Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A long way from anywhere: Big Bend National Park

Southwest Texas’ Big Bend National Park is in the middle of nowhere.  It’s so remote that we haven’t even seen an airplane or an airplane contrail overhead.  

Once you get to the park entrance (and its a long drive to the entrance from anywhere) it’s another 25 miles drive to the closest building (the main visitors’ center).  Then It’s another 20 miles to Rio Grande Village, the closest campground via a straight road, or another 10 miles via sharp curves and steep grades to Chisos Basin campground.  

Since it’s not recommended that vehicles longer than 24 feet travel to Chisos Basin, we’re at Rio Grande Village RV, the only park facility with water/electric/sewer. 

Per the park newsletter “Big Bend includes massive canyons, vast desert expanses, forested mountains, and an ever changing river.” Does it ever. The brochure also says elevations range from 1,800 feet at the Rio Grande to nearly 8,000 feet in the Chisos Mountains.

It’s the only U.S. national park with an entire mountain range -- the Chisos -- within the park borders.  The park is bigger than Rhode Island and has four gas stations because you’re going to need some gasoline to explore this place by car -- not to mention get your RV in and out. 

Our time at Big Bend was spent hiking plus star gazing, and Jim kayaked the muddy Rio Grande. We also met a lot of nice folks at what we called the “Internet Cafe” -- two picnic tables outside of the Rio Grande Village store, the only place in the entire 533,000 acre park where you can get an internet connection.  We met people from Germany, Colorado, California, Illinois, Louisiana, Texas, and New York.
The road into Big Bend.  Because Big Bend is so remote, a ranger said visitors are “high quality.” That may or may not describe us, but it’s not a place party animals visit on the spur of a moment. People really have to want to see Big Bend to come here.
Welcoming committee for RV Site No. 1.  Luckily, we were at No. 4. 
Burros in Mexico as seen from Jim's kayak.
Another photo Jim took while kayaking.  The Rio Grande is known for being muddy and was especially so during our visit, as a heavy rainstorm dropped an inch of precip the night before we arrived. 
View from our campground: The Sierra Del Carmen mountains at sunrise.
Signs at trail heads said "Purchase or possession of items obtained from Mexican nationals is illegal," but we saw small displays like the above on every hike we took. Note the container at the back where purchasers leave cash. Items for sale were bead and wire replicas of  tarantulas, scorpions and other desert animals.  
Some of the Chisos Mountains, the only mountain range in the US to be entirely in a national park.
Jim near where the Rio Grande makes a 90-degree turn called the "big bend," and which gives the park its name.
The longer patch of water behind Bev is the Rio Grande River and beyond that is Mexico.  A fluid border, both literally and figuratively.
Early explorers found this area so remote they called it “El Despoblado” -- the uninhabited land
"Hola, buenos días," said the man on a horse we met on a trail.  He may have been headed toward his own, private border crossing on the Rio Grande River. 
To the right of the Rio Grande River you can see a few of the motor homes and buildings in Rio Grande Village campgrounds.  
People in a hot springs along the banks of the Rio Grande River. A man named J.O. Langford purchased land containing the springs in 1909 and moved his family there from Alpine, Texas.  Langford thought the springs cured him of malaria and tried to turn the area into a resort, but the Mexican Revolution forced the Langfords to flee to El Paso in 1912.  Fourteen years later they returned, built a small motel, store and post office near their springs and stayed there until1942 when they sold the property to the state of Texas.  Two years later Big Bend National park was established. 


  1. If you have a chance, get over to the Starlight Theater in Terlingua on the west side of Big Bend for happy hour tacos and brews

  2. Oh man, we just left Big Bend this morning. Your suggestion gives us something else to look forward to for next time, however!