While visiting Big Bend National Park, we stayed at the Lajitas Golf Resort near the Ghost Town of Terlingua, Texas. This meant we entered the park each morning through the Maverick Entrance.
While there are five Visitor Centers in the park, there isn’t a Visitor Center near this park entrance. Not stopping at a Visitor Center to get a park map on our way into the park was weird, but luckily we planned to follow the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive for the day and didn’t need to rely on a park map.
Our first stop along the 30 mile Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive was the San Nail Ranch.
Sam Nail Ranch is one of the many homesteads once active in Big Bend. Remnants of the ranch remain along the 0.5 mile Sam Nail Ranch Trail, including a windmill that still pumps water.
Sam and Nena Nail chose this spot to create their home in the desert. They dug a well, put in a garden, and built holding pens for horses, chickens, and a milk cow. Like other ranchers in the area, they ran stock and dealt with drought, predators, and isolation.
The Nail Family has left Big Bend, but the well they dug still pumps, keeping the plants and shrubs on the property green. Today the ruins of an adobe ranch house and two windmills provide shade and habitat for desert wildlife. If you look closely, you’ll be able to spot the non-native fig and pecan trees they planted.
The Sam Nail Ranch Trail
The Sam Nail Ranch Trail is an easy, mostly flat, 0.5 mile loop trail. The well-maintained trail leads through the old Nail Ranch homestead. This is a beautiful desert oasis and a great spot for birding and wildlife viewing. If you sit quietly on a trailside bench long enough, you may hear javelinas moving through the brush, or see painted buntings, green-tailed towhees, and mockingbirds.
Know Before You Go
Sam Nail Ranch is located at Mile Three 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.
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 a day, every day, all year long. 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 over 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.