The Lost Mine Trailhead is on Basin Junction Road near the Chisos Basin Campground. The parking area is small (about 15 cars), so it’s a good idea to get there early. In case you’re wondering, 9:30am is not early. There were no spots, but we found another tiny lot about a quarter-mile east and road-hiked back to the trailhead. The mileage on this hike includes that extra distance, but the coordinates represent the actual trailhead.
Your mileage may vary.
As on our South Rim Loop hike (read here), we were starting in the shadow of Casa Grande Peak; this time to the east of that majestic alp. We started off uphill directly into the blinding morning sun. The temperature was hovering around 50°F, and the sky was a brilliant azure broken only occasionally by a fluffy white cloud. The first hundred yards or so was paved, but the trail soon turned to gravely dirt and began to narrow. We were hiking into the same autumn-colored forest that we had enjoyed a few days before. Casa Grande again peeked over a mottled sea of red, orange, and brown.
After gaining some altitude, we we were able to look west through The Window and see the rumpled Texas desert stretching off to the horizon. The higher we climbed, the better the view. Soon we were getting views to the south as well, down into Boot Canyon. Twisting and turning, we wound our way east toward Lost Mine Peak. The countryside was stunning; much more open than the South Rim Loop (the rim itself being a noteworthy exception, with some of the most expansive views we’ve ever seen). Still, this climb was a delight; at every turn in the trail we had a different vista to view.
We were headed in the direction of the Lost Mine Peak, but we would not gain that summit. We found it a little peculiar that the Lost Mine Trail doesn’t go up Lost Mine Mountain. The trail instead eventually turns south and culminates on a rocky bald about three-quarters of a mile southwest of that peak. Legend has it that somewhere near the summit of the Lost Mine Mountain was a particularly lucrative gold mine run by Spanish explorers. So protective were the Spanish of their find that they made the miners (usually life-term prisoners) wear blindfolds as they marched to work from their barracks. The legend holds that a band of indigenous people of the Comanche Tribe, resentful of the European invaders, slaughtered the Spaniards, leaving no man alive who knew the location of the mine. No one has been able to find it since. Curiously, the legend also states that if, on Easter morning, one stands at the former location of the door to San Vicente’s mission (sixteen miles to the southeast on the Rio Grande), the sun’s first rays will fall on the mine’s entrance. For our part, we couldn’t have cared less about gold, except for that which gilded the leaves of nearby trees; our coffers were full to the brim with sunlight, fresh air, and magnificent views. We were rich.
We continued to climb, and eventually we were high enough that we were looking over some lesser peaks to the landscape beyond. A mile and a half into our ascent, we reached a series of intense switchbacks. The next mile would be a dusty back and forth to the apex of our hike, alternately looking up a wooded incline or out over the valley to Casa Grande. Due west was The Window and miles of Texas desert beyond. Immediately below us, we could see Chisos Basin and the Basin Junction threading its way through the sage and brown countryside. We bent to our task.
Leaving the switchbacks behind, we emerged onto a spacious, rounded bald. Here, the view truly opened up. The trail followed a ridge toward a large rock formation to the south. Other hikers were milling around, snapping photos, and chatting. Small children buzzed about, climbing on the boulders that were scattered around the ridge. The general consensus seemed to be that this was the end of the line. It was not. The trail dipped into a shallow draw and climbed back toward the distant rock formation. We continued on, determined to tramp every foot of trail available. Focused on the jumble of massive boulders ahead, we hiked on, now virtually alone.
Approaching the trail’s end, Lost Mine Peak rose to our left, singularly unimpressive against the northern sky. Perhaps there’s a glittering trove of gold inside, but whatever treasure lies hidden in the Lost Mine, it’s wrapped in a plain brown wrapper. Here, the trail was less defined – more a general thoroughfare of open rock arching up the spine of the ridge. When we reached the formation, we were not disappointed.
It’s true (as one TripAdvisor reviewer pointed out) that the view isn’t drastically different here than it was three hundred yards back, but it’s not identical. There were giant boulders to scale and a better view to the south, down Boot Canyon toward the South Rim and beyond, Mexico. An impressive monolith of stone rose from the steep embankment to the west looking vaguely like a Moai from Easter Island. When viewed from a different angle this monolith was actually a … duolith? To the south, was Crown Mountain, a stony coronet partially obscuring the view toward the Rio Grande. And then there was the solitude.
Out at the point, the scores of hikers who had gained the ridge and stopped were two hundred yards behind us; mostly out of sight and definitely out of mind. For most of the twenty or so minutes we spent climbing on the boulders and ogling the views, we shared the terminus of this popular hike with only one other: an enthusiastic teenage girl who had reached this spot shortly after we did. She was with here entire family and was confident that they would be along soon. She was still waiting when we turned toward the trailhead to begin our descent.
When we reached the other end of the ridge (and the horde of almost-theres), we sought out the industrious teenager’s parents and mentioned that she was waiting out at the point. Her father replied:
“She’s going to be waiting a long time then!” He laughed hysterically.
It seemed a battle of wills was on, but we didn’t stay to see how it ended.
The descent was as pleasant as the climb. The day was getting warmer and our task easier. We passed lots of hikers as we retraced our steps down the mountain. The view of Casa Grande, which was now front and center, was striking against the azure sky. When we finally reached the trailhead, it was a gridlock of haphazardly parked cars. Other drivers, desperate to find nearby parking, had ignored the copious “No Parking” signs on the road’s shoulder; many of them were sporting a white slip of paper under their windshield wiper. We traipsed down the Basin Junction to where “Sparticus” was parked. The scene was similar there; fortunately, no one had blocked us in, and we sped off to our next hike.
The Lost Mine Trail is a must do for hikers in Big Bend National Park. For us, it ran a close second to the South Rim Loop. The Lost Mine is one third of the miles and half of the elevation of that hike, but delivers a great lot of scenery in a short package. Don’t skip the South Rim Loop, but definitely try to find room for this one on your itinerary. And when you get to the ridge, don’t quit there – follow it out to the end. You’ll thank us for less people and a better view … but don’t expect to find the mine. ♦
Date: December 29, 2019
Location: Big Bend National Park, TX
Trailhead: 29.274418, -103.286415
Distance: 5.3 miles
Elevation Gain: 1,111 feet