The first journey of our westwardly bound road trip took us south to find some warmer temperatures and hiking opportunities. We almost skipped Big Bend National Park because it was a little bit out of the way, but we decided not to because neither of us had been before. It’s a surprisingly mountainous landscape in an otherwise mostly flat to moderately hill-countried Texas. Although it can be a a long drive from most of the major Texas cities, it’s definitely worth the gas.
Big Bend’s wide open desert landscapes are only interrupted by the many seemingly barren mountains that frame it in. Not until you drive up the most popular area, Chisos Basin, do you realize there’s actually a wide variety of ecosystems in the park including forests, grassy meadows and even a spring-fed oasis. It’s the kind of variety that makes the many hikes in the park worth experiencing.
We ended up staying for eight days as we skipped between two somewhat developed campsites, and then spent three days in a back country site three miles down a gravel road! It was great to experience the quiet and secluded nature of the desert. Big Bend is known for its great stars and we got some dark and clear nights to enjoy them. Here’s our attempt to capture Penny Lane lit up with the stars! We saw a professional photographer do it, but his didn’t look like aliens were circling the camper.
Overall, we hiked 25+ miles, including a major 15 mile hike that included the tallest mountain in Big Bend, Emory Peak. The campsites only cost us $14/day and the back country only required a $12 permit which was good for up to two weeks, so the minimal budget impact made me quite happy!
Big Bend isn’t for everyone though. You need an adventurous spirit and a longing for the great outdoors to truly enjoy it. Even the “developed” campsites are pretty undeveloped as none of them include showers or electric, but you can pay to shower at a camp store close to one of the sites. Big Bend does have a pretty nice restaurant and lodge which includes hotel rooms and separate cabins and you can find wifi around the visitor centers.
After Big Bend, we headed east through one of the more scenic drives in the US, from Lajitas to Presidio in Texas. The drive starts at the ghost town of Lajitas and continues through the Big Bend Ranch State Park. The road borders the Rio Grande River most of the way and takes you through the beautiful Chihuahua mountains with views of river meadows, tall mountains and little towns on both sides of the border along the way. Luckily, there was no big ugly wall to get in the way of the views.
Did you know there’s an artsy little town in the middle of nowhere, Texas? It’s called Marfa and it was once a sleepy little country town, but it’s been taken over by hipsters riding their street cruisers, wearing old-timey hats and just being artists. It apparently started thanks to a minimalist artist from the east coast who set up shop and set to transform the town. It’s actually quite a cool little town, but I’d consider it a detour rather than a destination.
The next destination was Guadalupe National Park on the eastern edge of Texas. The park includes the tallest mountain in Texas and portions of the largest fossilized permian reef, which is apparently the major reason why it’s a national park. We hiked up the tallest peak in the park, Guadalupe Peak which also happens to be the tallest mountain in Texas at over 8,700 feet! We were pretty surprised by the difficulty of the hike, which climbed 3,000 feet in 4.2 miles. It was a great hike and even included some snowy passages; it seemed much more like Colorado than Texas.
The main campsite is nothing more than a parking lot, but it’s cheap at $8/night and many of the major trail heads were just outside our door. It also provides for some good socializing because you can’t get away from anyone! We’ve also learned that many people are taking the same westwardly route as us, and we saw at least three groups who we also ran into at Big Bend. One afternoon seven of us met up for coffee and hung out for a few hours as the sunset. It was fun to trade stories, meet new friends and get tips on what to see next. To the west we go!
Here are some of our hiking videos:
and some more pictures: