Days 57 – 61 – Big Bend National Park

Chisos Basin Hike

Connecting with friends and family that we both haven’t seen in what feels like forever has been an amazing aspect of this trip. A friend of mine from high school lives in Lubbock, TX and wanted to see us on our trip down to Big Bend National Park, it was just about the halfway point down to the park so it was a perfect opportunity to stop and see some friends! We stopped and had some dinner with them, hung out for a while then they put us up in a hotel for a night so we could cozy up before what was about to be a huge stretch on our trip. March 1st began our 21 day camping streak.

Terlingua

Our drive down to Big Bend changed drastically from the rest of the south. Gas prices rose, towns got a lot further away from one another and we saw buttes & mesas everywhere we looked! We arrived to Big Bend just before they closed their main visitor center and unfortunately all of their in-park camping was full. However, right outside the park (about 30 miles away) is a town called Terlingua, they’ve got a population of 58 but they’ve got a bunch of camping for campers that aren’t able to get a spot inside the park. We ended up camping at Topanga Ranch for the night and we didn’t regret it. It was the middle of the week, so we were the only ones in the campground… and the stars, oh my. The stars were amazing. We got up early the next morning to see the sunrise, but learned quickly that when the sun rises behind a mountain it doesn’t give quite the same effect.

Terlingua Night Sky

Another reason why we got up early that next morning was so we could get a spot to camp within the park. There are campsites that are reservable inside Big Bend but the rest of them are first come, first serve. “Check out” is noon, but if the group before you is gone before that time you can snag up their campsite. Luckily we found one right in the Chisos Basin, pretty much in the middle of the park. You don’t realize it until you get to national parks, but these parks are HUGE. Big Bend was easily 60 miles wide. It takes almost an hour just to get to where you want to go, but it’s so worth it! After we set up our tent we drove out to the Boquillas Canyon Overlook trail. It’s an easy trail that runs along the Rio Grande, so  yes… You’re right next to Mexico! We had a good time hiking this trail, we made it a bit more difficult by continuing past where the trail stopped and we had to climb a bit to get to this little patch of dirt, but we got an awesome view from the canyon.

Boquillas Canyon Overlook

Right next to the Boquillas Canyon Overlook there’s actually a border crossing within the park so you can cross over into the Rio Grande Village in Mexico, if you’ve got a passport of course. It’s a super little town that mostly survives off of the tourism from the park, but they’ve got a few restaurants and they sell little trinkets and bags. To get to the village they’ve got a little row boat that goes back and forth from America to Mexico then you’ve got the option to either walk, ride a burro (donkeys) or ride in a truck to get into town. We both rode burros and got drinks while we were there for an affordable price and I got a small gift for my dad to send back home.

 

Instead of camping at a normal campsite the next night we decided to backpack to a site up on the South Rim to get the most out of the park. Backpacking is no joke, especially in the heat that Texas has during the day. Not only do you have to carry enough food & water for yourself but you’ve got to be able to carry it. Elliot has backpacked before, but this was my first time. I complained the entire way up, I’m not going to lie about that. We hiked almost 10 miles up to our campsite. We carried our tent, two sleeping bags, 4 liters of water, enough food for lunch, snacks & breakfast, sunscreen, Icy Hot and CLOTHING. It gets super cold at night when you’re up high. So needless to say, our packs were pretty heavy… But it was beyond worth it, we saw so many amazing sights. We were able to catch sunset about a mile away from our campsite at an amazing lookout point. It got cold that night, it was definitely hard to sleep but we made it work!

South Rim sunset

We woke up the next morning to rain. Because why wouldn’t we? Thankfully we were able to wait it out, we had a mostly downhill hike ahead of ourselves… But it still was at least a 5 mile hike to our car. And, I forgot to mention… Our campsite that night was a little more than a mile away because we decided to backpack in again. Since we already had our site booked we stopped at the Hot Springs within the park. Elliot enjoyed the warm water, I just dipped my feet in (it really grossed me out). But it was cool to see and the whole walk down to the Hot Spring was really amazing. Not only is the wall unique just because of the rock formations, but there’s also pictographs (rock art) along the wall from thousands of years ago. That night we hiked back up to our new campsite and we pretty much passed out right away. We ate while we were off the trail so we didn’t have to worry about carrying too much food, just breakfast. And it was already dark, so we didn’t have to worry about too much water either, but our bodies were sore. Just because it was only a mile didn’t make it easy, especially because it was all uphill.

We woke up the next morning pretty refreshed, and were ready to head up toward El Paso. But before we left we stopped at what we originally thought was going to be our first stop, Santa Elena Canyon. Certain parts of the year this area of the park is closed due to flooding. There are markers on the side of the road up to 5 feet high to measure how high the water is, I don’t think anyone would want to drive their car into that! Our bodies were tired but we were happy we walked at least half of the trail. It was an amazing view down the canyon and if you yelled there was an amazing echo! I yelled and people answered me back, which has made me smile for the last month.

Santa Elena Canyon

All in all, Big Bend was so amazing to us. We really pushed ourselves to get to certain points in the park. And while, it wasn’t at all easy for me to hike the South Rim what made it easy for me was the support Elliot offered me. He knew I was having a hard time, but he knew we could both do it. We needed the space from the rest of the world for a few days, as hard of a time that we had after San Antonio we really needed some time away from big cities, and being so far away from them gives you sense of what you can do on your own. We have many other National Parks we’re going to see on this trip but I’m sure that Big Bend will remain one of my favorites.

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