The Chimneys

The Chimneys in Big Bend National Park are an erosion carved outcropping of rocks in the middle of desert flatlands. There is a hiking trail that leads to the Chimneys from two different trailheads. The most popular trailhead is on the paved scenic drive in the park and the hike to the Chimneys is a shorter 2.4 miles from this point. The other trailhead is reachable by the unpaved Old Maverick Road that leads from the west park entrance down to Santa Elena Canyon and the hike from this trailhead is a longer 5+ miles to the Chimneys. You can take a car or CUV down the Old Maverick Road, but you’ll have to be careful as it does cross a few sandy/rocky dry creek beds (in which someone might have fun with a 4×4 pickup). I chose to take the dirt road and do the longer hike as the weather was nice and cool and I enjoy long hikes.

A view looking down the Chimneys trail from near the Old Maverick Road trailhead.

This hike is almost entirely flat out across the desert, though it does weave through hills and a small creek fed by an occasional spring. And, you probably only want to make this hike from late autumn to early spring unless you truly want to suffer in the hot sun. Even though it was January and the high temperature would only be in the lower 70s Fahrenheit, I did pack plenty of water as the air is very dry and you can lose a lot water to sweat without really noticing. I also wore flexible hiking pants, a light-weight long sleeve shirt, and large brimmed hat for protection from the sun. There is no shade on this trail for animals much larger than a lizard and the sun has you right where it can really bake your skin.

Eventually you get out of the hills near the west trailhead and see the Chimneys in the distance and they look a lot closer than they actually are from this point. The photo below was taken at 200mm, a telephoto focal length. Between the Chimneys and the mountains in the distance are the other 2.4 mile hiking trail and the scenic highway.

The Chimneys in the distance at Big Bend National Park

From this point, the trail is flat out across the desert and relatively easy to follow. This end of the trail is much less trafficked than the end that comes from the scenic drive, so I only saw one other person out here. But I enjoyed the quiet desert solitude and the continuous sound of my hiking boots against the pebbles and sand of the trail. One particular thing I enjoyed was all of the bright magenta prickly-pear cactus that were scattered across the desert. They added some very pleasant color to the earth-toned environment. I did find these to be very difficult to photograph in the brilliant midday sun though, I guess because there is so little contrast in the scene, but below is my slightly saturated image of the cactus along the Chimneys trail.

If you keep hiking, you do eventually make it to the Chimneys. You can climb along hillside near the cliffs and apparently there are some ancient petroglyphs to be seen, but I didn’t find them. There is not really a place to sit, relax and hangout here, so there is little reason to loiter after you have looked around. I am not sure it was a must-see destination, but it was an excuse for a nice hike.

Below is a photo of one of the outcroppings looking back towards Santa Elena Canyon in the far distance. The canyon is 9 or 10 miles away from this place, but you can see for miles out here.

The Chimneys
The Chimneys
The Chimneys

The hike back was about the same, but instead of looking ahead to the Chimneys for much of the trail, I would be looking towards distant Santa Elena Canyon and the high cliffs along the Rio Grande. Seeing the canyon and knowing about the hiking trail that runs through it, I could picture in my mind the people hiking that canyon under the shade of the cliffs along the cool river. Below is a long shot through the low haze to Santa Elena Canyon in the distance.

Santa Elena Canyon from across the desert

When I was almost back to the trailhead and my vehicle, I saw off to the side of the trail an odd looking object. I went to investigate and after startling a large jack rabbit I found what was left of an old car. I suppose anything of value was stripped from its carcass decades ago. If there was more of the car remaining, it might be fun to shoot it at the right time of day or night. I did wonder how it came to rest here. Did someone park it for some reason, couldn’t get it restarted, and just decide to leave it there? Maybe it was dumped there 80 years ago to get rid of it. I don’t know, but there it sits.

Well, according to my phone’s pedometer, that was a 10.5 mile hike and it took me about 3 and a half hours out and back, so it wasn’t a bad hike for an afternoon (in January). It isn’t the prettiest hike in the park, but I had never done it before and wanted to see what there was to see. I think it would probably be better early in the morning or towards sunset to get some better light. Also, it might be nice to see the Chimneys under the full Milky Way on a moonless night. Something for me to consider. Thanks for reading.

28 thoughts on “The Chimneys

    1. Thanks. In that part of the park, that canyon is a very distinctive part of the landscape and can be seen for miles. It is a nice hike up into it, though you may have to cross a creek to get to it. I waded in above my knees on one trip to get to the canyon trail.


  1. Many years ago, you’d find the bones of dead oxen along a trail. Now it’s dead cars. I think my favorite photo is the one with the purple cacti. We don’t get that color in our prickly pear out here. I like how it adds such a different color to the desert floor.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. On another trail, there are also the remains of an old ore tramway from about 100 years ago. I hiked that trail, but it wasn’t terribly photogenic. There were some old discarded ore buckets laying around the desert along with steel cables running across the desert to the remains of tram towers.

      Liked by 2 people

            1. He could play the role of a hiker, just hiking along with his camera, and minding his own business, when he casually takes a picture of something that looks suspicious. And then the wrong person notices him taking the picture. I won’t go into any more detail, but the ensuing experience will be harrowing for poor Jason.

              Liked by 3 people

            2. Ooooh that doesn’t sound good! Sounds scarier than meeting a Yeti. But maybe the wrong person who notices him takes him to the ferocious Yeti. Just saying … Someone may have put the notionof a Yeti in my head earlier today!

              Liked by 2 people

  2. Sounds like you enjoyed the peace and quiet of a leisurely hike. No rainbow yeti that you had to worry about attacking you?

    The chimneys in the distance is my favorite photo and then the purple prickly pear cacti. I look forward to seeing that landscape again.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. You need to go back and catch them in the afternoon sun and then wait around to catch the chimneys in the Milky Way.
        Yeah, “leisurely” may not be the right word, but you weren’t climbing a mountain, you were walking on flat land. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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