One of the most scenic and challenging hikes in Big Bend is a trip to the South Rim of the Chisos Mountains. You are facing the Rio Grande River and Mexico and the view on a clear day is stunning. This is a long hike, about 15 miles round trip from the trail head in the parking lot of the Chisos Basin. It can be done in a long day if you are in good shape, but many hikers make an overnight trip out of it. There are numerous campsites and toilets at various spots but you will have to bring your own drinking water. You should also get a detailed trail/topo map to keep track of your progress. Some of the connecting trails go down into the Chihuahuan Desert and you don't want to attempt them unless you have enough supplies for several days.

You climb about 2,000 feet from the Basin up to the South Rim. If you want to ascend slowly, take the Laguna Meadow Trail; if you want to get the climb over with quickly, take the Pinnacles Trail. This tour will begin with the Pinnacles Trail, proceed to Boot Spring, Boot Canyon, Southwest Rim, South Rim and end with Laguna Meadow.

This is mountain lion country! They are most often seen by motorists, but we did see one on the Southwest Rim trail. Talk to the park rangers about the proper behavior if you encounter a lion on the trail, particuarly if there are children or small adults in your group. If you do see a lion, report it to the rangers as soon as possible.

This deer was on the Pinnacles Trail. It is eating Agave lechuguilla (Agavaceae or Agave family), getting nice and fat for the mountain lions.

The Chisos Mountains are much wetter than the surrounding desert. Although there are still cacti along the trail in Boot Canyon, it is not unusual to encounter fogs while hiking and running streams are common.

You can find maple trees with their wonderful fall colors in Boot Canyon.

Acer grandidentatum

Acer grandidentatum (Big-Tooth Maple) is a member of the Aceraceae (Maple family). Many of them have bright fall colors so they are prized as ornamentals. As you might expect, this particular species of maple is a relatively small tree.

Salvia regla

Salvia regla (Mountain Sage) is a member of the Lamiaceae (Mint Family). It is a large shrub that is found on wooded slopes and canyons and is one of the most attractive plants in this region of the country. The presence of a tubular, zygomorphic (irregular) corolla (collective term for petals -- the red thingy, if you want to be technical) and square stems are common characteristics of the Lamiaceae. Notice that the calyx (small red thingy below big red thingy) is composed of fused sepals.

Agave -Century Plant

You can encounter other species ofAgave besides Agave lechuguilla at a number of places in the Chisos Mountains. There is some disagreement about the correct name for the species of Agave depicted below, both Agave scabra and Agave harvardiana have been used. Century Plant was used by Native Americans for food. They roasted the flowering shoots, leaf bases and pods. Agaves produce a sugary juice that can be fermented to produce an alcoholic beverage called pulque. Mescal and tequilla are produced by distillation of the fermentation products obtained from a mash of the starchy crown. Agaves have also been used to produce fiber, soap, and medicines.


Agave harvardiana (or A. scabra) has a life span of 20 to 30 years; they die after they flower and set fruit.

When the plant flowers, it sends up a single long stalk that contains a large number of flowers in a large highly branched inflorescence called a panicle

As the fruits develop, they turn brown and eventually split open along their length, releasing their seeds. This fruit type is called a locucidal capsule, which splits down the middle of the chambers (locules) that contain the seeds. There are three locules. The vegetative portion of the plant begins to die as the fruits develop.

The seeds are packed very tightly in the locules, like minature plates. They are apparently also eaten by small animals as evidenced by the teeth marks on the fruit on the right.

The remnants of the base of the inflorescence can be seen for some time and the basal leaves last even longer. Below are two Agaves in advanced stages of decomposition. The one on the right looks more like fur remnants than a plant but you are seeing the fibers contained in the plant's vascular system.

After a long hike, you have reached the South Rim. If it is foggy, wait a little while--the fog may lift and give you the view of a lifetime. On a clear day, you can see Santa Elena Canyon. It is right below the tree branches on the left of the right image. Wave to the nice folks climbing up the canyon.

The South Rim is the halfway point. It is a long return hike so take a good rest before heading back. If you are returning via Laguna Meadow Trail, be aware that it is more exposed to the sun and hence hotter and drier than the first part of the hike. You may wish you had brought more water by the time you get back to the basin.