With gorgeous colorful cliffs, green desert shrubs, and every hue of brown you can think of, the vast desert landscape in Big Bend National Park, especially the varied terrain along the 30 mile Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, reminded us of California’s Death Valley National Park.
After stopping at the Sam Nail Ranch, Fins of Fire Vista Point, the Home Wilson Ranch, Sotol Vista, the Lower Burro Mesa Pour-off Trail, Goat Mountain Lookout, and Mule Ears Overlook, we pulled off the road to check out Tuff Canyon.
Tuff Canyon is the last roadside stop before finally reaching our first Visitor Center in the park, the Castolon Visitor Center
The deep and narrow Tuff Canyon was carved out of soft volcanic tuff and is easily observed from three viewing platforms above or by hiking the Tuff Canyon Trail into the gorge.
Tuff Canyon is much deeper than other dry washes in Big Bend National Park. Its volcanic rock cliffs were carved over thousands of years by rain high in the Chisos Mountains flowing down Blue Creek all the way to the Rio Grande. During the rainy season, the canyon fills with pools of water.
From the concrete and steel railed overlooks, you can peer down into the canyon and look out on the surrounding desert landscape. As you look toward Santa Elena Canyon, Cerro Castellan rises up in the foreground. While we were checking out Tuff Canyon, we heard a sound like a hundred thundering horses galloping by. Everyone at the overlook began looking around to figure out what it was and we soon realized it was a rock slide on Cerro Castellan! Super cool!
Tuff Canyon Trail is a fairly easy, 0.75 mile round trip hike that begins at the Tuff Canyon Overlook near the south end of the parking lot. It descends into the soft white-walled canyon made of welded volcanic ash into the typically dry bed of Blue Creek.
Know Before You Go
Tuff Canyon is off 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.
- When atop Tuff Canyon, stay in the railed areas and away from the edges of the cliffs. The rock is made of volcanic tuff and it can easily break, sending you falling to the bottom of the canyon.
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.