My favorite hike in Big Bend National Park was into the impressive Santa Elena Canyon. The trail begins at the end of the 30 mile Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. The trail climbs several short switchbacks and then gradually descends along the banks of the Rio Grande. I was surrounded by lush riparian vegetation and 1,500-foot towering vertical cliffs of solid limestone. The trail ends where canyon walls meet the river.
The canyon is visible for over 10 miles away, as the Rio Grande River changes direction abruptly after following beneath the straight Sierra Ponce cliffs for several miles and heads due west, cutting through the mountains via a deep, narrow gorge. This sharp bend in the river was formed by movement along the Terlingua fault zone that crosses the park. For many miles upstream the river is trapped beneath the high walls, eventually emerging into a wider valley at the small town of Lajitas.