Big Bend has been on my bucket list forever, and it has more than exceeded my expectations. Our drive from Comstock to our campground in Lajitas meant driving the whole length of the park, so we got a mesmerizing preview! The park is very spread out as it’s 850,000 acres (roughly the size of Rhode Island). It has 3 main areas – the Rio Grande, Chiso Mountains, and the Chihuahuan Desert. The Chisos are 40 square miles and the only mountain range in the US entirely contained inside of a National Park and they are also the southern most range. As you are driving through the park the first time, you will be in awe of the beauty surrounding you – there is no way to fully take it in. Ed and I were in the truck going back and forth – “Look over there”, “Did you see that?”, “I can’t believe it”, “WOW!”, etc. When you are towing an RV you just have to keep going, you can’t pull off or do little side explorations most of the time – too hard to find places to park. Also on moving day in the winters you only have so much daylight and we like to get to camp and get set up before dark. It took us almost 2 hours to drive through the length of the park but keep in mind the speed limit is 45 the entire way.
We stayed in Lajitas because we couldn’t stay in the park. Our rig is too big for most National Park campgrounds because they were formed so long ago no one ever expected you would have an RV that was more than 15 or 20 feet long. (We are 44 feet long) Also, we needed internet for Ed’s work. We chose Lajitas because it’s a resort town with internet, and also because it was just a mile from Big Bend Ranch State Park. The thought was we wouldn’t have time to drive to the places in the National Park by the time he finished work during the week so we would have some supplement hikes around so we could still play outside a bit before dinner each day. We also stocked up on two weeks worth of groceries, there are some small stores here with some supplies, but it’s limited and expensive. There are some restaurants at the resort, and a few in Terlingua, including the famous Starlight Theatre. We haven’t made it there yet but plan to before we leave. It’s always packed and you have to go and be in line at 5 pm when they open. If you are ever in town, stop by The General Store and meet the mayor – he is a goat! No joke, he won the election fair and square!
The next day we drove over an hour to do the Lost Mine Trail. Our preparations needed some work. We are staying south of the park in the desert, it was hot when we left. The Lost Mines Trail is in the Chiso Mountain range, and it was chilly! Like 15-20 degrees cooler and windy. We were dressed in shorts and tshirts. It was early in the day so we decided it would likely get warmer, we layered up with whatever we had in our truck, and I began climbing that mountain in shorts, with a zip up light jacket and a cardigan duster that came to my knees. I looked ridiculous and could have cared less because I wasn’t letting fashion keep me from this hike I had been anticipating! As we got higher up the switchbacks, the view made us forget anything else. And, it did get warmer, at least until we got to the top where it was windy and cold. We didn’t care about that either because the view from the top was unlike anything either of us had seen or experienced before and the adrenaline was keeping us warm! It was truly one of the best hikes we have ever been on. The only competition were ones we did in Yellowstone and the Tetons.
We knew to pack a cooler and food because there aren’t a lot of places to eat in the park and often you aren’t near any of them. After that day, we also started carrying lots of clothes options with us in the truck. Having to drive back to the RV would be prohibitive of going back to the park on any given day because it would have taken close to 3 hours round trip.
The state park has a lot of the same characteristics as the NP, if you saw pictures you might not know the difference. I can see why they didn’t want to cover both under the NP umbrella as it’s already 850,000 acres (size of Rhode Island), and the state park is another 300,000 acres and they are separated by about 40 miles. So, we did most of the drive to Presidio, and stopped and did the short HooDoo hike that leads you through rock formations and near a river. On the way back to our campsite, we also saw some javelinas raiding a picnic area that had teepees built over the tables. There are also some old movie sets in the park – where they filmed “The Road to Laredo” and “Fandango”.
We were able to squeeze in Santa Elena Canyon one evening as it’s at a closer point to us in the NP and only about 1.5 miles long. Another lesson learned – we needed water shoes because to get to the trail head you have to cross a creek. I knew that after reading about it but forgot to pack them. Oh, well, we got our shoes wet and went on with our hike. The views are so motivating you are just not going to let the details get you down. The view at the end was beautiful with the canyon walls perfectly reflected in the river.
We had just enough time before the sunset to do a nearby short trail called Dorgan-Sublett where the man who was first responsible for bringing mechanical farming to the area and his business partner had their ranch. Some of it’s still standing, some of it not, but it was interesting to think of how they lived, as we read through their story as we got to each homestead.
Finally, the weekend came and we were able to do a trail very near the Lost Mines trail called Windows. The hiking is reversed here – in this one you descend into oak creek canyon, do a little bit of boulder scrambling at the end to an opening that allows you to see a panoramic view of desert vistas. It’s rigorous on the way back, we had a total of about 4000 feet elevation change over the hike.
The next day we were able to go to an area of the park that was the furthest from us – containing the Boquillias Canyon, the Boquillias Crossing, and the Hotsprings. We started with the Boquillias Crossing which is a port of entry into Mexico. You cross the Rio Grande, either by a row boat operated by the village or you can walk through. Then, you can walk into the village or take a burro which comes with a tour guide who works for tips. We did all of the above as we wanted to support their economy as best we could. We were greeted in the village with kids swarming us with bracelets. I am a sucker for kids of course and bought more than what I have figured out to do with yet. Felipe was our guide, and he was very open to sharing all about their culture. He took us to one of the two restaurants and waited while we ate lunch. He sat and visited with some friends. When we were finished he took us to his home. He explained that his wife has a small shop there. His home was humble, we entered into the main room which had a dresser, a king bed and a queen bed. His wife and two sons were there to greet us in the room they all likely slept as a family in. We bought some mugs, we actually needed them because we only have solo and yeti cups at the RV.
Then he took us through the village and showed us their school, one of two of their churches, their local bar, their health clinic, etc. We talked about how they lived, where they got water, and how their village’s electric is run on solar panels. Living with solar panels ourselves, we asked what happened during the summer when it was 120 degrees and everyone was running their AC. He shared that they wear out their power during the day, and at night there is no power. They sleep outside, it’s 80 degrees at night. We also asked him about what if someone had a heart attack or other major problem where they needed a hospital. He said it was 160 miles to “the big city” and the road was rough and rocky. He shared that when he was a teenager there a 4 year old was bitten by a snake and despite their efforts to get him to the big city asap, he died on the road there. It’s always so humbling to visit places like this and realize how our neighbors suffer. It doesn’t seem fair to be born just a mile from a border where on the other side people have so much. I always take note of the ways they express their resilience and how they have peace and happiness, it’s just a reminder that we do not need all the things we think we do in order to be happy. In a perfect world, we could all recognize we could do with less and offer others a little more so we might all have comfort and ease. We gave Felipe everything we had left in our pockets before we crossed back, wishing we could do more. According to his information, we were able to cover his electricity for several months. If you go, take what you can to help, but know you will always wish you had brought more.
We went back through the port of entry and headed to the Boquillias Canyon for another short hike. I think this hike would have been better had it been warm enough to just walk through the Rio Grande rather than parts of the trail that were a bit sketchy. The view of the river was beautiful but we preferred Santa Elena Canyon if you only have time for one.
We then headed to the hot springs. After a week of hiking over 30 miles we were eager to soak! We do miss having a tub with some epsom salts! The hot springs here are basically contained in the foundation of what remains of the Langford bathhouse. On the short hike to them, you can see petroglyphs from thousands of years ago (they are pictures of vegetables), and the old resort rooms they rented. It was very busy on the day we went, I think we would have had a better experience through the week where others told us they sometimes had them to themselves. On this day, it was a lot of college students who were interesting to listen to until you kind of wish they would take a breath and relax a little!
We still have a fair amount we would like to do before we leave next weekend. I need to do some travel planning – I know we are heading into New Mexico and going to three national parks next – Carlsbad Caverns, White Sands, and Guadalupe Mountains but I haven’t made reservations yet. Our travel plans were up in the air for a little while due to some changing assignments with Ed’s work. Now that we seem to be past that, it’s time to do a little more concrete planning.