By now, you already know that Big Bend National Park covers some vast, empty spaces. You’ll probably burn through a couple tanks of expensive gas, just trying to see them all. Inevitably, one of those drives will take you out to the southeastern corner of the Big Bend, where the Rio Grande flows into another dramatic canyon, and Mexican residents freely wade across the river (and back to their small town on the other side) without concern of prosecution. The Boquillas Canyon area is worth the drive, but it takes a while to get there, and there isn’t much to look at along the way.
From Chisos Mountains Basin Junction (the road that leads up to the motel, store, campground, and trails at the mountainous heart of the park), it’s a 30 mile drive to Boquillas Canyon. For at least 20 of those miles, you will barely need to turn the steering wheel. The road slopes slightly downhill the entire way, losing about 2,000 feet of elevation, and the landscape is a typical desert — barren and dry.
There is one oasis, about halfway there. Turn off the main road at Dugout Wells, and you’ll find an old windmill pumping enough water to turn a patch of the desert green. There are a couple of picnic tables here, shaded by the trees that have sprung up around the water source. You may even splash through a puddle or two.
Water appeared naturally at this spot in the early 1900’s, when settlers dug out an area to allow the seeping water to pool. Later, the windmill was added to improve the flow. You can hike a short trail through the desert nearby, which passes the site of an old homestead.
Get back on the main road, and continue the drive southeast. The next place worth stopping is at this tunnel. The high mountain in the background is the range sliced by Boquillas Canyon. Watch for that distinctive notch (upper left hand side of the photo) as you drive — it stands above the canyon.
Shortly after the tunnel, the road splits, and you can either drive out to the canyon itself (which I will cover on the next page), or down to the store and ranger station at Rio Grande Village. The store used to serve the Mexican town of Boquillas del Carmen, until border-crossing rules became more strictly enforced in recent years. It’s a big loss for the people who live in Boquillas — since the nearest Mexican town is many miles away. Despite the rules, I discovered that many Mexicans still cross into America here, even if it’s not to do their shopping.
To best appreciate the long, lonely drive out to the southeastern corner of Big Bend National Park, you’ll want to watch this Drivelapse video. The drive to Boquillas Canyon begins at 4:38, at Chisos Mountain Basin Junction (prior to that point, the video goes up and down into Chisos Basin). So, if you’re only interested in the drive out to Boquillas, fast forward to 4:38 and let the drive begin: