“A short out-and-back jaunt into the volcanic rock cliffs of Tuff Canyon.”
— Hunter R
This out-and-back, lollipop run is a wonderful option for those wishing to maximize their experience in Big Bend while on a short time budget.
Starting at the parking area, the trail winds along the cliff top to a series of overlooks showcasing the interesting geological phenomenon, known as a tuff, preserved in the canyon walls.
Formed from the accumulation and consolidation of volcanic ash after an eruption, tuffs are everywhere in Big Bend. In this particular spot, erosion from a seasonal stream has cut a canyon through which visitors can climb down into and view for themselves the layers of volcanic ash and debris emplaced in the canyon walls.
To experience the canyon floor firsthand, head west from the overlooks along the trail, eventually reaching the Tuff Canyon Access Trail. Travel down a lower-graded slope to the wash below before heading east through the canyon to the trail's end.
Be sure to bring water with you along the trail, as Big Bend's arid climate can quickly dehydrate even the most seasoned runner.
History & Background
Keep an eye out for layers of dark, volcanic rock in the canyon. This hardened lava is referred to as Bee Mountain Basalt and is dated around 34 million years old.
Above this layer, look for the lighter-colored, younger pyroclastic deposits, that are dated to around 29 million years old. These are the products of violent, volcanic events that showered particles down from explosions and where Tuff Canyon got its name.
Tuff is a rock that has been mostly formed from hardened ash. In this case, the name is misleading because much of the rock in this canyon was formed from volcanic particles that were bigger than ash so the rock is not technically tuff but pumice.