Falling in love with a new (to me) place ... A little trip report --

3 months ago

There is a place in Far West Texas where night skies are dark as coal and rivers carve temple-like canyons in ancient limestone. Here, at the end of the road, hundreds of bird species take refuge in a solitary mountain range surrounded by weather-beaten desert. Tenacious cactus bloom in sublime southwestern sun, and diversity of species is the best in the country. This magical place is Big Bend...

Jinx had kindly suggested that I post a little “trip report” on our recent visit to the Big Bend area of Texas, and while this may not hold anyone else’s interest, I still wanted to share to say how completely and utterly smitten I instantly became with this part of my state that I had never before visited. I’ve lived in Texas for most of my 50 decades, and have traveled to many other areas in the southwest, including a good deal of time spent in remote reaches of the Four Corners (NM, AZ, UT, CO), but somehow Big Bend remained a Great Unknown.

Turns out, it was an easy 9-hour road trip from our house, and that’s about the amount of time it takes us to drive to our favorite NM destination. We had actually planned to visit NM, but scrapped those plans when their quarantine requirements were imposed. I know a good number of my fellow Texans made the trip out to that state anyway, but we were not comfortable violating the governor’s mandate.

So … we ended up spending close to two weeks in the Big Bend area, which admittedly is a long time for a first trip, but I’m so glad we had that amount of time. It enabled us to really settle in and explore the area without feeling rushed. We stayed near Terlingua Ranch in a little 2-bedroom trailer (an Airbnb accommodation), and that put us a good hour’s drive from the park. We made that drive almost daily, though, and while it took some time to get anywhere in the area (it’s known as “Far Flung” for a reason), the drive truly never got old. Being surrounded by views of the Christmas and the Chisos Mountains, as well as the vast Chihuahuan Desert, was an absolute joy. The vistas really did take our breath away, and I could literally feel my stress level melt to nothingness just being in the midst of all of that scenic grandeur.

Well, it’s grandeur to me. I have long had a soft spot in my heart for the terrain of the high desert, so Big Bend did not disappoint. We hiked 11 trails during our stay (a couple of those were actually in Big Bend Ranch State Park, which is also in the vicinity and equally gorgeous; a little more wild than the national park, as most of its roads are unimproved – meaning that a high-clearance vehicle is strongly recommended). We hiked under the blazing hot sun along canyon bottoms and high into the cool mountains. We hiked along the Rio Grande River, with Mexico just across. We did a lot – I mean, a LOT – of rock scrambling. Most of the trails we encountered required a good deal of agility in ups and downs (often climbs), and more than once I felt like we were practically bouldering our way through a route. That has terrified me in the past, and on some of our recent trips to NM, I’ve found myself unable to complete a hiking route due to the scrambling required. I was so very pleased this time to find that my weight loss, along with my running and weight-training routine, has significantly strengthened me, and I actually enjoyed engaging with all of those unyielding rocks. I was not at all expecting that, but it certainly boosted my confidence.

The trailer we rented was on 40 acres of wild land, and I'll be honest ... when we first set foot inside (despite having seen photos on Airbnb, of course), I wasn't sure if we'd be able to stay there. It was just so small and seemed cramped, and there was the two of us with all our STUFF (we brought way too much), but I quickly came to love that little place. Returning there after a day of hiking, making our meals there, settling in for the night, and waking up in the chilly early morning to grab a cup of coffee and plan our day, was just perfect. And the night sky was AMAZING. Being a Dark Sky area, outdoor lighting is prohibited, so you get the most incredible star show overhead. It truly felt like one could reach right up and touch those twinkling beauties. I tried to photograph what I saw, but of course, that was an impossibility. There were also some adorable little bats that came out each dusk, and I enjoyed observing them. The desert harbors a teeming creature community, and I can't even begin to describe how many little birds were flitting about. We saw a pair of coyotes near the trailer a couple of times, but sadly (or maybe thankfully) never encountered a mountain lion or bear -- although I swear I could often feel eyes on us as we hiked in the more remote regions of the park.

You may have heard of Terlingua, Texas. It’s actually not much more than a ghost town now, although it was once home to a thriving mining community. Well, it's as much of a ghost town as it can be with people living there and the fact that it's become a tourist attraction. It’s an extremely unique place, and its residents are known to be quite quirky. We met one of them in a little art studio, and she was, shall we say, “somethin’ else indeed!” The place has an interesting, almost palpable history and you really can practically feel the ghosts who still reside there. There’s an old cemetery in Terlingua that is fascinating.

I'm sure I’ve lost many of you by now with this tome, so I’ll stop and post a few photos. I am so thankful that in the midst of the pandemic we had this opportunity to get away from it all and experience something that to us was profoundly beautiful and wild, and a far cry from our ordinary routine. We’ve already made arrangements to return in a few months, and I suspect that will not be our last visit.

Is there some place you’ve not been but have thought of going? Go, if you can. Trust me on this.

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