Big Bend “must do”… the Chimneys

Now that you’ve had the opportunity to sample life in Big Bend at altitude, we’re going to shift gears a bit and head down to the desert floor.  You’ll probably also be after some of that famous desert solitude.  While the Window and Lost Mine hikes are wonderful – hell, they are Big Bend standards – chances are you are going to run into plenty of other park visitors.  If you’re like me, part of the reason you head to Big Bend is to get away from the noise and commotion of our daily lives – and sometimes that’s hard to do on the popular Basin oriented hikes.

To get to our next destination, head back down the only access road out of the Basin.  Go to the “T” in the road and turn left.  You’ll head more or less west for about 10 miles or so, all the while with the Basin just outside your window.

The Basin

At your first (and only!) turn, hang a left at the Castolon/Santa Elena Junction.  Enjoy some of the most scenic landscape as you make your way south past the Sotol Vista Overlook and the Burro Mesa pouroff.  Shortly after the pouroff, start looking for the Chimneys trailhead on your right.

From this point, you’ve got a 3 mile hike out into the desert to the Chimneys.  Don’t be deceived – the Chimneys are a large rock formation and they look a lot closer than 3 miles from the road!  So make sure you bring plenty of water and something to eat with you.  And word of warning…. I would not attempt this hike in the warmer months.  There is no shade, and no escape from the sun.  Save this one for the cooler months!

Eastern approach

In the above image, you can make out the chimneys just to the right of the base of the small “mountain” in the left of the frame.

It’s a fairly easy, gently sloping downhill hike to the Chimneys – which were used by American Indians for the same reason we use them today – to get away from it all and just be at one with the world around us.  Once you get to the Chimneys, hunt around the place for all of the pictographs that  dot the formations.

The last time I hit the Chimneys, I wanted to do something a bit special – so my hiking partner and I hiked out in the afternoon, cooked and ate dinner at the chimneys, and then hung around for the light show as the sun went down.  This meant we had to hike back 3 miles in the dark but we had a bright moon and the light from our GPS units do guide us.  I would not recommend that anyone but a very experienced desert hiker, and someone very familiar with Big Bend do this!


And for the record, that picture is just about straight out of my old Canon G10 – the only thing I did to it was sharpen it a tad and add my watermark.  The colors as the sun set were absolutely wonderful for all of about 45 seconds!

If you wanted to experience sunset at the Chimneys, and don’t want to risk the hike back in the dark, there is a wonderful little tent pad just west of the Chimneys themselves that you can use to set up camp overnight.

Home sweet home, a great little campsite

Another option to get to the chimneys is to come in from the west, where the trailhead starts near Luna’s Jacal on the Old Maverick Road.  If you take this route you’ve got a much longer hike, around 6 miles or so each way.  And contrary to the eastern approach, the hike has a lot of small ups and downs, as well as hiking along the desert floor as well.   There are a few water holes along the way, and a place or two to get out of the sun but I would still recommend that you do this hike in the cooler months as a summer hike across the desert could be a killer.

Western approach

The Chimneys hike is one of the neatest hikes in the park that I’ve done.  You’ll likely not run into anyone else, and about the only sounds you’ll hear is the wind rushing around the Chimneys like it has forever.

Next up… the River Road.


~ by Derrick Birdsall on March 8, 2010.

2 Responses to “Big Bend “must do”… the Chimneys”

  1. Heck yeah! Thanks for the tips. Gearing up for a trip next month!


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