Big Bend is a land of strong beauty – often savage and always imposing. – Lon Garrison
After six months on the road we arrived back in Texas with an out of date inspection sticker on the truck. On the way to Big Bend National Park, we opted to spend the night at the Lost Alaskan RV Park in Alpine Texas to take care of business. Little did we know that the 49th annual Terlingua Championship Chili Cook-off was in full swing so we ended up spending a second night in Alpine on the off chance that we wouldn’t be able to find a campsite in Big Bend.
We arrived by way of the Persimmon Gap Visitor Center where we received information on the park. There are five visitor centers in Big Bend with Panther Junction (located in the middle) being the main hub. Trailers over twenty feet and RVs over twenty-four feet are not recommended on the narrow winding road to Chisos Basin Campground. That left us to travel forty-six miles to our destination at Rio Grande Village where visitors have a choice of the full hook up RV Park or a campground with no hook-ups. With November high temperatures not much in the 80’s we opted for a more spacious campsite in the campground, with no hook ups, a reasonable amount of shade and an abundance of roadrunners.
In “what to see and do” in the park visitor guide, the park is segmented into three parts: Chisos Basin; Rio Grande Village; and, Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. It’s a logical approach that we fell into in exploring the vastness of Big Bend without even trying.
We started with an easy two mile hike in Boquillas Canyon on the park’s east side not far from where we camped. The Rio Grande serves as the international boundary between the U.S. and Mexico – despite the swift current it looked to our untrained eye to be a swift and easy crossing.
As we started hiking we noticed handmade merchandise placed along the trail and, as if reading our minds, we spotted the merchants waiting patiently on the other side of the river with a small boat. During the hike we were serenaded for our efforts. Encantado!
The next morning we were greeted by a pack of javelinas in our campground. By now, seasoned campers, we know to look out side the trailer before we let Skyler bound out into some unsuspecting wildlife. Luckily neither one showed much interest in the other.
Off we went to explore the other side of the park and thirty-three miles later we entered the Ross Maxwell Scenic Highway. This twenty-two mile road leads down to the westernmost side of the park and there are many opportunities along the way to stop to gawk, to have lunch, or to just take in the moment.
At the Castolon Visitor Center we explored the historic compound which reinforces the strong ties between the U.S. and Mexico. We had intended to take the unpaved Old Maverick Road on the return trip until the park ranger told us it is nothing special.
Arriving at the Santa Elena Canyon (the main feature of this area) we set off across the sandy path on an easy two mile hike into the canyon and back.
We encountered a pack of javelinas and stopped to watch them make their way down the trail. Fortunately, we were heading up.
Terlingua Creek faltered not far from the path but we could see that it would not take a great deal of water to connect the creek with the flow of the Rio Grande.
Absolutely stunning scenery. If you have time for only one canyon this is the one! Bonita!
Curiosity led us out of the park to check out the town of Terlingua just outside the west entrance. Nada.
On our drive back through the park we stopped in at the Chisos Basin visitor center. We wanted to check this area out a bit before returning to tackle the strenuous hikes of Emory Peak and to the South Rim. Six of the cabins and the six mile Basin Road were built by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) through FDRs New Deal. We are amazed at how much work the CCC did with simple tools and hard labor.
Back in camp we could see foul weather coming. And rain it did! For two solid days it kept raining and raining. We ended up having to relocate to the RV Park to hook Tex up before our batteries died. Solar panels are great for basics, but useless with no sun! A park ranger told us she had been at Big Bend for nine years and had never seen this much rain at one time. Some of the areas of the park received five inches and closures ensued, including Santa Elena Canyon. When it finally relented we headed back up to the Chisos Basin to hike. However, while gaining about 2,000 feet of elevation on the twisty road, we soon found ourselves deep in the clouds. We couldn’t see ten feet in front of us so back down the road we traveled!
Disappointed, we headed back to find out if the border was open at the Boquillas Crossing. Closed after 9/11 the border re-opened to visitors in 2013. Apparently, the “ferry” across the Rio Grande is a small boat and the “transportation” into the village is a donkey. Ja, ja, ja. We were told that the river had doubled in flow with the rain, but still within safe limits. Okay.
All plans changed, however, when we arrived back in camp. Our sweet girl was not doing well at all. Skyler’s muzzle and eyelids were flushed pink and her shoulder area swollen not far from the incision site. We had to get Skyler to a vet, preferably our vet, and that is sadly where our trip to Big Bend came to a close.
Up Next: Bittersweet Homecoming