Fossils, Persimmon Gap, and Big Bend’s North Side


One glance at the Big Bend National Park map, and it’s pretty obvious that the north end of the park doesn’t offer a lot to see or do.  The 26 miles of highway from Panther Junction to Persimmon Gap cuts through a wide-open desert landscape, with very few stopping spots.

There are a handful of attractions, though.  I made my first stop at the Fossil Bone Exhibit.

There are a few interpretive signs to read here, explaining what kind of creatures used to live in this area a long time ago, before it was a dry desert.

Some fossils are on display, in a small pavilion, behind glass.  They’re not real fossils, though — just recreations of bones found nearby.

A trail leads past the bones, and up a hill…

… to a viewpoint that overlooks a very empty space.  Those mountains in the distance are the Sierra del Carmen range.  At their southern end, the Rio Grande passes through them at Boquillas Canyon.

The trail continues, but it never seems to lead to anything, then eventually fades away, leaving you standing in the middle of nothing, wondering if you missed something important.  As far as I could tell, there was no real reason to hike this short trail — and when you go for a hike in the overwhelming heat of Big Bend, you need a reason.  I hurried back to the car and cranked the A/C.

Looking back towards the south, the Chisos Mountains were quickly shrinking and fading from view, as I continued north.

You might want to drive the Dagger Flat Auto Trail, a gravel road that runs 5.1 miles to a dead-end at the foot of the Sierra del Caballo Muerto mountains, with a view of Dagger Mountain.  I was concerned about doing any further damage to my already leaky tires, so I skipped this drive.  Of course, I was also at the beginning of a very long drive to San Antonio, so I didn’t have time to spare on a side-trip. 

Shortly before you get to Persimmon Gap, you’ll see Dog Canyon in the distance.  A trail begins at the side of the road, and leads across the desert to the slot canyon.  Earlier in the day, I had debated whether to hike this trail or the Chimneys Trail further south.  I’m glad I chose the Chimneys — I don’t think I could have endured the mile-long desert trek, no matter how rewarding the canyon would have been.

As you leave the park, the road turns into US 385.  Also, thankfully, the speed limit increases from the NPS standard of 45 miles per hour, to the generous Texas limit of 70. 

Drivelapse Video

Here’s the time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive through Big Bend National Park, starting at the Chimneys Trailhead on the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, then heading north to Persimmon Gap, and the park’s northern exit…

… and from the park exit to Marathon, Texas:

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