Cinco Tenajas Big Bend Ranch

Water is rare in the Big Bend. Bring plenty if you go. Pictured is “Cinco Tinajas” (Tin-ah-hass) on Big Bend Ranch State Park, upriver from Big Bend National Park. Both parks are in the Chihuahuan Desert — mountainous in places with canyons and unforgettable scenery.

The immense country named for a bend in a river is too big to do justice to in 500 words. But I’ll try to capsulize it for readers.

The Rio Grande was flowing southeasterly, like all Texas rivers. Somehow it made a huge left turn and headed northeast, making that BIG Bend famous!

Brewster County is Texas’ largest county. At first glance, some might see nothing but endless greasewood (creosote bush) flats with mountain mirages in the distance. Bob Hope once described this part of Texas as “Miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles.”

That seems accurate on scorching summer afternoons. During the other seasons, it’s a land of distant vistas filled with “Air that ain’t been breathed before,” as Johnny Cash once sang. A county free of freeways, traffic, and congestion. You feel freedom there. It’s a land of more critters than resident humans.

It begins as you approach Balmorhea State Park. The natural swimming pool there is an oasis in the Chihuahuan Desert. Fed by San Solomon Springs, it justifies whatever it took to get there. Underwater goggles or a mask help to see fish better in the clear water. And seeing the mountains to the west assures you the landscape is about to change.

This is high desert country. High and dry. Brewster County, where Big Bend National Park is located, has elevations ranging from 1,400-feet to 7,825-feet. It receives under 20 inches of rainfall a year. Most readers of this column live at elevations of less than 2,000 feet and get twice that much rain.

Sunscreen, chap sticks, and wide brim hats are necessities. But be aware that Panther Junction received over four inches of snow this month. It’s getting warm, but could still get cold in late March or April.

National Park visitors should visit the Chisos Basin, the mouth of Santa Elena Canyon, the Boquillas Canyon crossing and perhaps the town on the Mexican side (Passport required). Take at least one hike. Cattail Falls is enchanting but beware of bears and snakes wherever you go.

Big Bend Ranch State Park, upriver from the National Park, is similar, yet different. It’s Texas’ largest park and offers more societal escape. Its trails are rugged; some require 4WD. A friend once described it as “not all parked up.” It lacks amenities of the National Park. Get a park map and follow it closely. Being lost ruins your day! A friend and I hunted private land adjacent to BB Ranch twice and tent camped there. His appraisal of the state park was, “No country for old campers!”

The Closed Canyon Trail is one of my favorites, as is the Cinco Tinajas Trail leading to the Five Bowls or pools, pictured here. Big Bend Ranch has an air strip and offers guide services on the trails and the river. In addition to various campsites, the Saucedo Bunkhouse is available. Reservations are required.

I’ve heard solitude is sometimes a disease, sometimes a cure. The Big Bend can be an apothecary.

John Jefferson, “Woods, Waters and Wildlife” columnist, may be reached at 512-219-1199 or on his website,

John Jefferson writes a weekly outdoors column for the Victoria Advocate.