Mariscal is considered by most to be the ultimate in color and scenery of all the canyons in the Big Bend area. Canyon walls stand up 1,800 feet or more above the river bed. The ten-mile trip through Mariscal Canyon is short on distance, but more than makes up for it in absolute beauty. Just getting down to the canyon over land is an adventure akin to a safari. The area is acessible by an unimproved park road that is dusty, bumpy and slow. The terrain is less than friendly. Once on the water you begin to notice a stark contrast between the land route you crossed and the ride downriver.
The trip offers some good whitewater rapids requiring careful planning and execution, but nothing to dangerous. There are good places to scout your line or plan a route to portage or line your boat and gear around obstacles. Just above "Rock Pile Rapid" (there seems to be at least one by that name on every whitewater river!) is a rock shelf on right right (Mexican side) starting a few feet above the river and slanting upward to a cave about a hundred feet above the river from which excellent panoramic photos or videos can be shot amid awesome beauty in nature.
The trip begins at Talley, where Talley Ranch Road dead-ends at the river. You can camp here the night before your trip, if you are so inclined. It ends about 11 miles downriver (18 miles by car) at Solis, where you must have left a vehicle for your shuttle back to Talley. The Solis take-out is not easily recognized from the river, so it's a good idea to scout the take-out in advance of your trip and leave a marker of some kind that will let you identify it at the end of the trip. If you miss this take-out, then plan on paddling about 20 more miles through San Vicente and Hot Springs Canyons down to Boquillas. Assuming you did not miss the take out, at the end of this trip you will be ready to restock and hit it again!
Far southwest Texas, in Brewster County in the Big Bend area of the Rio Grande Valley along the Texas-Mexico border.
Dallas 520 miles; El Paso 340 miles; San Antonio 425 miles; Houston 625 miles; Austin 440 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)
Good most of the time, but muddy during periods of high water. Illegal dumping of heavy metals can lower the quality of the water at any flow rate. Flow is generally inadequate for river trips except during periods of significant rainfall. Beware of flash floods that can raise the river level and flow rates very quickly after rainfall in the drainage basin, even if it down not rain at the river. Due to the remoteness of the area it is generally best to be prepared for any and all weather possibilities.
Early November through mid-March is generally the best time to paddle the Rio Grande. Summertime temperatures can soar above 100° F. Spring and Fall are frought with the possibilities of flash floods. BBNP off-river camping areas are limited and may be very crowded during holiday periods or during the winter "snowbird" season, which is also the time most likely to have favorable paddling conditions. Summertime low-water conditions may be inadequate for rafting, but canoes can almost always navigate the river.
Entrance permits to Big Bend National Park are required for all vehicles entering the park for river access. Fees are $20.00 per vehicle (increasing to $25.00 in 2015) and allow park access for up to seven consecutive days. Leaving vehicles overnight in a campsite also requires an additional fee of $10.00 per car per night (there is no additional fee for leaving cars in designated parking lots, but you do need to get an "overnight pass" for your dashboard so that rangers will know yours is not an abandoned vehicle.) Backcountry permits ($10.00 per group / $5.00 with Senior Pass), issued by Big Bend National Park and available through local outfitters and BBNP Ranger Stations, are required for all trips on or along the Rio Grande by automobile or boat at all times. River runners in Mariscal Canyon are limited to a maximum group size of 20 people, and groups must launch at least two hours apart. Groups are not allowed to stop, eat or camp together along the river. For more information, call Big Bend National Park at (432) 477-2251.
Just after entering Mariscal Canyon sits a huge boulder in mid-river indicating that you are at Rock Pile Rapid that tends to gather tree trucks and other debris that washes down the river. Paddle to river left (Texas side), avoiding the boulder and debris pile. About a half mile below Rock Pile is Tight Squeeze, with a very large, flattop block of stone across much of the river bed. This is the first significant rapid in Mariscal Canyon, but not the last! A shallow, narrow channel on river left can be used for portages at low water levels. The right side has a 5 yard wide gap of whitewater running through a winding chute. Tight Squeeze can be scouted by beaching upriver about fifty yards - take advantage of this opportunity to plan your line before you run the Squeeze. Coming out of the right channel is a fast moving current through a narrow cut that drops about 3-4 feet before carrying you into a partially submerged boulder in mid-stream. A hard left turn at the bottom of the drop will avoid the boulder.
The rest of the trip through Mariscal is filled with fun, but not-too-challenging rapids and lots of gorgeous eye candy that begs to be photographed. Considering the shortness of this trip, it is possible to run it in the morning, eat lunch, shuttle back to the top and run it again so you can photograph anything you missed the first time. The shuttle distance (18 miles) is approximately twice the downriver distance (10 miles).
Put in at Talley, where Talley Ranch Road meets the river. This is the only put-in for the Mariscal Canyon trip. Take out at Solis, the only take-out for this section of the Rio Grande. Auto theft and vandalism is a recurring problem at backcountry parking areas, so do not leave unattended vehicles there if not necessary, and do not leave valuables inside vehicles. If valuables must be left with a vehicle, then make sure they are locked securely in the trunk.
There are no campgrounds or accommodations along this section of the Rio Grande. There is, however, adequate space for primitive camping at the put-in. Vehicles must be left at Solis, so be sure you have everything you need with you for camping at and/or running Mariscal Canyon.
There are at least four known commercial outfitters offering rentals, shuttles, guided trips and/or river information for this reach of the Rio Grande.
There is no river trip in Texas that can compare to the Rio Grande. The Upper Canyons offer moderate whitewater rapids breaking the calm of flatwater pools amid towering canyon walls on one or both sides. Native American culture is evident in the pictographs that appear on canyon walls dating back one or two hundred years, perhaps much longer. Hot and cold natural springs are many, as are caves, high, sheer walls of rock, boulder gardens in mid river and a chance to put life in perspective as you wonder about the age and geological process required to create such a beautiful, natural landscape.
The Rio Grande offers one of the few remaining true wilderness river trips in the United States. The Upper Canyons are a little easier than the Lower Canyons, and trips to the Upper Canyons can be planned for one or more Canyons during a single trip, each short enough to enjoy and long enough to fill you will awe at the adventure you experience. Colorado Canyon is the easiest water, though it is 22 miles unless you take out after 11 miles at Teepee Roadside Park. The rapids are a little more challenging in Santa Elena and Mariscal Canyons. The Lower Canyons offer the biggest water, reaching Class IV status during high water, on a 6-8 day trip into hundreds of years ago. You might see bears, mountain lions, bobcats, javelina, feral hogs, rattlesnakes, smugglers or who knows what else - or you may just see Mother Nature at her finest hour.