Biking in Big Bend – Chisos Basin to Rio Grande Village

Today I took my road bike on a trip from the Chisos Basin down to the Rio Grande Village in Big Bend National Park. This is a 30 mile one-way route that is almost entirely downhill.

The Chisos Basin visitor center is at 5,400 feet elevation and the Rio Grande Village visitor center is at 1,850 feet elevation: 3,550 feet of total descent = fun! There was around 700 feet total ascent, most of which occurred right at the beginning to get out of the Chisos Basin itself. Unfortunately this means you aren’t quite warmed up before tackling the hardest hills of the route and at the highest altitude. The good news is that if you can handle those hills, you can probably handle the return trip up to the Chisos Basin, either all the way from Rio Grande Village or just from Panther Junction.

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There was a surprise around mile marker 14 west of Panther Junction: a coyote decided I’d make a fun chase. I was cruising around 25 MPH when I heard the pitter-patter of paws on the asphalt as the coyote ran from the desert onto the road in full chase. Two things were immediately clear: I had activated his chase instinct so it was either outrun or fight, and coyotes are a lot faster than domestic dogs. I had to bring the speed up to over 30 MPH for almost a half mile before he gave up the chase.

I spoke to an older ranger a couple of days later about this and he said yes, this does happen and there’s little you can do about it other than not ride. He said all 3 of the big predators in the park (coyotes, bears and mountain lions) have a strong chase instinct and if they actually start after you it’s too late; coyotes just happen to be the only ones you can actually outrun. He mentioned that they are used to seeing people walk and vehicles drive by, but bicyclists and trail runners are slow enough and interesting enough it really excites their instinct.

This was my first time biking in the park and it was fantastic. The park is of course very isolated and the low speed limits (45 MPH) gives the little bit of vehicular traffic ample time to avoid you. At bicycle speeds you can often sneak up on wildlife (or be snuck up upon…). The road quality, while older asphalt, is rather decent and makes for a nice, smooth and fast ride.