If you’re looking for a hike in Big Bend National Park that ends with great views in just about every direction, you can’t do much better than the Lost Mine Trail. It’s nearly 5 miles round trip, and it gains 1,100 feet, but the payoff is worth the uphill effort.
The Lost Mine Trail begins at the side of the road into the Chisos Basin, near Panther Pass (about 1.5 miles from the motel). Almost the entire trail heads uphill, and the climb starts immediately, as the path takes you up one side of the valley.
Panther Pass, by the way, is on the left side of the above picture. The road climbs uphill from the motel and store in Chisos Basin, squeezes through the pass, then drops down into the surrounding desert.
Early evening is probably one of the best times of the day to make this hike, since you’ll have great light hitting the mountains to the north and east, lighting up the valley that you’ve just climbed out of.
On the previous day, when I went for a canoe ride up the Rio Grande, my canoe-mate, Ned, highly recommended the Lost Mine Trail, “even if you only go as far as the first viewpoint” he said. So, as I climbed, that was my goal — not to hike the entire trail, but just to get to the first viewpoint, about a mile in, then turn around and call it a day.
That first great viewpoint is at marker #10 (there are 24 numbered markers along the path, which correspond to points of interest in a trail guide). Here, the trail reaches the ridge of the hill you’ve been climbing, allowing you to see the view to the south, looking down into Juniper Canyon, for the first time. It was a pretty nice panoramic view, but I realized that it hadn’t taken me very long to get there (only about 20 minutes). I wanted to finish the trail, even though I didn’t know how much further it would go. So, I kept climbing.
The next section of the trail was the most tiring, and it included several switchbacks.
I kept focusing on one outcropping of rock, which it turns out, is the location of Marker #23, putting it very near the end of the trail, and the top of the climb.
As I went higher, more of the landscape slowly revealed itself. From this point, in the middle of the switchbacks, I had a good view of Casa Grande (although the sun was directly behind it, making for bad photographs). Just to its right, The Window was beginning to appear.
Beyond the outcropping, the uphill climb thankfully came to an end, and I was on top of the ridge, looking south. This high point is not the peak, though. To get there, you have to hike a little further along the top of the ridge. For the first time on this trail, it’s a relatively easy hike (unless the wind is blowing).
Along the way, you’ll have great views looking towards the east (especially if it’s later in the day). That high point in the distance is the actual Lost Mine Peak. This trail doesn’t go there.
After dropping down from the first high point on the ridge, I found a pile of boulders and scrambled up them. At the top, there’s a great view of several features, which we’ll get closer to, in just a moment — including the “balanced” rock between my feet, and just to the left of my left foot, the rock I nicknamed “Gibraltar”.
Zoom your camera lens, and check out the surrounding landscape. I’m not sure of the name of this distinctive peak, but I’m sure someone can let me know.
I’m fairly certain that this is Crown Mountain, elev. 7010 feet.
As you continue towards the end of the trail, you’ll get fairly close to this “balanced” rock. Of course, it’s not the balanced rock in Big Bend. And I’m not even sure if it has a name. But it does provide a good subject for a photo.
“Gibraltar” officially marks the high point on the trail, and the end of the trail. You can’t go any further than this, and you shouldn’t try. I suppose, if you had some good rock-climbing skills, you could scramble up to the top of the rock (it’s only about 10-15 feet high), but there’s nowhere to go once you get there. The mountain drops off steeply on the other side.
I took a few steps back from “Gibraltar” and focused on a couple of hearty trees, that somehow have managed to attach their roots into the cracks of these huge rocks.
This scraggly skeleton of a tree doesn’t look quite as healthy.
Having gone as far as I could, I turned around and headed back down the trail. It wouldn’t be long before the sun would set behind Casa Grande, but I managed to make it back to my car before it got too dark to see.
Back in the basin, the sun was still shining on the western face of Casa Grande. If you stay at the lodge in Chisos Basin, this towering rock will be right outside your back door.
But of course, I was too cheap to stay in the park, so I had a long drive ahead of me, to get back to Terlingua. I should have stayed just a little longer, to watch the sun slip through The Window, but I was distracted by a leaky, half-flat tire on my car. The general store in the Basin sold me a can of Fix-A-Flat, but I was still anxious to get the drive done.
So, I headed up and over Panther Pass, down the other side, and back towards Terlingua.
Just as I exited the park, I witnessed an amazing sight. The full moon rose over the Chisos Mountains. It was an especially rare treat, since this was the much-touted “Super Moon” of March, 2011 — a full moon occurring on the same day as the moon’s closest day to earth, making it look somewhat larger. It was an impressive sight.