Backtrack to Big Bend - Part 1

It is one of the most exciting sensations, to be deeply immersed in an unfamiliar location, without an itinerary. You can go in any direction you want, for as long as you want, guaranteeing amazing new experiences and discoveries.

From Flagstaff, I opted to return to Texas, to visit Big Bend National Park, which I was disappointed to have bypassed weeks before due to time constraints.

The drive to Big Bend was a more ambitious hop than usual. It took me over 12 hours, taking me through Phoenix, Tucson, Las Cruces, El Paso, Marfa, and placed me in the renaissance ghost town of Terlingua, Texas, immediately adjacent to Big Bend.


¡Viva Terlingua!

Terlingua is a bit unusual. It blossomed as a mercury mining community in the late 19th century, and began its industrial decline in the early 20ths century. As many as 3000 people lived there in the 1930s, but today, there might be 100 full-time residents.

The folks who reside in Terlingua are artists, wanderers, merchants, and free-thinkers. The community is close-knit, and the town itself feels like it is immune from the drama of the outside world.

While I was there, I patronized a charming, open-air coffee shop, a tavern that crafts amazing burritos, a sprawling general store, and an old theater that had been transformed into a popular restaurant.

Terlingua oozed character, and in a strange way, it felt like home.


My First National Park

You guys know by now that this journey isn’t backed by things like planning or even research. It’s more like a knee-jerk, full-body heave in the general direction of new experiences.

As such, upon arriving at Big Bend National Park, I discovered that I had to pay for a $25 entrance pass that was valid for 7 days. I was unfamiliar with this concept, as there are few National Parks in the east. It was a minor inconvenience, but not a show-stopper.

Also, despite the countless square miles of mountains and desert wilderness, dispersed camping is not allowed. There are primitive, remotely-located campsites, but one has to reserve them like one is reserving a hotel room.

In hindsight, I get it. The National Parks are attractions that draw countless people - many of whom aren’t equipped, with either the gear or the common sense, to survive in a wilderness environment. Subsequently, they go to great lengths to protect both the visitors, and the national treasure that is the park.

This was contrary to my mission to discover places off of the beaten path, but I found that the constraints did not diminish from my experience.


Rio Grande Village

My first destination was the Rio Grande Village Campground, where I had planned to meet with friends and fellow overlanders, Maggie McDermut and Katie Rodman, who were traveling through the area on their way to San Antonio.

I was the first to arrive, so I parked the Jeep, and deployed the awning for some much-needed shade. It was early afternoon, and it was very sunny and extremely hot. Not one to idle despite uncomfortable temperatures, I grabbed my hat and explored a nature trail adjacent to the campground.

As I walked, a narrow river came into view; the Rio Grande, presumably. I would have to leave the trail, but it looked irresistibly refreshing. I found my way down to the river and doused myself in its cloudy green water.

The water was warm, and not very refreshing. I was still very hot as I continued my hike, although now I was soaking wet.

I followed a trail up to an overlook, from where I could see the campground, the river, and on the other side of the river, the small town of Boquillas, Mexico. Later, I found out that Maggie and Katie had been in Boquillas, kicking back and enjoying margaritas.


Boquillas Hot Springs

The following morning, the four of us set off to do some exploring.

Not far to the north of Rio Grande Village were the Boquillas Hot Springs. This is a crude cement pool immediately adjacent to the Rio Grande River into which 105 degree water gurgles up from the earth.

The pool is often muddy after a rain, or when flooded by the Rio Grande. However, the water that emerges from the ground is crystal clear, and effectively purges the cloudiness, yielding a crystalline bath.

It was extremely comfortable and relaxing. If one became too hot, all one would have to do is jump into the the river!


Chisos Basin Campground

We spent the night at Chisos Basin Campground. This is a paved, high-traffic campground located at a high elevation in the Chisos Mountains. The campground was equipped with restrooms, running water, picnic tables, and shelters.

While it wasn’t a primitive experience, the landscape here is extremely dramatic, as you’re surrounded by ample flora and towering peaks on all sides.

In the morning, I parted ways with Maggie and Katie, and almost as soon as they left, severe storms rolled in.


The Cleansing Storm

I had every intention to take a shower before I left the campground. I was still wearing the same clothes that I had worn into the Rio Grande and the hot springs, so my need for some personal hygiene was dire, and now foul weather threatened to prevent this.

Nevertheless, I stripped down and entered my shower shelter which I had prepared the night before. It was raining gently at first, but when I started lathering, the rain picked up. Lightning cracked, and hail bounced off of the metal poles of the shower shelter.

Soon, two inches of icy water flowed through the floor of the shower shelter. I quickly rinsed off, and in a blinding streak, I raced to the Jeep to for warmth and shelter.

It was cold, miserable, and a little scary, but I was clean!


To be continued in Backtrack to Big Bend - Part 2...