The Boquillas Canyon is over a 20 mile ride from the Park Headquarters, but definitely worth a visit. There's a large parking area just short of reaching the canyon and a short hike with a small rise gets you to an overlook of the canyon. On our visit we could plainly hear a Mexican National in the middle of the river with his horse singing a ballad. The canyon's walls carried his voice with plenty of amplification. He sang for tips which you could leave on the river bank. We suspect he was in the middle of the shallow running Rio Grande so as to make a quick exit back to Mexico should immigration officials came by. On the bank of the river were handmade curios selling on an honor system; if you liked something just leave some cash in a nearby can.
The park's official publication mentions that it is illegal trade and it is classified as contraband, subject to confiscation by federal officials. It may be correct, but it's not as if it's about to upend the balance of international trade. We noticed at the Chisos Basin shop some of the same curios for sale, but at a much higher cost.
The Boquillas Canyon, noteworthy for its International Port of Entry, is a must stop if you're in the park. The only thing akin to it may be the Prada Store Front Facade outside of Marfa. Both have no place in the Southwest. The Prada facade can be admired as a roadside point of interest, justifying its presence, but the Boquillas Port of Entry makes little sense. To begin with, there are no INS officers on duty, conveniently replaced by two kiosks (sorry no pictures of kiosks are allowed) where you are dutifully obligated to scan your passport; wait for it to be screened by a live agent in El Paso; then proceed to enter the United States legally.
I asked a park ranger if we just couldn't walk around the outside of the building without reporting to the kiosks and he said, "we have lots of cameras; you'd be stopped and deported". Never seen anything like it, a wonderful modern building located in a remote area of a National Park built for two kiosks! Not sure how that plays into our heighten National Security, but it makes a good POI (Point of Interest) in our southwest travel experiences.
The Boquillas Canyon itself is not a massive carving and it's small compared to most canyons. In my opinion it's easily dwarfed by the Santa Elena Canyon on the western end of BBNP, but unlike Santa Elena Canyon, this one is interesting because of its inhabitants, both past and present.
As you walk up the rise before the canyon you can see in the limestone rock holes used by ancient indian tribes to grind their food grains. When we first spotted them we thought they were fence post holes and wondered why would anyone want a fence on top of this rock. We then noticed that they were in groups and obviously not the beginnings of any fence post holes.
As we walked over this limestone rise we could see the Rio Grande River meandering towards us then making a sharp turn away from us and into the beginnings of the canyon.
Unlike Santa Elena Canyon, Boquillas offers a glimpse of life for the people of this area. There is a small Mexican community just across the river, Boquillas del Carmen. These people are the merchants who leave their art work on the US side of banks of the Rio Grande River and rely on an honor barter system. Buyers leave a donation in a nearby can or weighted under a rock. Of course, these are the individuals that the park states are contributing to the erosion of natural resources along the river. These merchants are subject to arrest, deported to Presidio, Texas, one hundred miles from their homes, and released in Ojinaga, Mexico. Small price to pay for selling a painted rock or lizard made of wire. In spite of the threat of arrest and deportation to Presidio it doesn't seem to affect this illegal commerce and it's hard to believe that either INS officials or Park Rangers take much interest in this illegal commerce. Of course, purchasing any of these items makes you an accessory to the crime.
There isn't much else to help the residents of Boquillas del Carmen make a living. In the old days you would just wade across in a small boat to enjoy an afternoon of eating and drinking without any type of checkpoint. It can still be crossed and enjoyed, but gone are the days of an imaginary border that meant little to either side. Now you've got to report to the man, Kiosks.
Visiting Big Bend after the spring rains in this arid region changes the entire park into a giant canopy of green grasses and flowering plants. It's my favorite time of year to visit the park.
We made our way back to the Chisos Basin for lunch and then headed out the west end of Big Bend into Study Butte and Terlingua then trekked north into Alpine before heading back to Marathon, Texas for the night. It was a nice three day ride, 1,500 miles.