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23329
Texas/New Mexico

Hiking at Big Bend, Guadalupe Mountains & Carlsbad Caverns

Come south this winter to explore diverse ecosystems, geologic formations and human cultures, while hiking in three of our nation’s national parks.
Rating (5)
Program No. 23329RJ
Length
8 days
Starts at
1,899
Texas/New Mexico

Hiking at Big Bend, Guadalupe Mountains & Carlsbad Caverns

Come south this winter to explore diverse ecosystems, geologic formations and human cultures, while hiking in three of our nation’s national parks.
Length
8 days
Starts at
1,899
Program No. 23329 RJ
Prefer to enroll or inquire by phone? 800-454-5768
climate
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Prices displayed below are based on per person,doubleoccupancy.
DATES & starting prices
PRICES
Feb 21 - Feb 28, 2021
Starting at
1,999
Mar 21 - Mar 28, 2021
Starting at
1,999
Apr 4 - Apr 11, 2021
Starting at
1,999
Apr 18 - Apr 25, 2021
Starting at
1,999
Oct 3 - Oct 10, 2021
Starting at
1,999
Oct 31 - Nov 7, 2021
Starting at
1,999
Nov 7 - Nov 14, 2021
Starting at
1,999
Jan 23 - Jan 30, 2022
Starting at
1,899
Feb 20 - Feb 27, 2022
Starting at
1,999
Mar 27 - Apr 3, 2022
Starting at
1,999
Apr 17 - Apr 24, 2022
Starting at
1,999
Oct 23 - Oct 30, 2022
Starting at
1,999
Nov 6 - Nov 13, 2022
Starting at
1,999
Dec 4 - Dec 11, 2022
Starting at
1,999
DATES & starting prices
PRICES
Feb 21 - Feb 28, 2021
Starting at
2,499
Mar 21 - Mar 28, 2021
Starting at
2,499
Apr 4 - Apr 11, 2021
Starting at
2,499
Apr 18 - Apr 25, 2021
Starting at
2,499
Oct 3 - Oct 10, 2021
Starting at
2,499
Oct 31 - Nov 7, 2021
Starting at
2,499
Nov 7 - Nov 14, 2021
Starting at
2,499
Jan 23 - Jan 30, 2022
Starting at
2,399
Feb 20 - Feb 27, 2022
Starting at
2,499
Mar 27 - Apr 3, 2022
Starting at
2,499
Apr 17 - Apr 24, 2022
Starting at
2,499
Oct 23 - Oct 30, 2022
Starting at
2,499
Nov 6 - Nov 13, 2022
Starting at
2,499
Dec 4 - Dec 11, 2022
Starting at
2,499

At a Glance

Join local experts and a small group of fellow hikers as you explore the varied ecosystems of three national parks: Big Bend, the Guadalupe Mountains and Carlsbad Caverns. Learn how early natives, pioneers, miners and ranchers interacted with the land and its diverse flora and fauna, especially the curanduros healers. Find out what it means to live “off the grid” as you travel to remote Mexican border towns, and see why this region was once known as “the Last Frontier.”
Activity Level
Outdoor: Spirited
Hiking 3-7 miles each day over varied terrain. Elevations from 5,500 to 8,000 feet.
Small Group
Small Group
Love to learn and explore in a small-group setting? These adventures offer small, personal experiences with groups of 10 to 24 participants.

Best of all, you'll ...

  • Hike down to the deepest caverns of Carlsbad Caverns, both a National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Enjoy dinner at the historic Starlight Theater and an authentic Mexican lunch at a family restaurant in the border town of Boquillas.
  • Spend an evening stargazing in Terlingua, awarded the “Dark Night Skies Award.”
Featured Expert
All Experts
Profile Image
Erin Little
Erin comes from the Appalachian region of Tennessee. She has led groups for 19 years, typically spending the summer leading whitewater raft groups in Tennessee and the rest of the year leading hikes, river trips and Mexico outings in far west Texas. She is also a Swiftwater Rescue Instructor and Wilderness First Responder Certified.

Please note: This expert may not be available for every date of this program.

Profile Image of Erin Little
Erin Little View biography
Erin comes from the Appalachian region of Tennessee. She has led groups for 19 years, typically spending the summer leading whitewater raft groups in Tennessee and the rest of the year leading hikes, river trips and Mexico outings in far west Texas. She is also a Swiftwater Rescue Instructor and Wilderness First Responder Certified.
Profile Image of Erica Little
Erica Little View biography
Erica spends her summers floating the Pigeon River in Hartford, Tennessee and winters in Terlingua, Texas leading single/multiday river trips as well as hiking and backpacking trips. She has a Wilderness First Responder first aid certification and is a self-proclaimed thorn and blister expert. She has through-hiked the Appalachian Trail (AT), the southern half of the Pacific Crest Trail, and completed multi-day hikes in Nepal, Switzerland, Tasmania, Patagonia and the Andes. Terlingua has been her winter home for 12 years.
Visit the Road Scholar Bookshop
You can find many of the books we recommend at the Road Scholar store on bookshop.org, a website that supports local bookstores.
The Big Bend of the Rio Grande: A Guide to the Rocks, Landscape, Geologic History, and Settlers of the Area of Big Bend National Park
by Ross Maxwell
An all-encompassing read covering geology, early park history, and medicinal plants.
Apache Legends & Lore of Southern New Mexico: From the Sacred Mountain
by Lynda A. Sanchez
A wonderful collection of stories that captures the bygone Apache lifestyle.
The Big Bend: A History of the Last Texas Frontier
by Ron C. Tyler
A chapter by chapter approach to the human settlement of the Big Bend.
Empire of the Summer Moon
by S.C. Gwynne
A must read about the rise and fall of the Comanche nation.
Beneath the Window: Early Ranch Life in the Big Bend
by Patricia Wilson Clothier
A memoir of the author's upbringing in the wilds of the Chihuahuan Desert.
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8 days
7 nights
20 meals
7 B 6 L 7 D
DAY
1
Check In, Registration, Welcome Dinner, Orientation
El Paso, Texas
D
Hampton Inn & Suites El Paso-Airport

Activity note: Hotel check in from 3:00 p.m. The activity level for this program is "Outdoor: Spirited". Participants must be able to hike several miles daily over varied terrain in order to visit most locations on this program.

Afternoon: Program Registration 4:00-5:00 p.m.: After you have your room assignment., come over to the Road Scholar table to register with the program staff, to get your welcome packet containing your up-to-date schedule and other important information, and to confirm the time and location of the Orientation session. If you arrive late, please ask for your packet at the front desk when you check in. Orientation at 5:00 p.m.: The Group Leader will greet everyone with a warm welcome and lead introductions. We will review the program theme, the up-to-date daily schedule and any changes, discuss safety guidelines, emergency procedures, roles and responsibilities, and answer any questions you may have. Transportation for program-related activities will be via 15 passenger van unless specified otherwise. Program activities, schedules, personnel, and indicated distances or times may change due to local circumstances/conditions. In the event of changes, we will alert you as quickly as possible. Thank you for your understanding.

Dinner: Catered Texas Bar-B-Que Dinner at the hotel.

Evening: Take the rest of the evening to continue getting to know your fellow participants, relax, and get a good night’s sleep for the full day ahead.

DAY
2
Chihuahuan Desert, Fort Davis National Historic Site
Terlingua, Texas
B,L,D
Longhorn Ranch Motel

Activity note: This is a long travel day with lots of great breaks. All transportation on the program will be via mini-bus. There is no reserved seating; participants must be willing to rotate seats throughout the program. Several short hikes totaling approximately 3.2 miles are included.

Breakfast: Buffet at the hotel that includes coffee, milk, juice, eggs, meat (varies), assorted breads and pastries, waffles, fruit, yogurt, cereal, and oatmeal.

Morning: We will pack up and check out of the hotel this morning. This is one of our longest transfer days, where we will journey to the remote region of the Big Bend. We will also begin the discussion of cultural history, starting with the Jumanos, our earliest inhabitants. A portion of this drive follows the Texas Mountain Trails scenic highways.

Lunch: Picnic lunch at Fort Davis National Historic Site.

Afternoon: After lunch, we begin our first hike in the Chihuahuan Desert. The Hospital Canyon Trail climbs steadily for 0.7 miles thru oak groves to the North Ridge Trail. Once on the North Ridge Trail, we follow the contour of the edge of the mesa for 0.3 miles to the Tall Grass Loop Trail. Stunning views of Fort Davis and the surrounding mountains fill the skyline. The Tall Grass Loop is 0.8 miles thru dense grass lands, home to our jack rabbits, mule deer and javelina. Finally we will descend back to the fort and walk 0.6 miles back to the visitor’s center. After completing our loop hike, we will explore Fort Davis which was occupied from 1854-1891. We will see evidence of the early settlers: Mescalero Apaches and Buffalo Soldiers. The lieutenants quarters, commanding officer’s quarters, officer’s kitchens and servants quarters, and the enlisted men’s barracks are all furnished in period commodities and are open for exploration. To view the entire fort is an easy .75 mile walk. Following our exploration of the fort, we will depart for our hotel in Terlingua.

Dinner: After we settle into the Longhorn Ranch Motel, we will enjoy a hot homemade family style Mexican dinner at Tivo's Place.

DAY
3
Big Bend NP, Santa Elena Canyon, Terlingua Ghost Town
Terlingua, Texas
B,L,D
Longhorn Ranch Motel

Activity note: Today we will explore the West Side of Big Bend with two separate hikes totaling approximately 6.4 miles over varied terrain. We will also explore historic sites by foot. The Santa Elena Canyon trail may be challenging for participants who are afraid of heights or experience vertigo, as parts of the trail look down on the river; please note that the trail is well maintained with handrails and is approximately 8-10 feet away from the cliff edge.

Breakfast: Homemade breakfast bar at Tivo's Place at the Longhorn Ranch Motel; this includes a hot breakfast with plenty of variety and a few items changing daily.

Morning: We will start our morning with a hike on the Chimney’s Trail, 4.8 miles (easy, 20 foot elevation gain). This trail walks through the lowland desert, over a dirt trail bed. It winds past distinctive desert vegetation such as the creosote bush and prickly pear cactus. See pictographs, petroglyphs, and metates (grinding bowls) that help tell the story of times past in this region.

Lunch: Enjoy a picnic lunch at Cottonwood Campground.

Afternoon: After lunch, we will hike the very photogenic Santa Elena Canyon, 1.6 miles (moderate, 600 foot elevation gain; length of hike and elevation gain may vary depending on water level in the Rio Grande). 1,200 foot tall limestone rock cliff walls tower above this iconic Big Bend trail while Canyon Wrens sing overhead. Next, atop Sotol Vista we will take a short pit stop to witness the expansive views for which Big Bend is so famous. Rounding out a day filled with great history, we will head to the cultural center of Terlingua for a Ghost Town Tour and an amazing sunset.

Dinner: Dinner tonight will be at the historic Starlight Theatre, built during the boom and bust era of mercury mining.

Evening: A visit to the Terlingua Trading Company will follow dinner.

DAY
4
Big Bend NP, Chisos Mountains, Lost Mine Trail
Terlingua, Texas
B,L,D
Longhorn Ranch Motel

Activity note: Today we will explore the heart of Big Bend National Park, hiking approximately 5 miles. You'll need to carry all the drinking water that you will need for the day; we recommend 3 liters.

Breakfast: Homemade breakfast bar at Tivo's Place at the Longhorn Ranch Motel; this includes a hot breakfast with plenty of variety and a few items changing daily.

Morning: We will begin our morning by driving up in elevation to the Chisos Mountains where we will witness how this sky island creates a different ecosystem of a high mountain desert. We will walk among oaks, maples, pines, junipers, and madrones on the Lost Mine Trail, 4.8 miles (challenging, 1,300 foot elevation gain). This trail climbs steadily with amazing views of the Chisos Basin, Pine Canyon, and the Window.

Lunch: We will pack a sack lunch this morning of sandwiches with all the fixings, along with trail snacks. Today we will enjoy lunch on the trail, in the quiet shade of the trees.

Afternoon: After our hike we will enjoy some free time to explore the Chisos Basin visitor’s center; you may choose to relax, read a book, and soak in the view on the Chisos Mountains Lodge front porch or visit the Chisos Mountains Lodge Gift Shop. After driving down from the mountains, we will head out on back country roads to an “off grid” house to learn the ins and outs of desert living.

Dinner: Dinner this evening will be catered at the hotel.

Evening: Following dinner, we will enjoy an evening of star gazing (weather permitting). Terlingua was awarded the “Dark Night Skies Award” and claims to have the darkest night skies in the lower 48. See the Milky Way and shooting stars. Find your favorite constellations and be enamored in the fact that there are more stars visible in it then you remember.

DAY
5
Boquillas Canyon, Boquillas, Mexico, Chisos Mtns
Terlingua, Texas
B,L,D
Longhorn Ranch Motel

Activity note: Today we will travel to Boquillas, Mexico therefore you will need your passport or other approved documentation. Also, you may want to bring a little cash as there are several shops with items for sale. We will be on our feet a lot today and will hike approximately 4 miles.

Breakfast: Homemade breakfast bar at Tivo's Place at the Longhorn Ranch Motel; this includes a hot breakfast with plenty of variety and a few items changing daily.

Morning: This morning we will travel to the east side of Big Bend National Park. Our first hike is to Boquillas Canyon, 1.4 miles (moderate). The canyon towers 1,500 feet overhead with its sheer vertical rock cliff walls. The trail winds through the riparian zone (a hot spot for birding), passing many metates, and ending at a pebble beach on the Rio Grande. After this, we will go through the American Port of Entry, the only "Class B" Port of Entry on the Mexican border, on our way to Boquillas, Mexico. Once at the river, we will ride a small ferry boat across the Rio Grande. Next, we will hike into the little village of Boquillas, 2.4 miles (easy), where the main mode of transportation is the burro, most people use wood fired cook stoves, and the families live in one room houses that are painted brightly every color of the rainbow. Once in Boquillas, we go through the Mexican Port of Entry.

Lunch: On a shaded deck that overlooks the Rio Grande, we will enjoy tacos cooked up by Lilia at her family restaurant, Falcon’s. Homemade margaritas, cold Cerveza, Coca Cola, and Aqua Mineral are all pleasing choices. (Lilia makes sure her food is safe, using bottled water to wash veggies and make ice.)

Afternoon: After lunch we will walk around this three block town, stop off at the Park Bar, and do a little exploring. We will also explore the church, school, clinic, and their new solar field. We will wrap up the afternoon by heading back across the border into the US.

Dinner: Tonight we will head up to the Chisos Mountains Restaurant for dinner with a view.

Evening: At leisure.

DAY
6
Marfa, TX, Guadalupe Mountains NP, Carlsbad Caverns NP
Carlsbad, New Mexico
B,L,D
Hampton Inn & Suites Carlsbad

Activity note: This is a travel day with lots of great stops and activities along the way. This afternoon we will hike down into Carlsbad Caverns, approximately 3 miles.

Breakfast: Homemade breakfast bar at Tivo's Place at the Longhorn Ranch Motel; this includes a hot breakfast with plenty of variety and a few items changing daily.

Morning: We will pack up and check out of the hotel this morning. Then we will drive through Alpine, Marfa, and Van Horn en route to Guadalupe Mountains National Park. We will take a mid-morning break at the Prada Store art exhibit in Marfa. Once in Guadalupe Mountains National Park, we will stop at the Frijole Ranch Historic Site, which dates back to 1876. The seven buildings are now a walk through exhibit.

Lunch: Lunch will be at a picnic pavilion on the Frijole Ranch, which was named because frijoles were a staple food in the region.

Afternoon: After lunch we will travel the short distance to Carlsbad Caverns National Park and explore the visitor’s center upon arrival. Next we will hike the Natural Entrance Trail down into the deepest caverns, 1.25 miles (moderate, 750 foot descent). Our night sensors awaken as we descend and wildlife talks shift to that of bats. We will build on our cultural history to understand the caverns chronology of human habitation. The caverns' microbiology adds to the geologic discussion. Once we reach the bottom we will hike the Big Room Trail passing many stunning formations, 1.5 miles (easy). Finally, we will ride the elevator to the top. Time permitting, we will browse through the Visitor's Center Museum.

Dinner: At a local Carlsbad restaurant choose from a select menu of home-cooked options; a range of non-alcoholic beverages is included; other beverages available for purchase.

Evening: After dinner, we'll travel a short distance to our hotel, check in, and enjoy the rest of the evening at leisure.

DAY
7
Guadalupe Mountains NP, McKittrick Canyon, Farewell Dinner
El Paso, Texas
B,L,D
Hampton Inn & Suites El Paso-Airport

Activity note: We will explore Guadalupe Mountains National Park with a hike of almost 7 miles. You'll need to carry all the drinking water that you will need for the day; we recommend 3 liters.

Breakfast: Buffet at the hotel that includes coffee, milk, juice, eggs, meat (varies), assorted breads and pastries, waffles, fruit, yogurt, cereal, and oatmeal.

Morning: We will pack up and check out of the hotel this morning. Then we begin our hike on the McKittrick Canyon Trail, 6.8 miles (moderate). This trail walks below the Capitan Reef which is one of the best preserved fossil reefs in the world. This hike follows a small spring fed creek through the desert and transitions into a canyon woodlands ecosystem. At the Historic Pratt Cabin (1936), we can relax on the front porch rocking chairs as we lament how this rock cabin has seen so much change in its lifetime. From here, we continue to the Grotto and the Hunter’s Cabin.

Lunch: Today we'll enjoy a picnic lunch along the trail.

Afternoon: After lunch we will continue our hike on the McKittrick Canyon Trail. After completing our hike, we will explore the Guadalupe Mountains National Park Visitor’s Center before departing for El Paso.

Dinner: Our Farewell Dinner will be at Los Bandidos de Carlos and Mickey’s, which has been serving up fine Mexican food since the 1950’s in an eclectic memorabilia-filled venue.

Evening: Enjoy live music at Los Bandidos de Carlos and Mickey’s

DAY
8
Program Concludes
El Paso, Texas
B

Activity note: Hotel check out by 12:00 Noon.

Breakfast: Hotel breakfast buffet is available. This meal concludes our program.

Morning: If you are departing from the hotel today, please check out no later than 12:00 p.m. If you are returning home, safe travels. If you are staying on independently, have a wonderful time. If you are transferring to another Road Scholar program, detailed instructions are included in your Information Packet for that program. We hope you enjoy Road Scholar learning adventures and look forward to having you on rewarding programs in the future. Don’t forget to join our Facebook page and follow us on Instagram. Best wishes for all your journeys!






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