Over Presidents’ Day weekend, Adam and I took hit the road for a weekend adventure to Big Bend National Park. One of our joint bucket list goals is to eventually visit all the National Parks in the US and since we’d crossed off a bunch during our two-week Southwest road trip over the summer, we figured it was time for us to hit up one closer not really that much closer to home. And best of all, this time it would be a new one for me as well!
I hope you like photos because this post has got a whole lot of them…
We started off by renting a small travel trailer thru the Outdoor Center on the military base. We debated about camping in our tent but considering it was February, we thought it might be a bit too cold. Good decision on our part since it was in the 20s the first night we were there.
Adam picked up the trailer on Thursday afternoon so early Friday morning we headed out. I’d say we look pretty chipper (well Adam looks focused, haha). I totally had to laugh when I realized we unintentionally wore matching color shirts. At least it makes it easy for scrapbooking? #twinsiesforlife
For those not up on your Texas geography (because lord knows I never was before we moved here), Big Bend National Park is located about 6 1/2 hours west of San Antonio down along the Rio Grande near the Texas/Mexico border. To get there you basically hop on I-10 and drive and drive until you get to Fort Stockton and drive another 100+ miles south.
To say it’s in the middle-of-nowhere Texas would be an understatement – they call it “splendid isolation” for a reason. Which is exactly why we decided now would be a good time to go because short of El Paso, this is probably the closest to it we’re ever going to live.
Hello I-10, our old friend. Other than I-5 out West, Adam and I have determined that I-10 now holds the second place mark for most miles traveled by us. I’ve driven all the way across the country on it (thankfully NOT in the same trip, haha), so it’s safe to say we know it quite well.
There isn’t a whole lot out in west Texas but there are parts of the road that are pretty, like this.
Best part of the trip? Rediscovering these little babies. When I used to go on road trips with my family, we’d buy the big individually wrapped bags of them. I’d totally forgotten all about that until these. #ahmemories
After many hours of driving we finally saw this sign. Hooray! We were excited…
That is until we saw this sign…
Wah, wah, wah. Granted we knew this would be the case from the map but somehow seeing it in sign form made it seem that much farther – probably because at this point we were getting more than a little antsy of being in the car.
Which is why I entertained myself by snapping photos like this…
Until we finally got here…
Yes, that’s me doing my best Vanna White impression. Adam played it a little more cool…
Is it weird that my first thought after looking at the sign was how much I loved the font? It’s so cool & retro. #typeloverforlife
Of course even from the sign it was still another 30 miles or so to the main area of the park but eventually we started seeing views like this. The mountains in the distance are actually in Mexico.
Our first night was pretty low key because it was COLD. It was in the 40s when we arrived but the wind picked up and in ended up being in the 20s overnight. We basically ate dinner real quick and then huddled in the trailer to keep warm.
The next morning we headed up to the Chisos Mountain area of the park. One benefit of the wind – it cleared out all the haze!
Our main activity for the day was to hike out to the Window, a small slot canyon that overlooks the valley below.
You can’t tell in this photo but I’m wearing like 4 layers because it was in the 40s. The funny thing is as we headed down the trail, everyone coming back up was in short sleeves and we were thinking they were crazy. That is until we realized it was uphill all the way back and we were in short sleeves by the end too.
The views on this trail were so neat – the Window is located in the little valley to the right of the pointy peek. It was a bit like Vegas – it didn’t look as far as it really was.
I’m pretty sure I said something to the effect of “pretend like you’re hiking” to get this photo, haha…
One of my favorite things about this park was all the desert plants. It was like my succulents adventure on steroids.
Adam was a little scared of these big ones. They looked a bit man-eater-y…
The trail continued to wind thru the rocks…
I’ll just say, this would be a brutal hike in the summer heat – this was one of the few shady areas.
Towards the end of the hike we reached a point where were all these crazy stairs carved out of the rocks. Adam was pretty excited to reach the top of the first flight, haha.
A look back at more of the stairs. I’m just glad I wasn’t the one who had to carve these out of the rock!
Once we reached the bottom of the last set of stairs, we were at our destination, The Window! One of the nice things about this park is it’s really uncrowded so while there was only one family there when we arrived, they left shortly after so we had the place to ourselves. Definitely beat trying to sight see around tour buses full of people like we did over the summer.
We were really careful not to get too close to the edge – it was pretty scary looking! The view was amazing though.
The Window was carved by water that rushes through the canyon during the rainy times of the year. It comes through so fast that it polished all of the rock along the walls. I didn’t get quite this close, I used the zoom lens a bit since it was pretty intense.
We also pulled out the timer and got a shot of us together thanks to big rock acting as a tripod. That was about as close to the edge as we got.
Then it was time to head back. Here’s me hiking my way back up the stairs.
For anyone wondering about my backpack, I use the Clik Elite Cloudscape which is basically like a camera bag and hiking pack in one. It has room for a 3 liter bladder of water and also includes a padded camera insert for holding my camera or any extra lenses. It looks giant on me since I’m only 5’3″ but it’s actually really comfortable to wear.
The view coming back up was really beautiful. I didn’t really expect the desert to be quite so green.
The only downside to this hike was the entire way back was uphill. It was rated Moderate but I’d call it easy on the way there and difficult on the way back. Our legs were definitely feeling it by the time we got to the end!
After the hike we headed back to our campsite for some relaxation, snacks and dinner. Thankfully it was a bit warmer than the night before.
In case you thought Adam always cooperates with my photo taking, this is a look I get from him a lot. I’m pretty sure he asked me to do something (grab the trash maybe?) and I said, “hold on, let me take a photo first.”
But like 5 minutes later he’s like, here take a picture of me doing my best food network chef impression…
For dinner we had chili which was delicious.
We were also treated to an awesome sunset view of the cliffs from our campsite.
Our second day in the park we drove the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive out to Santa Elena Canyon. It really wound around and made us realize this park was much bigger than we thought.
Just to give a little perspective, the arrow is where we were on our hike the day before. The valley we were now in was the valley we saw through the Window. We hadn’t realized that until we saw it pointed out on a display, so it kind of blew our minds a little that we were all the way up there.
A view looking out towards Santa Elena Canyon…
I’ve never considered myself much of a desert kind of gal but I can definitely see why people like it. There’s something cool and textural about the landscape here.
Looking for a fun way to get yourself into pictures? Polarized sunglasses make a pretty fun mirror…
At the end of the drive we came to the Santa Elena Canyon Trail which was a fairly short hike back into the canyon.
After being in the car for awhile, Adam was definitely ready to get his hiking on…
The trail started out on the sand so I was very glad they had these mats down. Hiking in the sand=no fun.
Here’s the start of the Santa Elena Canyon. I think it’s hard to get an idea for just how big these cliffs are until you realize those tiny colored dots at the river are in fact people. The walls were 1500 feet high.
In case you ever needed evidence of the Texas drought. It was crazy how dry the ground was.
Of course one of the coolest things about this canyon is that the Rio Grande, which happens to also act as the border between the US and Mexico, runs down the middle of it, which means the rock on the left side is in Mexico and the rock on the right side is in the US.
We stopped for a quick obligatory hold-camera-at-arms-length-and-hope-you’re-in-focus shot and then headed down to the river.
This is by far the closest I have ever been to Mexico. You were literally a stone’s throw away!
Adam tried to reach out and touch Mexico. Since the dividing line is somewhere near the middle of the river, he was probably pretty close! Apparently the border here in the park between the two countries used to be more fluid but they’ve cracked down on that.
Once we were done with the river we started up the trail, which began with a large set of switchbacks carved in the cliff face.
The view looking back down the switchbacks. Seriously, who was the poor soul who had to make all these things? It’s quite the feat.
The trail wound down into the canyon a little ways…
…until you got to the end point where the canyon narrowed. It reminded us a lot of the The Narrows hike at Zion, minus the hiking in the river part. Kind of a baby taste of the Narrows for non-hikers (since the trail was pretty flat & easy).
Adam set up our little gorilla pod so we could get a quick shot of the two of us.
I’m pretty sure these are our “when is the timer going to go off” smiles, haha.
As we hiked back out of the canyon, the view was amazing. It’s kind of crazy to realize this river carved the canyon considering how little water there was flowing in it while were there. Somehow I expected it’d be a bit more grand.
The final leg of the scenic drive was to take the Old Maverick dirt road back to the paved road. Not going to lie, dirt road+desert+broken car had me worried we’d end up on an episode of I Shouldn’t Be Alive, haha, but it actually wasn’t that bad. Certainly much less bumpy than our “scenic drive” through Monument Valley!
My favorite part was all the trees! They looked like something straight out of Doctor Seuss. I expected the Lorax to jump out at any moment.
Later that night we were treated with a rather beautiful sunset from our campsite. It was a good way to end the weekend.
Considering we were both smiling the next day, I’d say it was a pretty good trip.
And that was our not-so-little adventure to Big Bend National Park! I have to say, it was totally different than what I expected but in a really good way. I don’t know that we’ll be making the trek out there again any time soon but if you’ve never been, I’d say it’s definitely worth a visit.
Anyone else ever been to Big Bend National Park? Have any suggestions for where our next park adventure should be? Adam mentioned Great Smoky Mountains since we’ve done most of the west already but we shall see…