My Trail Run in Big Bend National Park

I’ve always wanted to visit Big Bend National Park in Texas but it’s so dang far from anything!

I flew into the Midland/Odessa airport, rented a car, and drove 4 hours south on empty highways to Lajitas, Texas.

This part of Texas is like a moonscape if the moon had cacti. Only ten inches of rain falls per year on this harsh land, and when it does it arrives in flash-floods.

I’m glad to have come here in February when the weather is reasonable. I brought my trail shoes, UCAN bars, and handheld hydration bottle.

Now to find a nice trail and crank out a long run!

Big Bend National Park

My parents are road-tripping across the USA in a motorhome and invited me catch up with them in Lajitas.

Big Bend National Park is a 25 mile drive from Lajitas but this is just the entrance. The park is 801,000 acres (larger than Rhode Island) so it’s still a haul to get to the nearest visitor’s center.

My plan was to start at the Panther Junction Visitor’s Center and gather intelligence on a good trail for a 12 miler. The ranger directed me toward the Chisos Basin where I could find “one of the best hiking trails in the park”. I would be up at elevation and could run the South Rim trail which has incredible views and loops back to the parking lot.

Great! I thought. But it wasn’t meant to be.

The road to the Chisos Basin was temporarily closed due to an overflow of visitors and we (my dad was with me) were told to come back in 45 minutes and try again. Note to self, arrive earlier!

Homer Wilson Ranch

We switched to plan B and made our way south to the Homer Wilson Ranch Overlook. Here I could find a trail called the Blue Creek Canyon Trail and run out-and-back.

View from the Homer Wilson Ranch house

The ranch was established in 1929 predating the Park. The single story ranch house is just a shell today but it has held up well.

Blue Creek Canyon Trail

I struck out from Homer’s house on the Blue Creek Canyon Trail and immediately noticed how slow going it was! The trail is essentially a dry creek bed with loose gravel, not hard-packed dirt. My first clue should have been the world “Creek” in the name “Blue Creek Trail”. Have you tried running on loose gravel? It feels like running on the beach.

The sun shall not smite thee by day . . (Psalm 121)

Anther problem is that I way overdressed and temperatures were rising. I was wearing technical pants and a lightweight shell. The shell I could tie around my waist but what about the pants?

Off Go the Pants
Forty-five minutes on the trail only netted me 3 miles due to my slow uphill hiking and stopping to take photos. I hadn’t seen another soul so I decided the pants would come off!

You know things are getting serious when the pants come off.

Luckily I was wearing a base layer from Path Projects, which are underwear but look like they could pass as compression shorts, if you don’t look too closely. I felt liberated!

Have you run through the desert in your underwear? It’s great.

The landscape was otherworldly, especially for one who doesn’t live in the dessert. In the 1960s the astronauts preparing for the moon landing trained in Big Bend National Park.

Most interesting are the hoodoos (see photo below) a tower of rock formed by erosion.

After four miles of slow progress I decided to turn around. This would give me 8 miles total and there was still enough time to add more miles on a better trail.

Gravity on my Side
The journey back to the car was swift with gravity on my side. The trail provided a gradual downhill and the creek bed made for a soft surface as I flew through the miles. This is the kind of trail running I live for!

After 2 miles I passed my dad who had just reached his turn around point. He is 71 and still enjoys a challenging hike. Just one year ago things looked doubtful as an abnormal heart rhythm had us all scared. After a bumpy road and several procedures he’s back to doing what he loves.

Half a mile later I passed a lady who looked to be the same age as my dad. I ran by hoping she wouldn’t notice that I was running without my pants.

“Training for a marathon!” she said, guessing correctly.

“Yes haha!” I hollered back.

I’m running the Tokyo Marathon on March 3rd. The Blue Creek Canyon Trail is not a contender if you are looking for an easy running trail in Big Bend. There’s a reason I didn’t see many souls out there. It was slow going but I did enjoy the solitude and solemnity of this corner of the park.

What a privilege to get to bang out a training run in Big Bend National Park. I only scratched the surface of what this place has to offer. I’ll be back.

See video montage from Instagram:

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