Skip to content


Your cart is empty

Article: Road Trip: Santa Elena Canyon

Patrick Smith

Road Trip: Santa Elena Canyon

Santa Elena Canyon sits at the western edge of the Park, whereas Boquillas Canyon resides on the eastern edge. I had selected the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive as my route to Santa Elena because the “scenic” part of its title promised more of the eye-candy views I was there for, at least in part. It was my first journey of any distance in the Park on a paved road. It was indeed scenic. Down, down off Burro Mesa Sheeba and I rolled, with the Chisos Range on the left. Through Tuff Canyon (spectacular) to the ending of the pavement at the Santa Elena trailhead. Only one fellow traveler was encountered on the way. The Park is sparsely visited in early March it would seem. 

I set out on the path to the Canyon and soon found myself at an expansive beach where the Rio Grande exits the Canyon. Walking across the sand toward the Canyon I had to cross a feeder creek on a mat of driftwood. It seemed strange that the Park Service wouldn’t have a bridge over the creek for the benefit of city-folk visitors. The same thoughts occupied my mind when I was forced to scramble up the cliff-like bank of the feeder creek in order to keep going. Anyway, the path soon turned into a purpose-built catwalk ascending the canyon wall. What a view opened up the higher I climbed! Santa Elena seemed to hem the river even more tightly than Boquillas, with sheer cliffs rising hundreds of feet on both sides. It must be grand to boat through the Canyon! The place was hushed, like Boquillas. There was no one there but me. What a treat! I dawdled. I mused about what to do next.

I decided to leave the Park earlier than the designated Plan put together with the Rangers back at the Persimmon Gap Entrance had laid out. With Santa Elena Canyon covered I figured I had seen the core of the Park, and my goal for the Road Trip also called for exploring places for real-deal rambling. Such freedom is not to be found in National Parks. I had hiked and 4-wheeled the heart of Big Bend. Do not underestimate my intention in saying that that Big Bend is well worth any outdoorsman’s bucket list in checking out magnificent, remote desert scenery…I was, and am, satisfied with my decision to go see it. But I needed to move on and check out non-pinned-down potential Rambling Country.

The most direct route for exiting the Park from Santa Elena Canyon was to take the unpaved Old Maverick Road north to the Maverick Junction Entrance/Exit station. So Sheeba and I headed out on it. Maverick proved an apt name for the route. When we arrived at the station I advised the Ranger on duty that I was leaving early and so my un-used campsites could be assigned to other pilgrims. 

A few miles west of the Maverick Junction station lay the fabled town of Terlingua—home of the world-famous Terlingua Chili Cook-off each year. The burg was situated in high and dry desert, and not really much to look at. I wasn’t on a cultural exploration trip—instead, a backpacking country quest—and so I didn’t even stop, but headed north on Texas highway 118 toward Alpine through the Davis Mountains. 

Next: Terlingua to Deming, New Mexico….

Read more

Patrick Smith

Road Trip: Gila Wilderness

I set out for the Gila in a blazing crimson desert dawn, heading west on I-10 across the barren southern New Mexico wastelands. The Gila lies in the Gila National Forest along the Black Mountai...

Read more
Patrick Smith

Road Trip: Beyond Boquillas

Returning from the hike out to the canyon I climbed aboard Sheeba and motored southwest along remote River Road East to intersect with the equally remote 4WD Glenn Springs Road for the long pok...

Read more