It wasn’t until we’d arrived and I started flipping through my photo archive on the computer that I realized we haven’t been to Big Bend since 2008. How did seven years go by since our last visit?
This park can’t be “done” in a single visit. It can’t be described in a single page. You have to make the trip again and again to really dig into Big Bend. We’ve been here four times and there’s still so much left to see and do.
This visit we started with a classic: Santa Elena Canyon. Sheer walls rising 1,500 feet above the Rio Grande, a river ecosystem, and if you go early in the morning you get some spectacular light. (We didn’t go early … but I remember from a prior trip.) Emma had never been here so it was fun for us to show it to her.
After that we hunted up some spots we hadn’t explored before (or didn’t remember), like ruins and views. You really can’t go wrong in Big Bend. There are no bad spots.
Big Bend has a special meaning to us. It’s the place that really kicked it all off for us. Back in the 1990s a friend in Austin told me about it, and then another friend in Vermont told me more. Inspired, I planned a trip in March 1997 where Eleanor and I flew out to Midland/Odessa, rented a car, drove for hours and then spent a few nights tent camping at the primitive Paint Gap Hills sites.
That was the year of Comet Hale-Bopp. We watched it through binoculars and spotted both tails, thanks to the dark skies of Big Bend. One night a bolide occurred, so bright that we could actually see it through the walls of our tent. We crossed the Rio Grande to visit the Mexican town of Boquillas del Carmen (you could freely cross back then) and eat tacos and drink Mexican Cokes. We soaked in the hot springs and watched the sunsets light up the limestone cliffs each evening. Everything was unfamiliar, exotic, fascinating.
And this was the experience that hooked us on camping in National Parks. We have been doing it ever since. The first half dozen or so we visited with a tent, one or two per year, and after we got the Airstream we picked up the pace. I don’t have an accurate count but probably we’ve visited over 120 National Parks since, not counting those we’ve visited more than once. So, thank you Big Bend, for being so magnificent.
We spent only three days on this visit, which is hardly anything for a park so large but enough to chill and enjoy a few hikes and special places. After all the technical challenges and bad weather of the past two weeks it was a great way to spend the last few days of our trip west. Only a few days remain before we land at home base. I’m glad we are able to end our trip with a pleasant reminder of how it all began.