Hiking the Chimneys Trail, Big Bend


It might be one of Big Bend’s less popular paths, but the Chimneys Trail provides a nice reward for anyone who chooses to make the 3 mile trek (one way) across the desert floor.  The relatively level path is easy to walk, and at the end, you can climb around on an outcropping of small hills, and check out some interestingly eroded features, including a small arch.

The Chimneys Trail begins at the side of the road, about halfway out Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive.  There is only room for a few cars to park in this turnout area, but on the morning I arrived, I wasn’t competing with anyone else for a parking space. Not only was I the only one hiking the trail — I didn’t even see any other traffic on the scenic drive.  Of course, it was early in the day, on a Sunday, and I was trying to squeeze in one more hike before leaving Big Bend and heading back to San Antonio.

The three mile hike (other accounts indicate it’s a bit shorter) goes by quickly, since you don’t have to scramble over any rocks or make any big elevation gains.  The path is clear, except for a few places where brush had started to creep onto the trail.  My only concern was that I would run into a rattlesnake.  I used my hiking stick to rattle the bushes ahead of me, but I kept up a quick pace.  I never saw any snakes.

You can see the trail’s destination, the “chimneys”, all the way back at the trailhead, so it’s no mystery where you’re headed or how much further you need to go.  The trail passes around the foot of another hill (which you can see in the first two photos on the page).  Once you’ve passed that hill, you’re getting close.

As I arrived at the chimneys, much to my surprise, I discovered I wasn’t alone.  Several other people were exploring the lone chimney on the left…

… so I decided to focus my attention on the larger hill on the right.  The other hikers must have come in from the opposite direction — a trailhead and campground along Old Maverick Road (a dirt road that I had deemed too rough for my little rental car to safely travel).

At the chimneys, the trail split in several directions.  One of them led directly up the side of the hill, to a passage between the stacks of rock along the ridge.  Once at the top…

… I had a fantastic view looking southwest, towards Santa Elena Canyon…

… and directly south, over some lower hills, where the tilted top of Cerro Castellan makes an appearance.

The slot between the rocks also provided a nice view of the Chisos Mountains to the east.

The south chimney is just a stone’s throw away from the rest.  Notice the small outcropping just below it — there’s a surprise there, that I will reveal in just a moment.

That tall mountain is likely Emory Peak, the highest point in the Chisos Mountains.

Hike down the back side of the ridge, or hike around it, and you’ll find this small arch.

After hanging out on the hill for a little while, and enjoying the solitude of my fleeting moments in Big Bend, I climbed down and headed over to the other chimney.  The other group of hikers were taking a break and enjoying its shady side, so…

… I headed over to the small outcropping of rock, just below the south chimney.  It looked like some kind of shelter had, at one time, been built there…

… and much to my surprise, I discovered a panel of petroglyphs, left behind by Native Americans, hundreds or perhaps thousands of years ago.

I was keeping a close eye on the time.  I knew I could make it back to the car in about 45 minutes (after all, there wouldn’t be anything new to see on the hike back).  Even though I had hundreds of miles to drive, I decided I had enough time to linger just a bit longer.  So, I climbed back up to my perch in the middle of the chimneys, and listened to the silent desert for a while.  It was a great way to end my days in Big Bend.

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