From Guadalupe Mountains National Park, we headed further south to Big Bend National Park, a remote part of southern Texas that we’d never explored before.
We passed through Marfa, an artsy little town in the middle of nowhere, most famous for its Marfa Lights. They’ve constructed a pretty elaborate viewing area for seeing the lights, at which we stopped for lunch, but didn’t see the mysterious ‘ghost lights’ mostly because it was daylight. We stayed in Alpine for the night, then continued on to Marathon before heading due south another ~40 miles to the park entrance station, another 30 miles to the Panther Junction Visitor Center and yet another 20 miles to the campground.
Big Bend, named for a ‘big bend’ the Rio Grande takes along the park’s 118 mile boundary with Mexico, is huge. Established as a national park in 1944, the park encompasses an area of 800,000+ acres… that’s over a million square miles. In fact, that’s larger than the state of Rhode Island! The park is considered ‘Texas’ gift to the nation’ and was deeded to the USA by the state during the height of WWII. Perhaps offering a respite and a way of getting the nation’s mind off the war for just a second while thinking about preserving lands for the future.
The park holds the distinction of preserving the largest tracts of the Chihuahuan Desert in the USA and contains the entire Chisos Mountain Range. Dubbed by the Spaniards as “El Despoblado”, the uninhabited land, the park is anything but uninhabited. It has more species of birds, plants, cacti, butterflies, bats and reptiles than any other US national park. Just driving to the park, we saw mule deer, jackrabbits, roadrunners and, I hate to say it, tarantulas crossing the road. All that said, it’s one of the least visited national parks in the contiguous USA.
We had big plans for our week’s planned stay in the park. There’s a scenic drive, 150 miles of hiking trails through desert, mountains and along the river and a border crossing into the sleepy town of Boquillas, Mexico. We wanted to do it all, but not in a hurry. The winds we had experienced at Guadalupe Mountains NP had evidently followed us to Big Bend.
In the late afternoon, we took the Rio Grande Village Nature Trail from the campground up a limestone hill to an overlook with panoramic vistas of the Rio Grande and the Chisos Mountains. It was a primo spot for watching the sunset, but we were nearly blown off with the 40 mph winds that persisted all evening and throughout the night.
All was fine, sunny and calmer when we set off on the 6-mile roundtrip Hot Springs Canyon Trail the next morning. This moderately difficult trail was rocky, rugged and steep in sections, but provided great views of the mountains and the Rio Grande. Sometimes we walked along the rim of the canyon and other times, we were at the riverside watching canoeists and kayakers paddle by. The best part for me, of course, was soaking my feet in the hot springs, the banks of the icy cold Rio Grande just inches away.
After our little foray into Mexico, we stopped at the Panther Junction Visitor Center to plan out the rest of our park visit and get info about the Chisos Basin campground and hikes. We had been out of touch with internet and cell coverage since our arrival in the park and all of sudden our phone was buzzing with emails, texts and missed calls. A family emergency had us back at the campground, packing up and heading out of the park within a couple of hours. Things change so quickly in this life. In contrast to our usual slow pace, we drove over 1100 miles in just under two days to Colorado to be with family.
Despite the sad circumstances of our trip, we have had the opportunity to see our youngest son, Brad and his family as well as grandkids, nieces and nephews… a long overdue visit. And now… well, join us next time to see where we go from here.