Just Two Bros in Big Bend National Park
Hey everyone! Whitney A & I are back with another late bloomer. If we haven’t discussed it before, Whit & I have a tradition of skipping family Christmas & heading out to a different national park each year. This past Christmas we hit up Big Bend National Park in Texas. Amazing mountain filled landscapes, starry skies, & nights so quiet you can hear the sound of murder.
To start off the trip, Whit and I flew in on different days, because I wanted to lay over in Houston on the way to Midland (the closest airport to Big Bend) to check out a few places. Tiki amongst all of it’s popularity has become an interest of mine as of late, so I wanted to hit up Lei Low, a Polynesian themed cocktail joint. The bartenders were very helpful, as were my fellow juice drinkers, & the mugs were full of booze. A couple other places I stopped off at that are worth taking a look into are Fat Bao, an amazing steam bun restaurant & Kings Point, an old strip mall on the Southern side of Houston where you can go check out some really awesome murals.
The following day Whit & I met up in Midland, Texas amongst the 15 total people in the whole airport & grabbed a rental car; a Jeep obviously, because we’re so adventurous. We went Jeep Patriot, because it was cheaper, but next time we’re going to splurge and get a Jeep Wrangler. The drive to the park from Midland Airport is about 4 ½ hours so you definitely want to make sure you’re comfortable & that whichever car you choose can handle some off road driving. Some of the parks drive up trails are too rough for a simple sedan to handle.
250 miles & a whole lot of 90’s playlist sing alongs later we were in the park… & then we were right back out, because we needed grub. We headed straight to Terlingua, an old mining/ ghost town about an hour west Big Bend. Terlingua is reminiscent of a town
from a spaghetti Western. Aged stone buildings covered in dust & dirt, animal bone covered fences, a dream place for people looking to explore a hole in the wall town that’s seemingly becoming a Canadian Culture phenom.
Dinner was at a restaurant called the Starlight Theatre, a historical old theatre turned bar/restaurant. The hall used to be an escape for the miners of the 1930s. It’s name came around, because when it was originally built it had no roof, revealing a star lit sky as you danced the night away to whatever band was passing through town. I haven’t fact checked that, but the history was given to me by Dan, a town local that resided in Terlingua his entire life.
The food & service was great. Our bartenders were Sarah and Corey. Corey looks like Chris Hemsworth in Thor, had great recommendations, & he made a hell of a margarita. I recommend the boar sausage appetizer &, as usual, I’m sure Whitney would recommend the grilled bread with cheese.
We built camp in the dark, again, which wasn’t so bad. Once camp was done, we set up two chairs & turned off our headlamps. Pfff! Complete darkness, complete silence, only the stars above us to show we weren’t falling off into an abyss. I fell asleep pretty quick that night, Whit did not; we had just seen Tom Ford’s “Nocturnal Animals” a week before & Whit, self-centered as she is, thought she was going to be murdered that night so she rushed off to sleep in the car. I failed miserably trying to fall back asleep so naturally I found myself back in the car too. Sigh. Big Bend is so quiet every little sound seems like it’s coming from right outside the tent.
Up at the crack of dawn with a lovely bag of freeze dried teriyaki chicken we watched the sunrise coming up over the rocks. After we ate we did a few easier touristy hikes around Boquillas Hot Springs. There we met this really nice retired couple named Thomas and Sharon Neff. Thomas was a photography professor at LSU and has his own book published called Holding Out or Holding On: Surviving Katrina. A book about the suffering, pain, & rebuilding after Katrina hit New Orleans. Whit & I were lucky enough to have him take our picture.
Later on we crossed the border into Boquillas, Mexico, a military town just across the Rio Grande inside Big Bend. It was the perfect trip to get an easy first stamp on my recently renewed passport. It’s $5.00 to cross over the river in a row boat. Once you’re on the other side you have the option of walking into town, riding a mule, or riding a horse, we went mule of course. As a first timer on mule-back, I was a natural-no surprise there. It may have been my own raw natural talent, or it may have been how well the animals were trained, who’s to say. The city itself seems pretty simple to the naked eye. A lot like Cuba, the power is sparse and up until last year they didn’t have any without the help of a personal generator. Recently though, the government built a new hospital and began installing solar panels, a new age technology that seems out of place in it’s new home, but the people were happy to have it. After we looked around we stopped off at “ Bark Bar” for a couple of Tacates & then ventured back into the park.
We camped out that night near Balanced Rock trailhead. We get the question sometimes
about what we do once camp is set up. On this particular night we played mad libs by headlamp. The game was as follows: person A gives person B the words to fill in the mad lib. Person A fills their mouth with water. Person B reads the mad lib out loud. Person A does everything in their power not to spit out the water from laughing like a fool. Whitney A won, obviously.
The next morning we really wanted to get up & see Balanced Rock at Sunrise. Balanced Rock is one of the natural monuments Big Bend is famous for. It’s a nice beginner’s hike & a great chance to get some sweet pics. Afterwards, smelly (mostly Whitney) & desperate for a shower, we got one. We hit up the park convenience store & not only did they have showers, but they had washer & dryers if you need it. They also had a decent selection of anything you may have forgotten at home. We needed a small propane tank for our Jetboil which they totally had & at a good price.
Post showers we threw back a couple of tall boys & some snacks before preparing to head into the Chisos Mountains for an overnight. Eric A may have gotten carried away drinking the tall boys and forgot that we had 7 miles directly up the side of a mountain to tackle by nightfall. While Whitney A moved gracefully through the first half of the South Rim Trail, Eric A spent a lot of time falling behind. Once Eric A finally made it to the campsite, we set up our tents, whipped up some bag food, turned on some Van Morrison, & had some beers to help lighten our bags for the 2nd half of the hike the next day. Merry Christmas. This night was particularly tough, our elevation was high enough that our tents took a little bit of a beating from the wind. This time, although a little intimidating, we had to sleep through it.
The next day, on the second leg of the hike we took a detour up to Emory Peak. My recommendation is to leave your pack(s) in the bear boxes below the trailhead if you take this hike. You will regret trying to carry a large pack up to the peak. Emory Peak is the highest point in Big Bend National Park and gives you a chance to see exactly where you’ve been. The views were definitely worth the effort but prepare to do some bouldering to get to the top.
We ran into some Blue Jays on the way down & a smelly wilderness man carrying about 8 crushed water jugs, which I’m guessing was used to scare off predators. Finally back at the car we said goodbye to Big Bend & headed back into Terlingua one more time for food. This time stopping off at the “High Sierra Bar & Grill.” It was a much different experience than the Starlight Theater. The service was mediocre, food about the same, and the water spent more time on our table than in our glasses.
Back in Midland with about 8 hours before we needed to be at the airpot, we stopped off to see Hacksaw Ridge, camped out in the rental car for a few hours, & then hit the airport. Big Bend hit the top of our list for trips we have taken so far. It’s an amazing hidden gem in the middle of nowhere Texas that everyone needs to see. One more park down, 55 parks left to go. Until next time..