue come forth in late-afternoon light on burnished walls, red-orange. . . . The canyon narrows.  White sculpted boulders create a calm found in Zen gardens.”  — Terry Tempest Williams, The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks

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Honey mesquite pods
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Rio Grande River seen from the Santa Elena Canyon Trail
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In the Santa Elena Canyon, Big Bend NP
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Companies offer guided boat tours through the canyon.

 

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