I have always been a bit of a “park snob” when it comes to Texas parks, sensing they were only for bass and crappie fishermen, or Texas rednecks looking for a cheap weekend getaway. I didn’t hold out much hope for Big Bend, being out in the far remote reaches of West Texas. But man, was I ever surprised!
When I booked my reservation, I made it for seven nights in the Rio Grande Village Campground on the east end of the park. I figured at only $14 per night, I could leave early without too much guilt if the darkness and dust started to get to me. Yet in the end, I contemplated staying longer.
The park offered a plethora of adventure opportunities for all types of outdoor enthusiasts. Lynne is more of a photographer who hikes to find good photo opportunities, whereas I am more of a hiker who stops long enough to snap a few pics along the trail, but we managed to find enough beauty and variety to keep us both interested for the entire seven days. The park is known for its diverse scenery of mountains, desert, and of course, the twisting turning river, which gives the park its name. We had the good fortune to enjoy all three.
My only complaint about the park is the lack of mid-range hikes. It seems as if one has a choice of one to two miles, or 12 miles. There are very few 4-5 mile hikes, and those are all “out and back.” No loops, so although there were some gorgeous short hikes, I missed being able to “stretch my legs.”
Here is Part 1 of my favorite “Big Bend Top Ten:”
10. BOQUILLAS CANYON TRAIL – Since this 1.6 mile trail is very near the Rio Grande Village campground, we hiked it on our first day just as the sun was starting to set. The campground was located right alongside the Rio Grande River, which meant our scenic views were of Mexico, just a short “wade” across the river. This made for lots of Sarah Palin jokes — “I can see Mexico from my house!”
The trail climbs up to the canyon ridge, passing mortar holes created by Native Americans, then descends down to the river’s edge. The sandy path follows the river through the mouth of the canyon alongside sand dunes created from the canyon winds.
Along the path are many makeshift “tiendas” where the Mexican locals set out their wares for sale, along with a jar or tin can to collect money. These items include hand-carved walking sticks or tiny insects made from beads and copper wire. The park prohibits purchase of these items, considering them “contraband.” This was a topic of discussion among fellow campers in the Rio Grande Village, as people seemed to fear “them.”
Having spent a good deal of time in Mexico where I acquired a love for the Mexican people as well as a respect for their initiative toward earning money, it made me sad to hear people talk about them as if they were some kind of “alien.” I was more scared of the US Border Patrol than of the gentle people making trinkets to sell to feed their families.
9. OLD ORE ROAD – First of all, let me just say that my friend Lynne loves to “put the pedal to the metal.” When that “pedal” happens to be connected to a four wheel drive, short wheel based Tracker, give up any hope of ever donating your kidneys.
Lynne loves to go “off roading,” and Big Bend certainly offers ample opportunity. One such road is the 26 mile Old Ore Road. Unfortunately, pictures don’t begin to show the holes, ruts, and in some cases, downright MISSING road beneath us. Suffice it to say, there is now a dent in the passenger side floorboard where a brake pedal should be! It took us over three hours to travel this 26 mile road. If I had been driving, we would have needed to pack our bags for an overnight!
8. BOQUILLAS DEL CARMEN, MEXICO CROSSING – Since the other side of the river is a Mexican National Park, the small Mexican town known as just “Boquillas” is 160 miles from civilization. The town is cut off from infrastructure with no electricity, so all conveniences are left to solar power, with an occasional generator or boost of propane.
Lynne and I went across for a “taste of Mexico.” The boat to cross the Rio Grande is only about three oar-strokes across. As for transportation for the three quarters of a mile dirt road that leads into town, we were given the choice between walking, riding in a truck, hiring a horse, or riding a “burro.” Which do you think we chose?
What a shock to get up the hill and learn that it would cost more money for our “guide” to wait for us, when we didn’t even realize we had hired a guide! We thought he was just the guy who led the mules up the hill. When we told him we did not wish to pay for waiting time, he said, “Okay, I will leave your mules tied to a tree.” Lynne seemed to think this was no problem for “Lucy and Ethel” to navigate two stubborn burros back down to the river. I was not so sure. We eventually made it, but not without help from the local shopkeeper lady, who stood in the stirrup of one side to keep the saddle from sliding off while I climbed up on the other side, then handed me a switch to whack my burro’s hind quarters! “Lucy” would have been proud!
TO BE CONTINUED…