After walking the Sam Nail Trail to see the remains of a small frontier homestead, we continued our drive along the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive to explore Big Bend National Park. We love the scenic national park drives — those with several stops along the way — because it usually allows us to see a lot of the major highlights in the park.
With a quick stop at the Fins of Fire Vista Point, we were on our way to our third stop of the day, the Blue Creek Ranch Overlook and Homer Wilson Ranch Site.
Blue Creek Ranch Overlook
Blue Creek Ranch Overlook provides a sweeping view of Blue Creek Valley and the operational center of the Homer Wilson Ranch. The ranch was one of the largest in Texas, and the most significant ranch in Big Bend before the establishment of Big Bend National Park.
A short trail leads down the ranch buildings and connects with the Blue Creek Canyon and Dodson trails. If you don’t want to hike into the valley below, a sign at the improved scenic overlook next to the parking area offers a photo of the ranch building along with some information about it.
Blue Creek Trail
The Homer Wilson Blue Creek Ranch Trail is a 0.5 mile out and back trail to a small ranch house in Blue Creek Valley that totals 1.0 mile. It descends into the canyon with some stairs, on a pretty steep old road and crosses the canyon bottom to the abandoned house, which means the entire hike back to the parking lot is uphill.
As we hiked along the trail, we passed a couple of large bear boxes and thought that it was a weird spot to put them. We wondered why the bear boxes were in the middle of the trail on a steep hill and not at a campsite, but then another hiker told us they are used by people hiking the Outer Mountain Loop Trail to store water. It’s a three day hike and they can’t carry enough water for the whole hike.
Homer Wilson Ranch
Homer Wilson Ranch, also known as Blue Creek Ranch, was established in 1929 with its headquarters at Oak Springs to the west of the Chisos Mountains and its operational center in the Blue Creek Valley. In 1942, the ranch land was acquired by the State of Texas for incorporation into the new national park. Wilson however, continued to live at the ranch until his death in 1943 and his family moved from the ranch the next year.
While the national park razed most of the buildings on the ranch property, the foreman’s house and some of the surrounding structures remained long enough to be added to the National Register of Historic Places and and there are just enough remains to evoke the era of frontier ranching.
The foreman’s house uses native building materials: a reed ceiling from the river, timbers from the mountains, and large stones from Blue Creek Canyon. There is also a wide porch, a flagstone floor, and a large fireplace. Nearby are the ruins of a storeroom, bunkhouse, and circular corral, as well as a dipping vat for sheep and goats.
Water for livestock was delivered by a pump and pipeline that was laid miles up the canyon to a spring. Remnants of the pump and windmill are still visible. Drinking water was gathered in a cistern on the hill by the parking lot.
Know Before You Go
Blue Creek Canyon Overlook and the Homer Wilson Ranch are located just past Mile Eight on the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive:
- The Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive is a 30 mile adventure through the Chihuahuan Desert landscape of Big Bend National Park to the banks of the Rio Grande.
- Ross Maxwell Drive is an out and back road that begins near the park’s Maverick Entrance and has many vista points, scenic pullouts, educational displays, and short hikes.
- The Blue Creek area of the Homer Wilson Ranch was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.
- Be careful not to confuse the Blue Creek Trail with the Blue Creek Canyon Trail. The Blue Creek Canyon Trail is a 5.5 mile out and back trail that totals 11.0 miles. It travels from the Homer Wilson Ranch site to the headwall of Blue Creek Canyon at a junction with the Laguna Meadow Trail in the Chisos Mountains.
About Big Bend National Park:
- Big Bend National Park is located in Brewster County, southwest Texas. The name Big Bend refers to the great U-turn the Rio Grande makes in Southwest Texas.
- Park entrances are open 24 hours daily, all year. Entrance fee stations have variable seasons and hours.
- Admission fees are valid for seven days and are $30/vehicle, $25/motorcycle, $15/individual/bicyclist/pedestrian.
- There are five Visitor Centers in Big Bend National Park: Panther Junction, Chisos Basin, Castolon, Persimmon Gap, and Rio Grande Village.
- Download the Big Bend National Park maps.
- Big Bend National Park has more than 150 miles of hiking trails, including desert hikes in the Chihuahuan Desert, mountain hikes in the Chisos Mountains, and river hikes along the Rio Grande.
- Convenience stores are available and open year-round at Rio Grande Village, the Chisos Basin, and in the historic La Harmonia store at Castolon.
- Gas stations are located at Panther Junction and Rio Grande Village, and outside the park in Study Butte and Stillwell’s Ranch. Diesel is available at Panther Junction and outside the park in Study Butte.
- Pets are not allowed on trails, off roads, or on the river. Your pet can only go where your car can go and must be on a leash no longer than six feet in length or in a cage at all times. Pet etiquette and park regulations require that you always clean up after your pet and dispose of waste in trash receptacles.