Big Bend National Park is known for its varied landscapes. The river defines its border, desert stretches across the majority of its land, and mountains stand testament to the area’s volcanic past.
On our second day in the park, we hiked down from Big Bend’s most iconic hike to the South Rim. Tired, overwhelmed by what our eyes had already drunk in, and excited for our next adventure: the Marufo Vega trail. At the backcountry office on the day prior, we reserved two nights on this trail. Unlike the South Rim, there weren’t established campsites, so we’d need to scope out possibly places to pitch a tent along the way. Since we had a huge hike that morning, we knew we probably wouldn’t make it far in before sundown. The drive alone from the Chisos Basin, where the South Rim trail begins/ends, to the Marufo Vega trailhead would take about an hour and it was noon by the time we hiked back down to the basin from the rim. After a celebratory beer and a wash of sorts in the public bathroom, we made our way to our next night’s home.
We parked across the street from the trailhead. Only two other cars were parked there, confirming the backcountry ranger’s comment that this area was one of the least visited in the park. Being a roughly 14 mile roundtrip trail along with 2,300 ft in elevation, it is difficult to hike all in one day, attracting mostly backpackers like ourselves who were willing to sleep out in the open, under the stars.
By the time we began the trail, it was 4 p.m., and we had about 2 hours of daylight left. The guidebook indicated a steep climb awaiting us a little less than 2 miles down the trail, so we decided to try and make it there and reevaluate before deciding where to camp.
The trail starts off unimpressive, especially to our over saturated eyes from the day before. Flat, desert, rocky – the trail winds through a dry wash, offering the eye little to marvel at except for the steel ruins of an old ore tramway route. As we hiked, it seemed as from nowhere that the winds picked up, making the end of our day challenging to say the least. We were cold, tired, and looking for a place to pitch our tent before nightfall.
As we arrived at the ‘steep climb’ the guidebook promised, we found ourselves looking straight up at an almost vertical wall of crumbly rocks. It seemed it would be easier to tackle the climb in the morning, so we began to look for a place to pitch our tent. After searching around the area with little luck, we found a small patch of semi-even ground which we wedged our tent into for the night.
We propped our stove behind a large stone for a windbreak and heated our water for dinner. Delirious and disappointed in our evening experience, we slept, hoping for a better day, and some better weather, tomorrow.
The sun came poring into our tent early, waking us and bringing with it a clear blue sky. As we explored the surrounding area, we laughed at our precariously placed tent, wedged among cacti and a large rock.
We made coffee, packed up, and set off to hike up the steep climb, then towards the Rio Grande for our second night’s stay. We quickly realized the hike wouldn’t be disappointing to our eyes. Shortly after getting up the wall of crumbly rocks and winding around a few corners, the trail opened up to a smooth trail that snaked its way west towards the river.
With the weather temperate and the trail smooth, we quickly arrived at a clearing from which we could see the massive limestone faces of the Sierra del Carmens. A ways off trail, we found a smooth spot to set up camp before hiking down to the river to check out a different set of scenery.
In hindsight, we wish we would’ve just stayed at camp and soaked in the views. The hike down to the river was extremely steep, challenging to navigate, and offered little impressive views. However, the landscape surrounding our campsite was striking. With the Del Carmen mountains to the south, the cut of the Boquillas Canyon to the southeast, and the Dead Horse mountains to our north, we were in a prime location to sit and gaze all around us.
When we returned to camp from the river, we sat and did just that: enjoyed the views. Whiskey, dinner, and a sunset reflected off of the Sierra Del Carmens.
It was not an evening we will soon forget.
The morning brought the views back again, equally beautiful and we enjoyed them alongside coffee and our DIY oatmeal breakfast.
After breaking camp, we headed back the way we came, this time, enjoying the beginning part of the trail more than we had when we first arrived. Now, the weather was sunny, warmer, and far less windy. We stopped and explored the remnants of the tramway route and also admired the crystal lined staircase we had unknowingly climbed two nights before.
Final verdict on this hike? Just like the South Rim, it was the end of the hike that provided the biggest rewards. It wasn’t easy, but we agree: it was worth the views.
For more information on the Marufo Vega Trail and other attractions in Big Bend National Park, Check out this guide book we used to plan our trip.