Glenn Springs, Big Bend National Park

This past weekend, Jodie & I hooked the camper to the Jeep and headed down to our favorite backyard location, Big Bend National Park. Our goal for this trip was to drive the Glenn Springs Road/Black Gap Road/River Road backcountry roads in our Jeep Rubicon, which we have not yet done in this vehicle (after trading in our 2003 Jeep over a year ago, the last vehicle to travel these roads). The main purpose of this post is not to document the entire trip, but to share some interesting photos and history of one portion of the route, primarily around Glenn Springs.

Glenn Springs Road leaves the pavement about 6 miles southeast of Panther Junction Visitor Center. We camped in Pine Canyon, a side road which heads north about 3 miles down GSR. Our campsite is nice, overlooking the Sierra del Carmen Mountains which lie across the Rio Grande River in Mexico, and rise to a height of 8,000 feet:002pThe Chisos Mountains, seen from the north, are greener than I can ever remember them before. Near-record rainfall in August and September has done wonders for the wildlife and the vegetation, and a normally brown desert at the end of summer is now really looking healthy and green:017cImmediately, we are aware of the proliferation of butterflies everywhere. Everywhere there is a blooming desert plant, there are butterflies enjoying the richness of the pollen and nectar of the blooms:049c050c051cAs evening falls, in the afterglow of twilight, we watch as Venus begins to set along a silhouetted skyline which features Elephant Tusk Peak in the distance, a landmark for early inhabitants and settlers in this part of the Big Bend region of Texas:063cAfter dark, the skies are ablaze with the Milky Way, here featuring a setting Venus just above the horizon around 9:00 p.m.069pNext morning, we load the Rubicon and head south on Glenn Sprints Road, toward the namesake spring and the remains of the little settlement called Glenn Spring. The large cottonwood tree marks the location of the spring, source of dependable water, or “liquid gold,” a necessity for Native Americans, and later white settlers, along  a trail heavily used by many in past centuries:042cThe little settlement of Glenn Springs contained a wax factory, producing  candelilla wax from the plant Candelilla, which grows naturally in the desert across Big Bend. The settlement also consisted of a store, and homes for the plant owner and the store and post office operator, and their families. Remaining are some corrals and other artifacts:025cThis is the remaining walkway and foundation of the Ellis home, the plant owner:018cThere were 9 soldiers of the 14th. Cavalry stationed here, and left are the remains of the “rifle pit,” as it’s described on archaeological maps of the settlement:026cAcross the draw created by the drainage of the spring was a segregated village of Mexican workers and their families, populated by about 60 Mexicans. Remains of several foundations of their houses can be found, as well as the Mexican cemetery which contains approximately 14 graves:032c040c038cGlenn Springs existed from 1914 until about 1920. On May 5, 1916, a group of Mexican banditos, claiming allegiance to Pancho Villa, staged a deadly raid on Glenn Springs. Estimates vary from 50-several hundred men, but a sizable force attacked the village around 11:00 p.m. The 9 soldiers guarding the camp were sleeping in tents and fled to an adobe building, where they held off attackers for 3 hours, but finally fled and three were killed. The store owner, O.G. Compton, fled with his young daughter across the draw to place her in the care of one of the Mexican families. He returned to get his 9 year old son, but the boy had been shot and killed. A total of 4 people were killed and 4 others severely injured, the store looted and several buildings plus the wax factory were burned and destroyed. Glenn Springs was finally abandoned around 1920:029c028cbwFrom Glenn Springs, we turn south on the Black Gap Road. Don’t let the term “road” confuse you…it’s a 4-wheel-drive trail, the most remote and difficult road in the park. After some fun and sometimes technical off-road driving for about 8 miles, we intersect the River Road, another 4-wheel-drive road that follows the course of the Rio Grande River. We stop for lunch at the Mariscal Mine, an abandoned cinnabar mine (quicksilver) that operated along the border from about 1900 until 1941:img_1108Lunch alongside one of the abandoned mine buildings near the road:048cBack at camp, we ready for our last night in Pine Canyon:079cOne final light show, starring Venus and the Milky Way:p1050017_bob-stars-contrastSunrise over the Sierra del Carmen Mountains greets us as we get set to head home:078c

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.

7 thoughts on “Glenn Springs, Big Bend National Park

  1. Hi “TFD”

    Very nice presentation. Thanks for sending it and posting. Our paths almost crossed in Big Bend this time. I was there for the second week of October. It was most beautiful. I spent most my time in the same area as you: Chilicotol and Pine Canyon. Took a nice drive on the River Road all the way to Sierra Catalon. Fun drive. I allowed all day for it and took many photos. I hope to post them soon on my Flickr site. My most recent posts of BB photos are from April 2016.

    Your Butterfly shots are great! I found that the butterflies congregate at the top of the hills. I climbed three nameless hills (mountains) one next to the Chilicotol campsite, one due north of the pine canyon #4 campsite and then one to the east of it, about a mile or two. As I arrived at the top of each, scores of butterflies filled the air. They must hitch a ride up on the thermals.

    Take care and thanks again. Hope to meet you some day.

    P. Y.

    Richmond TX

    1. Thanks for reading, and for the post. We live in Marathon, TX, only 40 miles north of the park. We love the Chilicotal site, but it was already taken, so we opted for PC1. If you have a pretty capable 4WD rig, you should drive the Black Gap Road sometime. The butterflies will congregate around water, and the area around the spring was like walking through a butterfly aviary. Next time you’re headed this way, drop me a note and we can meet. We’re just off Hwy 90 in Marathon, right on your way. Meanwhile, I’ll check out your flickr blog.

  2. What a great post. I was interested in the history of the town, and of course impressed by the beauty of the surrounding country. I smiled (and laughed a time or two) at comments that might have passed me by in the past. When you mentioned that road-that-wasn’t-quite-a -road, it reminded me of my trip up to Teter Rock in Kansas last month. When I finally made the top of the fairly substantial hill, a couple sitting in a pickup at the top said they’d been making bets on whether my Corolla would make it.

    Out on the Tallgrass prairie, I got to see the Milky Way for the first time in years, too. I don’t have the skill or equipment to photograph it as you did, but post-cataract surgery I have the eyes to see it, and for that I’m more than grateful.

    I stopped at one historic site in Kansas that was most interesting. The last armed encounter between US forces and Native Americans took place there, and the women and children dug rifle pits into the hills. A sign said some of them still are visible, but I didn’t have time to make the hike across the canyon. I’m hoping to find some photos of the pits online, to go with other photos I took.

    1. Thanks, Linda. I enjoyed your last post, which included bits from your Kansas trip. I’ve always avoided Kansas (for some unknown reason), and also Nebraska, which are both chock full of history, such as the conflict you describe. Your comment about post-cataract surgery hits home: I backpack each year with a good friend, who has incredible vision, and we lay out at night in camp looking for satellites and meteors. He’ll say, “…there goes a satellite, heading north.” I lay there and respond “yep” with no idea where he’s seeing it, because I am a candidate for the same surgery, but I won’t admit it.
      Finally, it’s pretty amazing where you can take a vehicle when you know how to drive it. Once, my wife and I were on the White Rim Road, a 4WD road in Canyonlands NP, way off the beaten path, and was approached at 1 a.m. by a couple from Germany who had gotten their rental car stuck on high-center out on this road, hopelessly lost but still driving rather than turn around. Also, I’ve always marveled at people who get their “maxed-out” 4WD vehicles hopelessly stuck because they don’t know how to drive them.
      Thanks for checking in.

  3. Thank you for the history lesson and beautiful photos! I found you while doing a search for images of the Chilicotol campsite. Am I understanding correctly that the pictures you posted here are of Pine Canyon 1? If so, do you have any photos of the Chilicotol campsite? Almost no one has posted any. Thanks!

  4. Sarah, Thanks for your comments. Chilicotol is probably our favorite campsite in all the backcountry sites that can be reached with an auto. If you go to my post from May, 2013, you will see a couple of pix taken in this site. It is very flat, with expansive views of nearly all the eastern and southeastern side of BBNP. It is very flat and gets early sun as it rises over the Sierra del Carmen Mountains of Mexico. Also gets late sun in summer, but sun goes down behind the Chisos Mountains in late fall and winter. The views are better in this site than in Pine Canyon, which is more closed in. It is located about 3 miles south of the paved park road just past the Pine Canyon turnoff, on Glenn Springs Road. I hope this helps.

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