Hot Springs Canyon

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Hot Springs Canyon splits the border of Texas and Mexico on the eastern slopes of the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend National Park. In 1909, J.O. Langford heard about hot springs with healing powers along the Rio Grande. He bought the land unseen and built a bathhouse to accommodate guests. Before Langford’s arrival, Native Americans enjoyed the clear 105-degree springs as well. From these springs, the canyon received its name.

image of Hot Springs Canyon in Big Bend National Park, Texas

The Hot Springs Trail can be hiked as a one-way trip or as a loop. The starting point on the east side is the Daniels Ranch Picnic Area. From there, a moderate hike takes you nearly 3 miles alongside and high above the meandering Rio Grande to the hot springs on the western side of the canyon. Sweeping views of the Sierra del Carmen to the east as well as the Chisos Mountains to the west appear throughout the hike.

Weather At Hot Springs Canyon

Big Bend National Park has a variety of ecosystems, from the mountainous area of the Chisos Mountains that reach up to 7,825 feet to the Chihuahuan Desert floor far below. In these lower elevations around Hot Springs Canyon, temperatures often exceed 100 degrees. Rain is rare, and sunshine is a mainstay most of the year.

Photo Experience

I love photographing the rock features of Big Bend, especially the areas where the Rio Grande has cut huge canyons into the ancient desert. Hot Springs Canyon is no exception; the changing light of sunrise and sunset make this a wonderful experience.

In the cool morning, shooting east and into the rising sun provides an opportunity for beautiful morning clouds and a potential sunburst as it crests the distant mountains. Facing west, the distant Chisos add interest to the foreground of canyon walls and a winding river far below. In the evening, shooting away from the sun has you pointed in the direction of the Sierra del Carmen, and in the last light of day, those mountains turn a beautiful shade of pink. I also like an interesting foreground object to anchor the image—a prickly pear, an Ocotillo or a yucca. These indigenous plants are everywhere along the path and near the cliffs.

The photograph here was taken at sunrise nearly a mile into the hike when heading west from the Daniels Ranch Picnic Area. On this morning, a cloud bank blocked a chance at a sunburst to the east, but enough light trickled through to illuminate the clouds lingering over the Chisos. Taken with a Canon EOS 5DS R and a Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM lens, this image shows the depth and length of this rugged location.

Along with wide-angle lenses, telephotos in the range of 70-200mm can also capture interesting perspectives of this landscape. At times, the trail winds near the river; other times you’ll find yourself high above the water. I also like to go off the trail just a bit to see what the view is like from various locations. You never know when you’ll find a great photo with a nice prickly pear cactus in the foreground.

Best Times

I’ve found that late fall, winter and early spring are the best times to make this short hike. Even by March, temperatures can climb into the 90s and higher along the Rio Grande. If you want to brave the hike in summer, start early and bring plenty of water—and let someone know where you’re going. Even through late fall, temperatures can be a factor: I’ve found myself beginning a November hike in the area when the temperature was 95 degrees. For good lighting, the pastel shades of sunrise and sunset in winter create peaceful ambience.

Contact: National Park Service, nps.gov/bibe.


See more of Rob Greebon’s work at ImagesfromTexas.com.