1/16-1/27/2022- Big Bend NP-Carlsbad Caverns NP

Our trip to Big Bend was a personal favorite so far for me. We have numerous NP’s on my bucket list coming up in the next 6 months as we make our way through Arizona, California, Oregon, and Washington. Right now we are in New Mexico, a state I have not yet been (now all that remains are some New England states, Oregon, Alaska and Hawaii). Unfortunately due to the time of year we are mostly staying south with the exception of a trip to Albuquerque to go to the airport to make a visit home to see friends and family for a few weeks. We will make a point to visit Sante Fe and Taos when we go to Colorado sometimes during a better time of year weather-wise.

That’s one of the things I have been working on – trip planning. I have found a place that will store the RV while we are gone, have booked flights (that were surprisingly reasonably priced!), booked a hotel for the night before our flight and upon our return home. All set. I also sat and projected out about the next 8 months of travel so I could figure out meet-ups with people and another trip home later in the year. Here is a high level overview of what it looks like:

Some people had asked, why not take the RV? It’s simple, we are about 25 hours of driving time away from West Virginia/North Carolina. Though that’s only one consideration – we are also on an intentional driving flow that follows weather of 60-80 degrees. Hitting different places at the right time is important. For example, Big Bend would not have been possible this summer. There is no way this gal could have done all that strenuous hiking in 120 degree weather and enjoyed it. If we do not lose our place by driving 3000 miles round trip, we will stay on our path and see a lot of the desert parks before the end of April. Also with plans of going north from May-September, we want to be driving south during October/November to beat winter.

So, long story short, we don’t want to lose our place. Driving home would have set us back several months. It’s also worth noting that since we will be staying with family, flying back is much less expensive than hauling all that way.

Alright, so now for the travel recap! By the time we hit our second week of Big Bend, there was only one more hike that was on my “must do” list, and a few on the “maybe” list. We wanted to do a slot canyon in Big Bend Ranch State Park called Closed Canyon, and in the NP -the Upper-Burro Mesa Pour Off, and Grapevine Hills to Balanced Rock. I would say the order those are listed are not only chronologically accurate, it was a crescendo from good to best.

Closed Canyon was okay, it was close to where we were staying and a good short hike that we could do in the early evening. Nothing challenging about it, and nothing noteworthy either in comparison to other experiences in the area. There are some old western movie sets in the state park, we stopped where they films “Streets of Laredo”. Further north there are remnants of the set of Fandango.

Upper-Burro Mesa Trail was a nice scenic walk until towards the end when there was a lot of boulder scrambling. The end of it wasn’t as climatic as the Windows Trail, but it was fun climbing around on the rocks.

I am so glad we left Balanced Rock for last – it was definitely one of our top hikes and a great one to end our adventure on. (If you only had a few days in the park, I would recommend Lost Mine, Windows, Balanced Rock, Santa Elena Canyon) Balanced Rock came with rewarding views at the end that I was not expecting.

We also made it over to the Starlight Theatre and Saloon in Terlingua one evening. It’s located in the Terlingua ghost town, and in the 1930’s was one of the first places you could view moving films in Texas during the quicksilver boom. We did not go through the ghost town itself, but we did visit the funky gift shop next door and sat on the porch where people congregate and visit before the restaurant opens at 5pm. Since it’s where the chili cookoffs all began, it was only fitting to try a cup of their delicious award winning chili for our appetizer. I had the brisket tacos and Ed had the antelope burger. They do have a pretty interesting menu with all sorts of cactus dishes, and unusual meat entrees. This establishment is a must visit if you are in the area – they often have bands and karaoke too, just not on the night we went.

There aren’t many restaurants around, but we also hit up the Taqueria on the same road as the Starlight a couple of times. After a long day hiking in Big Bend (with a long drive back) that place really hit the spot! Fresh, delicious, inexpensive, made to order Mexican food served in open air with very little wait – we loved it!

In full disclosure, I snagged these photos from the internet. I was having fun and didn’t think to take any. The Taqueria now has tables that extends past the pavement allowing a great view of the night sky!

We decided we were ready to move on and left Lajitas a day early. We loved this area, but it does wear on you to be so isolated. We were on week 3 of feeling that because we visited Seminole Canyon just before. So, we headed here to Carlsbad, New Mexico. There was little to see between the two – rural fields and desert. However, there are two national parks here side by side – the Guadalupe Mountains and Carlsbad Caverns. We drove through Guadalupe on our way in and saw many elk, but we haven’t been back to visit that park because it’s been too cold to go hiking in the mountains. Also, it’s appearance is a bit underwhelming after having just been in Big Bend.

Our visit to Carlsbad Caverns was much better than I was anticipating. We have all been to caverns somewhere – yeah this isn’t like that! You can either take an elevator down into it, or do like we chose – hike down to the natural entrance for a 2.5 mile self-guided trip through the cave. It was so massive it was hard to believe we were 75 stories below the earth’s surface – roughly the size of the empire state building! We would have loved to have done some of ranger guided programs too, but all of that has been on hold since Covid. They are also only allowing 550 people in the cave a day, so if you go you want to have reservations through their site prior. The air doesn’t circulate well in the cave so they are both limiting guests and requiring the use of masks. They charge just $1.00 for the reservations and with the NP annual pass it didn’t cost us anything additional to tour. If you go a little later in the year you can see the bats fly out each evening. Right now, they are on vacation in Mexico!

The remainder of the week was playing catch up. We were so busy at Big Bend we had a lot of business items waiting with the Airbnb and our rentals. I also needed to sit down and work on our personal finances, do some of the trip planning I was talking about, and get stocked back up on groceries since we depleted most of ours being isolated for several weeks.

We also had our 20 year anniversary this week. We played it pretty low key since we are doing so many cool things and having a lot of quality time together already. We were going to go out for a nice dinner, but we had a neighbor over who had offered to weld our rollers back on our RV. They are there so the backend doesn’t scrub on the hills (it was very hilly on our way in). By the time he was done, it was the coldest it has been with a threat of desert snow. So, we just went to a pizza place up the road and came back to warm up. Fine with us since often our favorite time of the day is to curl up together on the couch and watch something on TV. Our water did freeze that night, but no damage to our hoses or water heater.

We are heading to Roswell on Saturday because we love the weird! You can be first to find out if we had any alien sightings! 🙂 Then, I am excited to visit Ruidoso. My understanding is that it’s like Jackson Hole before it became commercialized. If that’s even partially true, I will be in heaven! Jackson, WY is one of my absolute favorite places! Until then my friends:

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