Big Bend

Prior to and during our travels, we’ve had so many great tips for places to see that it’s impossible to keep track. I try though. What I especially like about the tips is watching people tell about their travels. Their faces soften as they relive the memory of a life changing experience. It makes me realize how important it is for Holly and me to be doing this. The one tip we get more enthusiastically than any other has been: Don’t miss Big Bend. We didn’t miss it. Tonight, we try to shake some of the Texas dust off our boots and get ready to roll out tomorrow. Over dinner this evening, Holly said, ”Yesterday was good. Today was good. Every day is good. We’re really lucky.”

Big Bend has made a lasting impression. We began by staying a couple days parked up road on the land of a friend of a friend. The solitude and skylines of distant ranges set the stage for our trip to Big Bend. We stayed outside the park, not having planned ahead to book dispersed backcountry camping – which certainly would have been our preference. The park is huge – 800,000 acres – so travel took a fair amount of time. It has a completely self contained mountain range – the Chinos Mountains. It is the largest Dark Sky Preserve in the world. And, while unendingly varied and beautiful, I have the sense that it is most of all a blank slate. Time here is an empty page waiting to be filled. And, though we love the act of departing, we know we will return.

We were offered this spot to park for a couple of days through a friend of an acquaintance. The owner wasn’t there, but we did listen to her music. She is a singer songwriter.
This was our Hipcamp spot for four nights. There is cheap dispersed camping in the park, but we were unable to book it.

As always, as much as we were enthralled by the landscape, it was the range of people and the absence of people that made the greatest impression. Part of our stay was a quick trip into Mexico. The US National Park Service is under agreement with Mexico to have a simplified crossing from Big Bend NP to the Mexican town of Boquillas del Carmen. We were able to cross the Rio Grande without documentation and walk to the village. We would need our passports to return, though. The crossing was by rowboat – five bucks each round trip – but we could have walked, water conditions permitting. Then, our options were: walk to town (free), hop on a burro ($10), ride a horse ($15), get a ride in a truck ($20). We walked. Boquillas del Carmen seemingly gets by solely on American dollars that make the crossing. We had a wonderful lunch of goat tacos and returned – not having purchased any of the goods being sold everywhere. While we enjoyed the foray, it also made me question why life would be utterly different a mere 40-foot rowboat ride away.

Our Rio Grande crossing from Big Bend NP to Boquillas del Carmen, Mexico.
This is Abraham, who rowed us from Boquilla del Carmen, Mexico to Big Bend NP, USA. Portrait by Holly.
Our walk to town from the river crossing.
A church in Boquillas del Carmen.

I’ll share some landscape images below, but honestly it feels silly. The space is vast, the horizons endless, and the features so varied that they seemed a child’s drawing. We had to simply accept being there, part of some bigger timeline than our own, and breathe it in.

Part of the Terlingua, TX ghost town. Terlingua is just outside the park, and home to a former quicksilver mine. The old cemetery is still in use.
A grave in Terlingua Cemetery.

After exploring a bit of the Chihuahuan Desert, we went to the Chisos Basin in the center of Big Bend. This is a vastly different place than the surrounding desert – higher, cooler, treed, grassy – and a welcome break from the heat.

This is a view of The Window in Chisos Basin, in the center of Big Bend NP. The basin is a distinct ecosystem, formed by volcanoes, from the surrounding desert. The entire Chisos range lies within the boundaries of the park.
Grassland at higher altitude in the Chisos Basin.
Holly soaking in the view on the Basin Loop Trail at Chisos Basin.

After Chisos Basin, we went to Langford Hot Springs for a soak. We needed the Jeep we had rented for the day to navigate the road down. Early last century, the area was a well known resort for people seeking the healing powers of the spring. I can’t imagine what it must have taken to make that trek 100 years ago.

Here we are driving near the abyss at the hot springs. WARNING: I cuss.

We really put the Jeep to the test and drove five miles into backcountry on Old Ore Road. It was a hair raising drive, but amazingly, others were doing the drive in ordinary little SUVs. We followed a Mazda SUV driven by a Russian man to the Ernst Tinaja. This was a magical place. The Tinaja – Spanish for ”earthen jar” – is an elaborately eroded area with swirling rock and deep potholes.

The Ernst Tinaja. We walked this ancient dry riverbed for about a mile. My images can’t capture the effect.
The Ernst Tinaja.
Holly and me in the Ernst Tinaja. The photo is courtesy of a lovely Russian woman whose husband had just navigated the backcountry in a Mazda SUV. This is me REALLY smiling.
Video of Ernst Tinaja.

Renting the Jeep was fun, and got the bug out of my system to buy a Jeep. It was cool to see people camping deep in the backcountry.

This is Bee Mountain in Terlingua. I share it because it is so ordinary. Bees do seem to live there. On such a blue and stark day, it felt like a cheap front on a Hollywood back lot, ready to tip in a weak wind. The only way we came to terms with such a thing was to slow down and take it in.
Here’s a little drone work of our spot in Terlingua, courtesy of a cool young man we met.

The evening before our departure, we met a family with two teens from the little town of Sweeny, TX. As we chatted though, Holly and I got itchy to move on. We have a lovely, if challenging, drive ahead as we put Sandy on the steepest paved road in Texas. If you don’t see a post sometime soon, you can imagine what might have happened.

One thought on “Big Bend

  1. I love that you rented a jeep to drive I to the back country. Our next vehicle will be a 4WD so we can do just that. I hate to miss things and The Ernst Tinaja looked interesting.

    It is amazing how popular Big Bend has gotten in the last 5 years when we made an impromptu visit and there was plenty back country camping.

    Just popping over to Mexico makes you think about how close we are but how amazingly different we are. For me, the US seems so dull compared to the rich culture of Mexico.

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