So Joe had to take a week off of work in December or he’d lose the vacation time and found this out in December, so we decided to make the most of it and go to the nearest National Park to us and one we hadn’t seen yet….BIG BEND!
It had been 4 months since we had last taken the RV for a spin. That was partly due to the fact that our truck had been in the shop for 2 months (cracked head and lots of $$$) and partly do to be busy and enjoying being back at home so much. But after 4 months, the itch to go on a camping trip, got to us!
With a little research, we found out that the only place in the park with FULL RV hookups was in Rio Grande on the SE side of the park. So that’s where we made our 3 night reservation ($33 a night). I did a little more looking around online for things to do in the park and looking over the park map. It’s a BIG park! I also asked some friends who have been about their experiences there. We were looking forward to some serious star gazing, hiking, swimming, and Ranger programs! Turns out, I should have found out MORE about Big Bend before going there, but more on that later.
We took Loralai out of school for two days and left EARLY Thursday morning (but not early enough), heading out on the 8 hour drive to Big Bend. Our plan was to leave early enough for the girls to sleep for several hours of the trip, but school had reset my late sleepers into 6am risers, so leaving at 7am did not work. Oh well, they were both good and did take little naps and watched movies and I didn’t even have to climb into the back seat, although I did manage to hit my head on the DVD player that hangs down about a dozen times! Once I relearned how to operate the DVD player by touch alone, there was less head injuries. 6 hours in, we made it to Fort Stockton, the only town between Austin and Big Bend, and stopped at McDonald’s. Just 2 hours outside of Big Bend where we would hike and explore! It was here that I somehow managed to step off the curb while getting the kids out of the truck and seriously sprain my ankle. Crap! Well life goes on, so we get the kids out and I limp into McDonalds and we eat gross cheese burgers while the kids play. With the kids restored and ice cream in hand, we continue on our way to Big Bend with my ankle wrapped in ice and propped up on the dash. Yahoo!
Knowing that Big Bend borders Mexico, we were expecting some border stops, but saw that they were only stopping cars that were leaving the park. Okay. Keep driving. And driving. There’s NOTHING. Oh look, there’s a sign! I think we’re in the park now but don’t know for sure cause no ranger is at the booth. Huh. Okay, I think we just keep going straight…..forever! OMG, another ranger station (Panther Junction), and it’s OPEN! So we go in, knowing we are still about 45 mins from the part of the park we are actually camping in. Well one things for certain, we have to get Loralai’s JR ranger workbook! We only have 2 days here! $2 later we have the book and just as we’re about to head the rest of the way through the park to Rio Grande where we’re camping, a ranger calls our attention to a herd of javalina’s that are walking right past the front door! Javalina’s are these little hairy pig looking things that actually aren’t related to the pig at all, but in fact related to hippos. Cool, wildlife! The girls loved it!
As it was starting to get dark and there are no lights in Big Bend at night, we quickly got back in the truck and drove the rest of the way to our camping spot and with the help of a fellow camper with a flash light, found our spot relatively quickly and got parked. We were surprised to see it was just us and two other campers sharing the parking lot. Huh. That night I made ham for dinner and we all sat out under the stars as there was a meteor shower that night and the next. Bummer thing was it was also cloudy and we couldn’t see anything. Oh well, we put the kids to bed and Joe and I hung out a little longer outside to see if the clouds would clear, but no such luck.
The next morning, we had big plans! First stop, check out The Hot Springs that were very near to where we were staying. Here’s where we learned something VERY IMPORTANT about Big Bend that no one told us…..3/4 of the roads in Big Bend are narrow, dirt, off roading vehicle roads! These roads are NOT meant for a full sized, dual wheeled truck to go down! After turning onto one of these roads to get to the hot springs, we saw a sign about a mile of the way down that read, “No talliers or dual wheeled vehicles past this point”, to which I said, “Oh come on, we can make it.”. It took us 2 minuets to find out that we could not in fact make it. Thank goodness it was like we were the only people in the park, cause we were able to back up the way we had come and park next to the sign that we had ignored a few minutes before. We figured the springs couldn’t be far though, and decided to walk the rest of the road to the springs. It was doable and we made it to where all the rest of the “car people” got to park, where we again saw NO ONE and read a sign that said theft happened often in this area. Here’s where I was really wishing I had brushed up on my knowledge of the conditions at the Mexico/US border. I think I’d heard it was bad? Well surely they wouldn’t let us hang out here if it was……would they? Crap! Off we go to hike down to the springs. We meet a nice lady along the way that gives us her pamphlet that tells you about the sites while you walk. There was an old store and hotel and petroglyphs to view along the way. Now at this point we hadn’t been in the park long, but we had been there long enough to see that on everything the park prints, there’s a warning to NOT buy any products from Mexicans that may approach you. They will be carted off and your stuff will be confiscated, etc. So here we are walking, by ourselves, with our small (slow) kids and we come across a rock that is covered with handmade crafts and a hand written sign that says purchase these to help a small village in Mexico. I start looking around at the cliffs above us expecting to see an armed gunman ready to get us if we buy anything. There’s no one. Then I look at the tall grass to the other side of us expecting to see people from Mexico crouched down and making sure their stuff doesn’t get stolen. No one. Cool stuff but Joe hurried us past it before Loralai could see.
|The Hot Spring|
We arrive at the hot springs. Make that hot spring. There’s a couple sitting in the one, sandy pool that is the hot springs next to the Rio Grande river in about 2.5 feet of water. We don’t want to intrude on them, so we set up a little ways down the shore next to the river to eat our picnic lunch. This is the first time any of us have actually seen the Rio Grande river. Let me tell you, it’s not so Grande. You could wade across parts of it without getting waist deep. Evidently, Mexico had dammed up much of the water that used to flow to the river for farming irrigation.
|Here’s the Grande (?) River|
|Joe on our walk back to the truck.|
There was also no border wall, like I’ve seen in so many action movies, and no guards. This really rocked my world. I really had no idea what to expect the border to be like, but it definitely wasn’t a peaceful, slow flowing river, with no one there, except a couple of vacationers? I could have walked across the river and touched Mexico, and believe me, I thought about doing it! But it was hard to shake the unknowing of how things were at the border with the kids. The lone tent that was staked across the river didn’t set us at ease either. So with an escape plan in mind (run into the bushes and hide), we did let the kids play in the river and in the hot springs once the couple left. We hadn’t brought bathing suits, so the kids just played in the their undies or less before it was time to go. Once we had been there a little while and had yet to be attacked by anyone, we relaxed some and enjoyed the pretty views. The walk back was good. I actually stopped at the rock table and wanted to buy something, but we didn’t have cash. Loralai complained a little, but I distracted her with songs and racing Daddy (I’m really going to be in trouble when distractions stop working with her!). We got back to our truck which had not been stolen (yahoo!) and drove on to see the Chaiso Mountains part of the park, where the bears and mountain lions live!
|Yay! We still have a truck!|
The Chisos Mountains were at a higher elevation and therefore much colder and windyer. We drove to the visitor center there. There was a small general store, a ranger station, and a lodge which looked more like a motel. We walked around a little and then went into the visitor center. After looking around and having the ranger there warn us that there was a mountain lion attack on a 2 year old just a few months ago in the parking lot, I sat down with Loralai to work on her Jr. Ranger packet while Joe took Bean to the store. Loralai and I had been working on her packet for about 15 mins when the ranger told me we’d have to leave, since she had to run some errands. I thought this was so weird, since we were probably only the 3rd or 4th people to even come into this station all day with the park being so empty and we’re there a few mins and she tells us to leave? I mean when a place says there open hours are from ____ to _____, don’t they usually stay open during those times? It just made me notice again how there really didn’t seem to be hardly any rangers working this park! In the other parks we visited, they were swarming with rangers EVERYWHERE! Whatever, we left and decided to head over to the lodge and see about excursions in the park. River rafting was out since the river was so low and that pretty much left a car tour, showing many of the sights on the dirt roads that we couldn’t drive our truck on. It would have taken 5 hours and cost over $250, so we decided not to do that.
On the way back home we stopped by the Rio Grande Visitor Center that was nearest to our camping spot. It was tiny and had one ranger working it. She asked if we wanted to watch a film on the park and we were able to watch most of it, before Bean demanded to go! I did learn before leaving that there were two rangers talks a day, throughout the entire park. 2! A day! And it’s a big park! Thankfully one of the talks was close enough and we planned on going the next day.
After that, it was back to the RV for dinner and more star gazing. The clouds had cleared this second night, but the meteor show still wasn’t the show stopper we’d thought it would be. I think we saw 6 shooting stars between Joe and I.
The next morning we headed to the ranger talk at Dugout Well Springs. It was a talk on the plants in the area. There were 3 other people there besides us. It was a good talk and we learned about some of the uses of the plants in the area. I was a little nervous about L possibly backing into a cactus which surrounded us on all sides, but we made it through unpoked.
|And here is the reason Dugout Well Springs is so special and a designated “hike”in Big Bend. See that rusty metal on the ground next to Ranger Dave? That’s an old “dug out” from when they were building the well. Woopie! So glad we got to see that!|
The big plan for day two was to visit Terlingua, this little town just outside the West end of the park. We’d heard it was a great little town and I was excited about eating Mexican food! I asked the ranger who gave the talk about the town and to confirm that there were places to eat there. He was like, “Um yeah, you can eat there.” Okay, good enough for me. On our 1.5 hour drive though the park to Terlingua, we also stopped at Panther Junction Visitor center to get some more info on the town. When I asked the ranger at the desk if they had any info on the town he looked at me like, “Why?”. Then he rummaged around in the back room for a while before he came out with a single pamphlet on the town. I was like, “Thanks! So there’s lots of stuff to do there, right?”. And he was like, “Well what are you looking to do?” And I was like, “Eat, and maybe ride horses”. He was like, “Well there are places to eat there.” At this point, I was a little put off by how blah everyone sounded about Terlingua. But then I thought, maybe it’s just cause they are depressed that they have to live in Big Bend for months on end, and I put my big Terlingua grin back on my face and got pumped to eat some Mexican food!
|Let’s got o Terlingua!|
We drove the rest of the way to the town of Terlingua. Our firsts mission was to find the ghost town we’d heard so much about! We searched HARD for it, but after turning down several dirt roads that read “Private Drive” about a mile down, we decided we’d go eat first and try again later to find the town. So into the town we go. My first thought, was WHY would anyone tell us to go here?!?! Now I know some of our friends love this town, for some reason unbeknownst to me, so forgive me for what I’m about to say…. We drove through the small town twice just to be sure we were in the right place. Sadly, we were. It was just a poor, desert town. Half the homes were trailers and the restaurant we were going to go to, looked too sketchy to even use a credit card at, not to mention what you could leave with after eating there. So we searched for another place to eat. We found what looked like the most commercial restaurant, The Starlight Grill, and went in. We had to walk around to the back and past a huge flower pot full of cigarette butts and beer cans and went in. The place was filled with smoke and dark and dirty. By this point though we had been driving for hours and we hadn’t seen any other places we would want to go in. One glance at the menu and my dream of mexican food was crushed. That’s about the time I snapped. SCREW BIG BEND and Terlingua! Joe got me a beer (in a bottle) and we got the kids juices (also in bottles) and ordered the safest thing we could think of, french fries. I proceeded to drink two more beers while the kids played with a little 4 year old girl who was there with her toothless, 50 year old dad. The girls taught her to play “Ring Around the Rosie” and I texted friends to tell them just how horrible of a place I was in! We all left an hour later with smoky smelling hair and empty bellies (and thankfully a buzz for me). With another 1.5 hour drive back to our RV, the ghost town wasn’t happening and I had no hope of anything being great in this place anyways.
We got back to the RV and I continued drinking and made dinner. By this point we’d been in the desert long enough for our clothes and RV carpet to be filled with these little poky seeds that fly around in the air. They are like tiny thorns and just added to the kick ass time we were having. At one point, Loralai said, “Now I bet these things will be in our RV the next time we go somewhere.” Yep, we have that to look forward to too Baby. Thanks Big Bend! Then it was early to bed, since we planned on getting up at 5am to leave this waste land.
So let me wrap this up by saying, We DID NOT like Big Bend. It’s cool to look upon from afar, and I’m glad the area is protected, and I’m glad others like it (although we didn’t see too many “others” while there), but this place is not for us! Turns out that we like trees and waterfalls over sand and poky plants. However, there are a few circumstances that I would recommend you go there…
1. You are running from the law and need a place to go where NO ONE else will be to hide.
2. You want to cross the Mexico border and don’t have a passport. There is NO ONE to stop you in Big Bend.
3. You have to pay your dues as a beginner ranger before being placed somewhere/anywhere else.
4. You have an off road vehicle, no small children, and don’t mind getting poked.
We did have a boarder stop on our way out of the park. It was our first one ever, so I dorked out and expect them to get us out of the car and have us “spread em”, but they just walked a dog around our rig and asked us about our trip and we were on our way! HOME! Thank God!