Big Bend National Park’s Black Gap Road

It’s April in the Chihuahuan Desert, and that means road trip.  Jodie and I hooked up the Palomino Banshee popup camper to the Jeep and headed off into the backroads of Big Bend National Park, down one of our favorite, although less traveled roads, the Black Gap Road.  This is the toughest road in the park from the standpoint of technical offroad travel, although it is very tame compared to many other routes we’ve navigated throughout the country in the past.  So, we took off for three days of solitude, seeking the colorful variety of blooming plants found this time of the year in the Chihuahuan Desert.

Our first encounter was an old friend of the desert this time of the year, a snake called a red racer.  They are a bright copper-red color, and this one was about 5 feet long:


Some of the cactus in bloom are the claret cup, cane cholla, and strawberry cactus:




Our campsite on the Glenn Springs primitive road, on the way to Black Gap:


One of the many small, unnamed side canyons along the road:


The Black Gap Road is barely a road in places, as it snakes across dry creekbeds and into and out of drainages that run from the Chisos Mountains to the Rio Grande River.  Elephant Tusk peak and the Chisos Mountains are in the background:


The road gets its name from the “black gap,” a cut through the volcanic intrusion that separates two drainages.  The old surface through the “gap” is crumbled away and users of the road keep the drop-off filled with loose rocks to form a ramp to keep your rig off high center.  It’s a very easy route, but requires high clearance:


The remnants of the Mariscal Mine, an old mercury mine from the early 20th century, provided a nice backdrop for a break:



We join the River Road, and pull down a side road to an old fishing camp/campsite along the Rio Grande River…U.S. on the left bank and Mexico a stone’s throw across on the right:


Prickly Pear cactus blooming with the Chisos Mountains in the background:



When Jodie tells me to “go fly a kite,” I take her literally:


Nearly full moon over our camp, and Orion setting in the west with the last glow of sunset:



We awoke the third, and last morning, to a beautiful sunrise over the Sierra del Carmen Mountains in Mexico:


Published by texasflashdude

Photography and Travel, specifically adventure travel and backpacking in remote North America, give me an excuse to stay outside. If kayaks, bikes, backpacks, Jeeps, archeology, geology and wildlife can be included, all the better. Having spent my life working in the fashion and photography industries, I love the unusual, the spectacular, and the beautiful. God has given us a wonderful world in which to live, and I try to open others’ eyes to its wonders. I have shared nearly 50 years of this indescribable wonder with my wife, Jodie, and we go everywhere together. I hope you will share some of our journey with us.

9 thoughts on “Big Bend National Park’s Black Gap Road

  1. Looking forward to my fifth trip in late Dec. 2013. This time I shall rent a pop-up . I live in Katy Tx. which is on I-10 West of Found site by looking on Yahoo.. Thanks for pictures…

    1. Popup is an excellent choice for Big Bend in December. You can choose between one of two developed campgrounds near the Rio Grande River, or in the Chisos Basin up in the Chisos Mountains. However, there are many backcountry campsites accessible with a popup down several of the primitive roads. Be aware that none of these choices provide electric, water or sewer hookups, so you will be self-contained. Have a great trip.

    1. LED lights have been working fantastic. We have them in the RV as well as the popup, and they have been great so far. Need to spend 2 or 3 nights out in the popup so we can measure the difference in battery drain. So far, one overnight shows immeasurable battery drain. Thanks for the outstanding research that saved us the expense of trying several offerings.

      On Tue, Jul 2, 2013 at 1:16 PM, texasflashdude

    1. Hi James,

      There are several roads in BBNP that lead to primitive campsites that do not require high clearance, and these are accessible with a popup:

      If you do not have the book “Primitive Roads of Big Bend National Park” you can get it at any of the visitor centers for about $3. It is a must for driving these primitive roads, mainly because it is a guide to points of interest along the way, listed by mile marker which you can follow on your odometer.

      *Glenn Springs Road*: About 6 miles southeast of the main park headquarters at Panther Junction, a well-maintained road goes off to the south, the Glenn Springs Road. There are several primitive campsites down this road that we like: *Chilicotale* – our favorite popup site in the park. This is about 3 miles (I think) in the Glenn Springs Road and offers beautiful views of sunsets over the Sierra del Carmen Mtns., as well as sunrise views to the southwest of Elephant Tusk, and sits at about 4000′ elevation near the base of the Chisos Mountains. It sits about a tenth of a mile back off the road, so travelers down the Glenn Springs Road are really no bother. I’ve found it to be a very secure location for leaving camper unattended. *Pine Canyon #1, #3* – Also down Glenn Springs Road, about a mile before you reach Chilicotale, the Pine Canyon Road heads off to the west. *Pine Canyon 3* is our favorite, with good views of the Chisos Mtns. If Pine Canyon 3 is taken,* Pine Canyon 1* is a good choice, and it’s closer to the road. Both have good views and are on a road not heavily traveled. Another road off the Glenn Springs Road is Juniper Canyon Road…DO NOT TAKE A POPUP up this road. Very rocky and requires high clearance. Tough on equipment.

      If you have high clearance, you can drive (do not take the popup) on out Glenn Springs Road another 2-3 miles past Chilicotale to the Glenn Springs historic site, an old ranch where an Indian massacre occurred in the 1800’s. Lots of ruins of the original ranching site remain, and the spring flows year round.

      *Paint Gap Road:* About 10 miles west of Panther Junction, Paint Gap Road heads off to the northeast. A well-maintained road, there are a couple of primitive sites here that we like: *Paint Gap #2, #3*: These sites are right on the Paint Gap Road, but the road is not heavily traveled. Both these sites are close to each other, but just far enough apart so you are not on top of one another. If you have a vehicle with high clearance, a good point of interest is to continue out Paint Gap Road through the “gap” and out to an old ranching site, complete with corals, an old line camp, and a spring. You will also pass Paint Gap #4 campsite, which is in a pretty location, but if you want to take your popup to this site, it requires some real slow going through one rocky section. If you’re careful, you can get there and it’s worth the effort.

      These are the best. Once you’re there, you can set up and explore other sites, and you might find another you also like after you’re there. I hope this helps. If you have any other questions, feel free to write me and I’ll give you other info about the area or things to do if you’re unfamiliar with Big Bend. Thanks for following our blog.

      Happy Trails, Bob

  2. We have been all over bbnp. Be very carefull because the roads change rapidly. One day most vehicles can make them with care. The next time it will take a real Jeep with lots of skill,skid plates,& real off road tires. Use caution,& do not depend on info from some of the park employees, they may have travelled them 3 weeks ago, some of the trails see little traffic at times. I spent 30 years in law enforcement chasing bad guys,& the last time we went my wife & I were really scared,& thanked the Good Lord for getting us back. A ranger we met later was very upset after we told him whoe told us we would have no problems. He told us we were very lucky to have gotten out or had a guardian angle with us. We had a good 4X4. but everything has limitations. Take care, have fun, but check condition, also no your & your eauipments limitations. People do die there.

    1. Tom, thank you for those comments. Yes, the most important equipment you can take is good judgment. Due to budget cuts, there are fewer and fewer NPS rangers patrolling these more obscure, unmaintained roads. BE SURE TO TAKE PLENTY OF WATER. More people die out in the back country of BBNP from being stranded by vehicle failure with little or no water, because it’s literally deadly to try to walk out for help. This past spring a lady died on a flat trail only a mile from a paved road because she was caught in desert heat with no water. A MINIMUM of one gallon per person per day is required to stay alive if you have vehicle failure, either mechanical or becoming unable to move due to road conditions. Also, if you are driving one of these back country roads and pass another vehicle, be sure to check for occupants who might need help. You might save a life. Plus, stop at Panther Junction and report road conditions that might cause problems for others. As you said, it might be weeks between ranger reports. Thanks so much for your comments.

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