Exploring Big Bend National Park
Deep in the heart of Texas, America’s most remote national park is also one of its most alluring
The storm outside had been lifting up the right side of my tent since the sun made its way below the distant Rio Grande. Three hours earlier, I finished a hot bowl of rice noodles before quickly retiring to my down sleeping bag. During dinner, a gray cloud—more UFO than nimbus—hovered over our exposed campsite, overtly plotting its takeover of the Chisos Mountains. But I took comfort in knowing that, after years of trying to make my way to this place, to the middle of nowhere, Southwest Texas, I was finally here. I fumbled in the dark to find my boots and, after blindly concluding they were still dry, fell back asleep.
That morning, I had driven three sunshine-drenched hours from Marfa to Big Bend National Park, stopping once in Marathon for gas and breakfast burritos. Everyone at the small Southwest-themed diner had one thing on his mind: the mountain lion that had attacked a six-year-old boy in the park just days before. (When he saw what was happening, the boy’s father had pulled out a knife from his pocket and stabbed the cat in the chest.) The boy was fine, needing only stitches and a series of rabies shots, but the story served as a reminder that Big Bend remains one of our most untamed wild kingdoms. My two camping companions and I drank our coffee in silence, pretended that the story didn’t faze us, and stared at the enamel cacti on the wall while listening to the crowd discuss the “scar that boy will have when he grows up.”
Big Bend is remote—So remote that the National Park Service has a section of the Big Bend website called “How Far Is It?” But the 330 miles that separate you from the El Paso airport are the whole point. The road to your destination—the drive that leads you to this place, the aromatics of the lonely desert—is all part of the adventure. Once you’re in your car, you’ve already made it.
And once you get here, you’ll understand why it was worth the trip. The park is massive, 1,252 square miles (or roughly 800,000 acres) spread across three distinct landscapes: the Chisos Mountains (the only mountain range completely contained within a U.S. national park), the Rio Grande, and the desert. That means you can hike up a cloud-blanketed mountain, raft down a river through high canyon walls, or stroll through a vast expanse of bright red ocotillos scattered across the horizon. We planned to do it all.