After leaving Stillwell RV park, we headed back to Big Bend. We should note that the 20 dollar pass to Big Bend buys you entry for the week, so you’re free to leave the park as you please. We started into the park at about 10am and were again in amazement as we headed towards a fuel station, and then, the Chisos Mountains Visitors Center (also a trailhead for The Window). While you are bordered on both sides by mountains, the initial interior of Big Bend is quite flat and low, however, the Chisos just kind of spring up out of nowhere. We made a turn and started our ascent into the basin, greeted with astonishing views on all sides as we disappeared up into the pass. After Chris did some work remotely from the Chisos Basin Store while Emily bought maps, stickers, and other paraphernalia for friends back home, we decided to do a medium-length hiking trail called The Window. Before taking you on our adventure down the trail, we would like to point out that even if you are not keen on hiking, the Chisos Basin area located in the Chisos Mountains is absolutely gorgeous. If you are looking for a picnic table with a view, there are a few here to pick from, and that view….it’s…well just go ahead and take a look at the pictures below! There are also camping and RV hookups in the basin if you’d like to camp somewhere with a higher population. The drive into the mountains is amazing, lots of tight switchbacks surrounded by nearly vertical rock faces, protruding far above, keep this in mind if you tow a trailer or have a large RV. Now, back to the hike!
We both usually like to do the most we can when on trips, but Emily had just received the okay to remove her boot cast a few weeks prior, so we decided to take it easy instead, doing as much exploring by truck as we could. We decided to go on a hike and letting Emily’s foot rest paid off incredibly well–we took a beautiful, sloping trail that followed a riverbed down to a break in the mountain that overlooked Mexico and the peaks beyond. From the visitor’s center, you can see that the basin is quite large, however, your perspective is skewed by your high vantage point, only after you make your way down the winding trailhead do you start to realize that this is a big, big place. Within the trail, one can spot almost every ecosystem that makes up the diverse Texas landscape. The trail became a little more treacherous towards the end, as we navigated over the seemingly dry riverbed that all of a sudden contained a small creek. There are some point that require climbing over slippery river rock and dealing with “stairs” that offer no holding points and a large fall, yet we saw plenty of little ones, big ones, young ones and old ones, with 2 legs or 4, making their way in and out of even the more difficult parts of the trail. Chris did his part in helping a family with several small children also traverse the somewhat difficult crossing, I will admit, one of them was accidentally dipped in the stream, but he was a squirmy little guy and Chris was already standing on wet, slippery river rock. Oops! Round trip, this hike took around 4 hours, but the end result was magnificent. On our return, we got up close and personal with some more wildlife as we noticed a fox moving in the brush ahead, and then spotted another, their den must have been right off of the path on the edge of the hill we walked past as they didn’t seem too bothered. As we arrived back at the trailhead, two mutual conclusions were reached: that hike was one of the prettiest things we have gotten to experience and we both really need to work out harder!
We decided to spend the rest of the day driving around the scenic road trails and stopping at overlooks, making our way south to our backcountry campsite on the banks of the Rio Grande. One of the amazing stops that we insist you check out is the Sotol Vista, just south of the Chisos Mountains. While leaving the mountain range, you don’t immediately notice, but you are climbing, just before a descent towards the river, and the Sotol Vista offers amazing panoramic views of the surrounding area, we really do wish that camping in this area was allowed! As we traveled deeper into the park, the sun was setting against a wide wall of mountains that delineates the US-Mexico border. We refrain from getting too political on this blog, but we agreed that anyone who can leave their home and cross terrain that treacherous might just deserve to arrive at their destination–but we digress. As we turned off the black top and onto what would become a mixture of sand, dirt, river silt and rock, we were greeted with one of the most relaxing drives of the journey. Gerald the Tacoma lumbered along at a steady 10 miles an hour and we took in the view, again and again, and again, it continues to change around you as you crest sharp hills and come around previously obscured bends in the road. The gorgeous sunset and banjo music playing on the radio were just icing on the cake as we wound our way along the trail. We arrived at our campsite just around sundown. We aimed this entire trip to not set up camp in the dark, but we found ourselves doing it almost every night anyway. If you visit Big Bend, definitely allow yourself more time than you think you need for your activities and setup time. We finished making camp in the dark, and were astonished that at close to 10 PM, it was still 83 degrees outside. You are not allowed to make campfires in the backcountry unless they are self contained, so we settled down with our many camp flashlights underneath the shelter that Chris constructed from our pop-up and a much-loved tarp, along with our Napier Sportz tent. As we sat back and relaxed, eating Hawaiian Roll sandwiches and enjoying the sound of the river, Chris gestured to the sandy ground underneath our feet at the huge, blood-red scorpion that had decided to see what all the fuss was about. Having never seen a scorpion outside of a Zoo before, Emily was a little rattled, but we were more anxious about the warnings we had received of bears and javelinas. For those of you (like Emily) who are not from the South and have no clue what a javelina is, it’s basically a really angry-looking wild boar. We did not sleep much that evening, as every noise outside the tent woke us up in fear that an animal or other interloper had invaded our campsite. Also, it got COLD. The temperature dropped very quickly from a breezy, dry 83 degrees at 10 PM to a bitter 45 degrees by 1 AM. Chris is currently working on developing a self-contained heater for the tent, and we look forward to using it on our next trip into the desert.
We woke to another beautiful sunrise, and to another day of exploring the park. We decided to take the River Road all the way out of our campsite–it is the longest off-road trail in the park, and offers incredibly scenery and highlights just how massive the park really is. As you traverse this road, you float in and out of dunes, gravel, sharp red rock, and acres upon acres of cacti. However, it does require a 4WD vehicle to make it all the way, you will encounter a few steep river bed entries and deep silt and gravel. We went miles without seeing another vehicle, and as we both enjoy wide open spaces and undisturbed nature, this was heaven for us. Emily wanted to end the day by seeing a few of the more popular destinations in the park, but we only had time for one. The closest was the famous Hot Springs and a nearby overlook of the Rio Grande. To get to the Hot Springs, you must take a one-way hairpin turn road that winds down to the river, and be warned–you can’t take an RV down it, so you must either leave your RV/ trailer or walk alongside the road. At the bottom of the road, there is a parking lot, and an old adobe building that used to be a post office and a general store. A sandy path lines the riverbank, and it’s about a quarter of a mile to the Hot Springs. Along this trail were petroglyphs carved into the cliff face next to the river that have been there for thousands of years, as well as the largest grove of palm trees that we’ve ever seen in Texas. As we approached the Hot springs, we saw that it was packed with people, and in reality is only a small, natural stone tub formation within the Rio Grande equivalent to the size of a large hot tub. If you do visit the Hot Springs when it’s packed, head east along the same trail and you will find a small outcrop overlooking the Rio Grande where you can dip your toes in the water and enjoy a view unimpeded by small children splashing around (nothing against kids, but that wasn’t how we wanted to spend our time).
We wanted to spend another day, three days, a week in Big Bend, but we had to move on, as it was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and we were expected in San Antonio to spend the holiday with Chris’s family. If we could do it over again (and we’re going to!), we would have allowed more time for ourselves to explore Big Bend. We drove out of the park very sad to leave but excited to sleep indoors that evening. The sun had started to set in the same magnificent way that each evening starts out in West Texas, this is something we both had started to fall in love with, the vast open landscapes, clear skies, and clean air. We both kept looking into the Tacoma’s mirrors to watch the sky light up with beautiful colors and shapes as Chris plowed ahead on the 6-hour drive to San Antonio, where we arrived just after 9 PM to hugs, smiles, and homemade gumbo.