We left Austin to spend the Thanksgiving Holiday in Big Bend National Park, located in southwest Texas on the Rio Grande; the name comes from the “big bend” the river takes there. It was a two-day drive, but the time flew because the landscape was beautiful and full of things to see; and we so enjoyed listening to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society on audio.
We stopped in Marathon on day 2 to visit the local bookstore. It’s a small town – one main street – but has a certain coolness factor, with a few fine shops, restaurants and galleries. The Gage Hotel looks like a primo place to stay. I also saw the largest rosemary plant ever, a huge shrub about 4 feet wide!
From Marathon it’s about an hour drive to the east side of the park which is where we began our stay, checking into the Rio Grande Village campground. We had a lovely shaded site, one loop away from the river – and across the river, just a stone’s throw was Mexico! No hookups so we ran off the battery and hauled water. We spent the afternoon getting acclimated and that night we listened to GLPPPS until the laptop battery ran out. We were entranced, and especially loved the characters of Juliet and Dawsey.
Wednesday we hiked to Hot Springs, an abandoned health “resort” which operated from 1909-42. The hot spring still runs, though there’s just a foundation of the old bathhouse on the riverbank. Bobbie went in and said it was warm like a hot tub. On the trail leading to the springs we saw Mexican bead art and walking sticks for sale, though the handwritten signs read DONATION. The pieces were well crafted but it’s against the law to purchase and there were border patrol people around. There were Mexicans waiting across the river and if they noticed someone making a purchase anyway they would cross the border to pick up the money. We saw this again and again throughout the park. The same kind of crafts could be purchased at the visitor’s centers throughout the park – they acted as middleman for some of the artisans, but of course the trailside stores had less expensive wares. I wish I had bought a walking stick. They looked like wood but were made from the flower stalk of the sotal plant – trimmed and sanded, then decorated with folk motifs.
Our afternoon hike was to Boquillos Canyon; a hike that led to a sandy was by the river. It was clear that the river had a much farther reach at other times; we were walking a dry riverbed. Next a short bike ride, and reading at camp. Dinner and more GLPPPS.
Bobbie was avidly reading a local history she bought at Front Street Books in Marathon, Lizards on the Mantel, Burros at the Door, written from the journal and letters of Etta Koch, a woman who moved to Big Bend with her 3 young children in the 1940’s, just after Big Bend was designated a National Park. While her photographer husband was off on the lecture circuit, she was living in a trailer, and later a house (which we saw at Hot Springs) raising the kids and eventually working for the Park Service. Bobbie relayed various parts of the book as she was reading – it was like having a bit of Etta along for our trip.
We celebrated Thanksgiving with a drive to Chisos Mountains Basin located in the middle of the park. Amazing views driving to the top, where we had “turkey and all the trimmings” at the Lodge with a view of “the Window” outside the window we were seated in front of. Then a hike.
Friday we took a ride along the Ross Maxwell Drive with many stops along the way to view MORE amazing scenery – Sotol Vista, Castelon, Tuff Canyon and a short hike at Santa Elena Canyon on the west side of the park. Santa Elena was stunning; the trail takes you up the side of a cliff via steps and switchbacks, and then leads you down to the mouth of the canyon where you can sit on rocks by the river. The walls are very steep but there’s a feeling of protection; the water very smooth. I envied the lone kayaker we saw leaving the canyon at the end of the day.
The park is so diverse – the terrain so varied. Mountains, desert, river. I'll write more about our stay in Terlingua at the west side of the park.