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Big Bend National Park


Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive

30 miles (48km)
This road starts along the eastern edge of Burro Mesa, skirts the western flanks of the Chisos Mountains, and descends to the floodplain of the Rio Grande. Spectacular historic and geologic features are some of the highlights of the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive.

The thirty-mile Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive leads to the Castolon Historic District and Santa Elena Canyon. Along the way the road showcases some of the historic and geologic features for which this region is famous. Below you'll find descriptions of some of the highlights of this drive.

The Sam Nail Ranch

One of the many homesteads that once dotted the Big Bend, the Sam Nail Ranch now provides shade and water for desert wildlife. A windmill still pumps water and attracts a great variety of birdlife. Sit quietly on the benches and listen for javelina, painted buntings, and hummingbirds.

Blue Creek Ranch Overlook

This overlooks provides a view of the headquarters of the Homer Wilson Ranch, one of the largest in the region prior to the establishment of the park. A short trail leads down the ranch buildings and connects with the Blue Creek Canyon and Dodson trails.

Sotol Vista Overlook

Located along the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, Sotol Vista shouldn't be missed! From the viewpoint you are rewarded with unparalleled views of the entire western side of Big Bend National Park. You can even see Santa Elena Canyon in the distance!

Burro Mesa Pouroff

Take the 1.5 mile side road to the base of the colorful cliffs that make up Burro Mesa. A 1/2 mile trail takes you into a hidden box canyon to a high dry waterfall. A variety of desert wash plants and magnificent geology surround you in this worthwhile roadside stop.

Mule Ears Viewpoint

A beautiful viewpoint along the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. From the parking area, the Mule Ears Peaks dominate the view. A 2-mile long trail will take you to a delightful desert spring.

Tuff Canyon

Located along the southern end of the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, these two landmarks are worthy of in-depth exploration. Tuff Canyon was carved out of soft volcanic tuff (compressed ash). The deep and narrow canyon is easily observed from two viewing platforms. If you wish, you may enter and hike through the gorge too.

Castolon Historic District

Established as a cavalry camp in the early Twentieth Century, Castolon later served as the headquarters of the La Harmonia Company. A visitor center and camper store are located here. The Cottonwood campground is located nearby.

Santa Elena Canyon

The magnificence of this canyon can NOT be appreciated with photos. The Rio Grande has cut a 1,500' vertical chasm out of pure limestone. Mexico makes up the left wall and Texas the right. A fabulous trail follows the river upstream and enters the canyon. Floating through the canyon is a spectacular adventure.

Old Maverick Road

This 13 mile improved dirt road connects Santa Elena Canyon to the Maverick entrance station. While passable to most vehicles most of the time, this road tends to be rough; the fourteen miles usually takes around an hour to drive. This road is subject to high water and flooding following rainstorms; always check with a park ranger regarding its condition.

Kayaking in Santa Elena Canyon.
Kayaking in Santa Elena Canyon.



GPS Coordinates

1 -- Panther Junction, Big Bend National Park
Decimal Lat: 29.328265 / Lon: -103.205577

2 -- Start: Ross Maxwell Scenic Dr
Decimal Lat: 29.321998 / Lon: -103.383118

3 -- End: Ross Maxwell Scenic Dr / Santa Elena Canyon Overlook
Decimal Lat: 29.1691 / Lon: -103.603499

4 -- Castalon / Ross Maxwell Scenic Dr
Decimal Lat: 29.133879 / Lon: -103.514321

5 -- Ross Maxwell Scenic Dr / Old Maverick Rd
Decimal Lat: 29.170955 / Lon: -103.603719

6 -- Start: Old Maverick Rd
Decimal Lat: 29.293403 / Lon: -103.495191


Document Information
Source: National Park Service; magazineUSA.com
Last modified: 20081010
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