Texas's southern Big Bend area is undoubtedly remote and wild. Only some 300,000 people annually visit the 1.4 million acres of national park and nearby national monument, state park, and state wildlife management areas. But even fewer cross the Rio Grande to the 2.1 million acres of protected land in Mexico. Over the river you won't find entrance signs, visitor centers, or marked trails, just miles and miles of beautiful open space.
To access this untamed desert wilderness, La Posada Milagro Guest House in nearby Terlingua, Texas guides trips into Mexico's bordering Rio Bravo region for its Canon de Santa Elena and Maderas del Carmen Flora and Fauna Protected Areas. Posada Milagro owner Mimi Webb Miller lived in Mexico for decades and knows the land and its citizens. Her trips immerse campers in the local culture as well as the sprawling, unmapped landscape dotted with 9,000-foot peaks. Here's what you can look forward to.
Follow River Road
This route, considered by many to be one of the most scenic drives in Texas, River Road traces the winding Rio Grande from Terlingua to Presidio and the border crossing into Ojinaga, Chihuahua. Along the way are numerous overlooks of river, along with the red cliffs and mountains flanking the river valley.
Hike Up Canon de San Carlos
Just outside the village of Manuel Benavides, about 40 minutes from Ojinaga, this rocky canyon contains a clear, spring-fed stream. The hike up is marked by delicate showers from rocks draped in maidenhair ferns, as well as springs gushing like a fire hose. Miller’s route takes you splashing through shallows and jumping rock to rock, so expect to get your feet wet. The canyon gradually rises and narrows before emerging on a 7,000-foot plateau near and abandoned mine site.
Dine Like the Locals
There are no freeze-dried food packets on Miller's trips, just fresh and home-cooked meals. Dinner may be meat grilled by local rancher Ramon Garcia at his private campsite, accompanied by stories of local lore and topped off with a large box of fireworks. Another night could be picadillo — fresh chopped onions, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and meat — cooked over an open fire. Other treats can include hot, handmade tortillas and fresh-picked figs or mango.
Swim in Las Pilas
Near the small town of Manuel Benavides, you'll visit a series of four waterfalls and picture-perfect swimming holes that cascade from the mouth of a small canyon and disappear into the desert. Be ready to take a dip. The cool waters are as refreshing as any cerveza in the desert.
Drive Up to the Solitude
Though the lands have a protected designation, there are few rules, regulations, or permits to contend with. Around Big Bend, you'd have to hike for days to camp in the middle of nowhere with no one around. To the south, you can drive right up to remote campsites without sight or sound of civilization. By night the stars shine, and in the daylight you can admire unblemished views of the iconic Chisos Mountains.
If You Go: The best seasons to visit are spring and fall, though cool nights make most of summer an option. Three-day camping excursions with Miller start at $300. [laposadamilagro.net]
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– Melissa Gaskill