Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Big Bend National Park (TX)

Before leaving the SW last April to return to MO, we had wanted to drop down to visit Big Bend NP. While waiting for the snow to stop in MO tho, Big Bend was already heating up to 90°. Nope, too warm for our comfort level (which seems to get narrower as I age). So this winter, we made the Park our first stop.

We traveled from Branson MO to Fayetteville AR first, then down to Ft Smith AR, & continued south on the far-eastern side of OK on Highway 59. We didn’t realize the AR Quachita Mountains that we enjoyed last Spring continued into OK too. So we traveled up, over, & thru a gorgeous forested mountain area in SE OK. It was a nice break from flat land most everywhere else in OK, & we crossed over into TX easily.

Last summer, I actually bought an app for my Droid cell phone — AllStays — & have been very happy with it. I love the various filters for singling out exactly what kind of overnight stop we want. It displays Corps of Engineer & BLM campsites too, but for some reason only displays State Parks without providing any additional information. Since we’re very frugal when paying for campsites, we don’t use State Parks often due to higher costs (although usually much prettier than commercial campgrounds).

Consequently, we camped at a little city park, Monticello City Park, just SW of Mt Pleasant TX (along I-30), east of Dallas for $11/night including electricity (no pictures taken). First thing, we noticed was an increase in humidity since we were on the west side of a large lake (across from a power plant). Kira & Boots both enjoyed having fresh, green grass to munch on & roll in too.

Although we prefer to shun-pike (avoiding Interstate roads), we needed to make fast miles to escape the continuing winter so we stayed on I-20 around (seemed like thru) Dallas/Ft Worth). Whew. . .please keep me away from all that traffic & speed. We’ll take local roads around that place next time. Thankfully, we survived all that stress & continued west on I-20 toward Abilene. Then we turned south off the interstate to spend the night at a Corps campground — Flat Rock Lake, SW of Coleman TX.

Although the lake was down (what a surprise), nearly all the campsites had lots of mesquite trees around them. The sites were very level with concrete picnic tables & metal tube guard rails around each site. The campground was loaded with deer (black-tail we think). We saw some good-sized herds all around the area. No pictures again — I was just soaking up the peaceful solitude.

Our third day getting to Big Bend was on Highway 67 mostly, cutting SW across huge expanses of oil-rig country & little, dusty TX towns. We still didn’t see much traffic as I guess lots of people were not working or out running around this holiday week.

After gas & a Wally World run in Ft Stockton January 3rd, we actually drove into Big Bend NP.

We continued to drive for another hour just to get to one of three dry campgrounds in the Park. There’s one small (25 rigs) campground with full hookups at Rio Grand Village RV Park. . .which was full, so we went to the Rio Grand Village Campground.

The Park has a campground on the eastern side (Rio Grande Village), one on the western side (Cottonwood), & one up on the mountain in the middle (Chisos Basin). The first full day, we drove down the 7-mile Dagger Flat gravel road to see a grove (forest??) of giant dagger yuccas.

Then we drove down another (rougher) gravel road, Grapevine Hills, to see the Balanced Rock. It’s a mile hike from the parking lot, & since Jeff still has problems with one knee & his back, I made the journey alone. First off, I am NOT a hiker — walking Kira is usually my limit. But I like big rocks — so I really wanted to see this. The first three-quarters of a mile is on a sand/gravel path slowly winding it’s way to the end of a canyon. No problem — just keep putting one foot in front of another. Did I mention it was overcast, breezy, & 66° that day? Perfect weather.

However. . .the last .25 mile of the hike was UP, I mean scrambling up the rocks like a mountain goat. OMG, as I climbed higher & higher, I couldn’t stop thinking about how I was going to get back down. And there wasn’t anyone else around & no cell fon service. What WAS Jeff thinking letting me go out alone like this (that’s a whole ‘nuther story tho)??? Thankfully there was a couple coming down from the Balanced Rock as I was climbing up that treacherous part who showed me a picture they took & affirmed that it was worth the climb. Yeah right — no since stopping now (puff, puff).

        This really was part of that trail — UP!

I was so engrossed in looking down at my feet to pick my path up the rocks & gravel that I nearly missed the Rock! OMG, it’s a small HOUSE-sized boulder wedged between two other big rocks on the edge of the top of a canyon, not balanced as much as wedged. Anyway (short of NOT being Utah red), it really was a fantastic sight & (puff puff) worth the climb (providing I live long enough to get off these rocks).

Now, getting down! Hmmm, where was that trail again? Not being a hiker, I didn’t realize large rocks along the side of THE path means don’t go that way. It’s NOT the path. I ended up sitting down (kind of a 5-point crawl) & slowly inching my way down some rocks only to discover from the previous couple now way below on the return path looking up at me that I was definitely going the wrong way. Oh bad words & dirty names!!! I so must have a guardian angel looking after me because another couple was just getting to where I was & guided me back up & onto the correct path thru the rocks. Whew!!! They even gave me some water to drink cause I was sweaty & thirsty by then. OK, so a few more sit-down descents across sloping rocks of the correct trail, & I actually made it down to the gentle, gravel trail once again. Life was good!! Geez Louise, what WAS I thinking? This is a tad over 2 miles round trip — but that last straight-up part was unexpected. And Jeff had been waiting in the parking lot for me for nearly 2 hours while I was off in the wilderness alone. I DID mention I’m not a hiker, right? I promptly wrapped my self around some ibuprofen & hoped I’d be able to get out of bed the next morning.

Funny thing about exertion, it sort of creates more energy (what a concept). After resting comfortably at our trailer for an hour at least, I remembered I wanted to take the Nature Trail at the edge of our campground. I still hadn’t actually gotten to see the Rio Grand River although I was pretty sure those mountains to the south were actually Mexico. First I crossed four metal ramps across an estuary next to the Rio Grand, then walked up hill to a long series of steps leading way up there on top of a huge rock, overlooking the River & valley. After my earlier hiking experience of the day, this was a piece of cake (only a wee bit of puffing to the top). But — oh, the expansive view. And hey, there’s the Rio Grand River. . .& Mexico. There was about 5 minutes of colorful sunset. . .but my camera battery died just before. I still got these from the overlook tho.

Oh how I hoped I’d be able to move the next morning enough to make it to the bathroom without screaming. Surprise, I felt pretty normal (how’d that happen?) the next morning. And the Artic Vortex that froze half the US came roaring into our campground about 6am Sunday morning, dropping the temp about 20 degrees & trying to blow your freckles off your face. Brrrrr. In spite of the cold wind, we headed off for some more sightseeing that morning. We went to the far eastern side of the Park to see the River again & the Boquillas Canyon. The little Mexican town of Boquillas is just across the River & for $5, will take you to a cafĂ© on a burro. Hmmm, that’s never quite made my bucket list, so we didn’t try that.

Lastly, we drove down this narrow little split road to see the hot springs.

There are several buildings along the Rio Grand here, but the foundation only of a building right along the River contains 105° water until it overflows the foundation & dumps directly into the Rio Grand. We found this Canadian couple soaking up the warmth.

We also ran into some guys along the River bank who were from NW Arkansas. What a small, crazy world, huh?

Then we packed up & headed up the mountain in the middle of the Park to the Chisos Basin (a valley surrounded by mountains). It was a gorgeous area but we didn’t find any level campsites & decided to continue on west to the last campground.

The small campground is on the bottom right & the “Window” is in the middle.

It’s a long drive to the far western edge of the Park, but the scenery is fabulous. From several high points, I noticed a notch in the far-off mountains & hoped the road didn’t go thru or up that opening.

Little did I know that is the Santa Eleana Canyon that the Rio Grand has cut on it’s way to the Gulf of Mexico. Wow, impressive! (Remember my amazement with large rocks.) The road to the Cottonwood Campground dropped along the way, providing gorgeous, expansive views along the way.

These colorful cottonwoods are where the campground is located.

After getting set up, we drove 7 miles or so west to see the Santa Elena Canyon up close & personal. Wow & double wow. This was the best part of Big Bend for me.


Now the border between the US & Mexico follows the Rio Grand & it comes from the south at this point. . .so the land on the west side of the River here is US property. So on the west corner of the Canyon, a scenic walk has been created. And. . .I decided to walk up it. It is straight up. . .& straight down. (OMG, I hate getting DOWN off anything. I just hugged the inside of this ramp/stairs going down.)

But the view to the NW from up there was gorgeous.

The camp host at Cottonwood told us to also continue on the same road after it turned to gravel to visit Terlingua Flats. We bumped along the washboard gravel road & finally turned onto the trail going to the boondocking area. There was ONE camper there. . .which turned out to be the guys from Arkansas that we’d met at the hot springs just the day before. Since they were on the western edge of the Park, I suspect they could pick up some cell service from the local community (there isn’t much coverage in the Park except out along the main roads), & the man’s wife (back in Bentonville AR) sent him a photo of the 2” of snow they had received overnight. Boy was he happy to not be in that. It’s an even smaller world than I ever imagined.

That evening at the campground, we had some visitors. First time I’ve actually seen javelinas. They were very unconcerned with the people standing around taking photos. . .as long as you don’t get between them & their food or babies. And they’re not related to pigs either.

So after three nights & two long days of exploring Big Bend National Park, we packed up & boogied toward New Mexico Monday morning. I know there was lots more to see & do (it’s a huge area & many miles between attractions), but we were anxious to get to even warmer weather in NM & AZ. Paying $7/night to boondock in a national park isn’t bad. . .but we were looking forward to free BLM boondocking. If you want photos of Big Bend, click on any of these to go to my Picasa albums.

1 comment:

  1. Oooh thanks for bringing it all back! We were in all those places you were 2 years ago.... we took our suits and laid in the hot springs too. (the hottest part was right where those 2 people were sitting) What a lovely area and we are sooo glad we went there!

    We did also stay at the Stillwell Ranch up on the NE side of the park, because some days were too hot to leave our dogs along in the motorhome without an electrical hookup to keep the AC going for them.
    Karen and Steve
    (Blog) RVing: The USA Is Our Big Backyard


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