Why A Wonder: Big Bend National Park is a less visited gem of the National Park Service. Located in West Texas bordering Mexico, the park boasts it is one of the darkest places for night photography in the United States. It houses the Chihuahuan desert and the Chisos Mountains and also has a rich native American history. One finds pictographs and archeological sites as well as fossils and dinosaur bones.
The Rio Grande River at the park's southern border boasts spectacular limestone canyons such as Santa Elena Canyon. Depending on water levels, this can be an outstanding place for river rafting, kayaking, canoeing and paddle boarding.
The nearby "ghost town" of Terlingua, a former mercury mining town where mining ceased in the 1940s, has some tourist amenities and an interesting old Boot Hill style cemetery.
Where: Big Bend is located in West Texas on the Mexican border. The nearest airport is Midland/Odessa (235 miles from park headquarters) and El Paso (330 miles from park headquarters). There are accommodation in the park at the Chisos Mountain Lodge but renovations are scheduled in the 2022-2023 time frame, so be sure to check if it is open. The nearby Lajitas Golf Resort provides luxury accommodations and dining. There are also campgrounds. Camping is by permit only. Permits must be obtained in advance at the Panther Junction Visitors Center.
When: Spring and Fall are the best times to visit. Winter can be very good too. Avoid summers when the temperatures in the desert soar and hiking can become dangerous.
Photography: You will want a wide angle lens for the mountainous and desert vistas and a telephoto for honing in on interesting mountain and desert features as well as wildlife. There are over 400 species of birds as well as cougars, black bear and peccary. A macro also could be useful for the interesting cacti and flowering plants. For star and Milky Way shots, bring a tripod, very wide lens, shutter release, intervalometer if your camera does not have this feature, and possibly a lens warmer and battery. Be sure to have a head lamp, water and clothing to keep you warm as temperatures can drop at night in the desert. Hiking poles are useful and snake gaiters just in case. If your shot is not too far from the car, a folding lawn chair can be handy when doing long time exposures. If time permits, there is a nearby Big Bend State Park which also has fine landscape opportunites. Be sure to take some photos at the interesting old cemetery in the Terlingua ghost town. There is an old abandoned rock hut near the cemetery that also is of interest.
Photos: Milky Way over the mountains, Milky Way in Big Bend, desert dunes and ocotillo, Miles of Mountains, desert and mountains at sunset, old Terlingua cemetery, Santa Elena canyon walls