Overnight under a full moon on the South Rim of Big Bend National Park

The sun goes down

The sun goes down

“You can more or less take your pick of campsites”, said Interpretive Park Ranger Jennette Jurado at Panther Junction park headquarters, when I checked in to book a primitive campsite in the High Chisos. It was 4 pm on a Saturday. I had travelled 117 miles from Alpine, and I reckoned I would need up to 4 hours to reach my campsite on the South Rim after leaving the Basin.

 I picked Campsite S.E.1, which I had used before and which I prefer since it is closest to my favorite viewing spot, a square rock good for sitting on, right on the edge of the rim close to where the trail arrives from the Basin. I declined the efficient Ms. Jurado’s offer to have an impression made of my shoes; this is a safeguard for solo travelers so that, if they get lost, the park people have an impression of the shoe sole to guide them in their search.

I wasn’t alone on the mountain; about 3 other sites were booked and I would later meet one party of hikers. But it looked like much the same as on previous trips: a lot of space, and silence, at 7,200 feet, and this time under a super full moon.

 The heat was going out of the day and a light wind was picking up as I left the Basin on the Pinnacles Trail. After an hour I passed a grazing deer, chewing on some leaves not 6 feet from me. It scarcely stopped chewing as it placidly gazed at me without interest or fear. Plodding up the trail’s 22 switchbacks I arrived in two hours at the top, where the Emory Peak trail (now using a new route) branches off.

 Here I met a group of 3 college-age guys from San Antonio. They had just climbed Emory Peak and were moving on to a campsite on the South Rim where they would meet the 4th in their party, a girl. I said I’d meet them later. Everyone in the high Chisos becomes friendly and outgoing; the place works some magic on people.

 Boot Canyon showed plenty of water as I continued via the Boot Canyon trail to the SE Rim. I would guess the high Chisos have had considerably more than the 5” year-to-date rainfall total reported in the Basin. I arrived on the rim just as the sun was going down, sat on my favorite rock, and took and few pictures. Two thousand feet below me the Mexican desert landscape was fast disappearing into the darkness.

 I was interrupted by the arrival of two of the guys from the group of three whom I had met previously. They could not find their girl companion who had gone on ahead. They had not arranged to meet at their campsite, so she had to be wandering along the rim trail – in one direction or another. She could only have gone to the right or left, so they each went off in a different direction. There was no real risk here, but a clear plan might have saved them time and anxiety.

Rim 2

The Moon comes up

I laid out my pad and sleeping bag, and ate a cold snack supper. I reckoned the temperature in the mid-6os, so a sleeping bag was not really needed. I walked back 5 minutes to the rim. The moon was rising, still small and partially obscured by light cloud. This did not give the bright clear lighting of the landscape I had anticipated, but instead bathed the desert terrain with a hazy veneer. The mountain ridges gradually lost their definition in the distance and became indistinguishable black. There was a deep silence broken only by occasional wind noise through the juniper trees. The previous bird chatter had ceased. The landscape seemed immense and foreboding; nature reigned here and I was a miniscule, insignificant observer.

 The next morning, after a restful night’s sleep and some mouthfuls of water for breakfast, I was within one hour of the basin when I noticed an animal just ahead of me, partially obscured by a bush. It was a small black bear, perhaps a teenager, and it seemed about as unconcerned by my arrival as had the deer. It ambled off and disappeared into some brush. I wondered if, from its lack of awareness, it might be sick.

 Later I called Raymond Skiles, the ever- helpful wildlife biologist in the park. He confirmed that the park biologists knew about this solitary bear; they get sufficient reports of sightings that they have a good overall idea of where the bear population is and how the bears are faring. 

After my brief encounter with a teenage bear, I hastened down to the Basin convenience store for a welcome coffee. In two hours I was back home in Alpine. I’ve heard people talk about an overnight on the South Rim as a Bucket List destination. But, why wait?  All that’s needed is a 24-hour time slot; some dry, warm weather; a minimum of equipment and a modicum of energy. Hey, you might enjoy it!


Big Bend National Park – National Park Service

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Jim Glendinning About Jim Glendinning

I am a Footloose Scot who has traveled to 136 countries. "I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move." Robert Louis Stevenson
Read about Jim Glendinning and his book Footloose Scot: Travels In A Time Of Change


  1. Great article Title! Your words bring images of the South Rim to me and I can almost smell the air and hear the sounds of the desert.

    • Jim Glendinning Jim Glendinning says:

      Well, thank you! Maybe I can encourage you to join us on the next Full Moon Rim Trip in September; I have two recruits so far?

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