Big Bend Part 2: Crossing the Border Into Mexico

Last Thanksgiving, we spent two full days at Big Bend National Park. My, how quickly things have changed. As I finally have time to write this entry after winter break, the government is shutdown (and many employees working without pay) over the proposed border wall. Meanwhile, national parks, including Big Bend, are open but are suffering without staff.

When we visited the park in November, there was talk about the border wall though no government shutdown yet. In fact, I had watched the season premiere of the late Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown.” In the episode, Bourdain visits West Texas, including Santana Elena Canyon. The show drips with social and political commentary on the Texas/Mexico border and proposed border wall.

santa elena2
Santa Elena Canyon.

So that was on my mind when we visited Santa Elena Canyon (which I discussed in my previous post), as well as the next day when we crossed into Mexico, which became the highlight of our trip. If you want to go, make sure everyone in your family has his/her passport and take cash (small bills).

When I woke up Friday morning, the air was chilly. It was hard to convince my body to crawl out of the warm sleeping bag. My teenage son and husband were already up, had the camera set up to catch the sunrise over the Chisos Mountains. The two younger kids were still asleep.  I finally got out of the tent. The sun was just rising and waking up at the base of a mountain is always worth it.

Big Bend doesn’t allow campfires, so I cooked eggs and turkey bacon on our camp stove for breakfast. It felt great it to eat a hot breakfast on the cold fall morning. Once our stomachs were full and our campsite cleaned up (Big Bend has bears, so it’s important to clean up well and put everything in a bear box), we headed to our first stop of the day, the Boquillas Crossing.

The Boquillas Crossing is located on the Southeast Corner of the park.  If everyone in your party (including all the children) have their passports, you can cross into Mexico. Make sure you check the hours ahead of time. If you go late and don’t get back before the crossing closes, you’ll be camping in Mexico.

We arrived around 10am, and there was a steady line of cars pulling in. There’s a parking lot and at the end of the parking lot, you’ll see some adobe buildings. We were able to find a parking spot easily (when we came up, the parking lot was full and people were parking on the road).

border crossing
The Bosquillas border crossing.

When we got into the building, you’ll find a park ranger or border security person inside.    He or she is only there to provide information and make sure everyone has their passport. The person doesn’t check it, just reminds you that you’ll need it when you come back to US side.

You leave the building through the backdoor and walk down a path to the Rio Grande River. There you’ll find the International Boquillas Crossing ferry. It’s really just a row boat. The fee is $5 a person round trip.

(I was going toad photos of the boat and town but I realized, there are others in the photos. I didn’t want to insert pictures of  others without their permission.)

Once you cross, you can walk to the town, or go on a donkey (which was about $8 a person round trip). Usually, there’s a guide that walks with you and its customary to tip him as well.

You can pay everything in US dollars and that’s why I said to take a stack of small bills on the way over. The little town only has a little over 200 residents and it survives on tourism. There are a couple of restaurants and shops that sell handicrafts to tourists. Our guide was a friendly gentleman that was born and raised in the village. His wife sells crafts at one of the booths.

After walking around the town and looking around, we ate at a little restaurant. There are two in town. One is a bit pricer but has a view of the river. The other one is less expensive. We ate at the one without the river view, mostly because it was quieter. We ordered Cokes for all of us (including our guide). We then feasted on goat tacos! They were so good. Afterwards, we walked across the street to check out the river view at the other restaurant. I gave the kids a little cash to pick out a souvenir and then it was a donkey ride back to the ferry.

Once we got back, we used a machine to scan our passports and spoke with a border agent over the phone.

It was around noon when we left the border crossing. By now, the parking lot was packed. We drove to Rio Grande village, also on the east side of the park, and took a short hike. The Rio Grande nature trail is an easy hike but known to be a great spot to look at birds. It did not disappoint.

bird

We stopped at some scenic overlooks. Finally, we went to the hot springs. There’s a three mile loop trail there at the site of an old hotel that was built by the hot springs. The hotel is no longer there, just the ruins, but you can still dip into the hot springs. I hadn’t brought swim clothes, but the kids still jumped in. I only dipped my feet in. If you are careful, you can reach over and touch the icy cold water of the Rio Grande as well as the hot waters from the springs. By soaking in the hot waters of the springs, you can look across and see Mexico. Maybe contemplate on which side of the wall these hot springs will be located.

hot springs
Children soaking in hot springs. The water behind them is ice cold. That grassy area is Mexico, the hot spring “tub” is on the Texas side.

Also located on the trail are some pictographs. Ever since I saw my first set of pictographs on my road trip a couple of years ago, I’ve been fascinated by them.

pictographs

We ended the evening with burgers and hotdogs at our campsite. We quickly cleaned up and headed over to the Chisos Lodge parking lot. We got some dessert at the camp store and headed over to the window view trail.  It was a little cloudy but we still got to watch a marvelous sunset through the “window.”

window view

That night, the two younger kids and I hung out inside our tent. With our flashlights on, we chatted and my youngest finished his junior ranger book. My oldest sat outside with his dad, hoping the skies would clear up and he could take some photos of the stars. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

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