Exploring Big Bend National Park
Over the course of the next few weeks, I’d visit the park often, leaving my temporary home base in Marfa for a night or two to explore Big Bend and Terlingua, the ghost town on the west side of the park. The Smokies have Gatlinburg, the Everglades have Everglades City, and Big Bend has Terlingua, a small dusty road of tent sites, a concert venue, and Espresso…y Poco Mas, an outdoor breakfast spot that helps you ease back into the real world after a few nights under the stars. There’s more to the town, of course—a weekend farmers’ market, an art gallery—but the remoteness of the place, the pure emptiness, makes it the perfect complement to the park. Nothing could be more fitting for this wide-open corner of the Lone Star.
A short encounter that transpired at the beginning of our trip perfectly sums up the relationship between the park and its visitors. A group of backpackers, fresh off the trail from a four-day trip into the Chisos, stopped at their car, started doing push-ups with their packs still on, and drank cold Tecates from the general store to celebrate their return from the wilderness. When they spotted us preparing for our trip, they came over to ask about our plans. As conversation usually goes, we ended up discussing where we were from, our jobs, and, of course, that six-year-old boy the mountain lion had attacked just a few feet from where we were standing. Our new friends were from Dallas, and they invited us to stay with them on our drive back east the following month. We barely knew each other’s names. But to get to Big Bend, to take the time and effort to drive to the edge of Texas, to a place that most people have never even heard of, was grounds for instant kinship. We had all made it.
IF YOU GO:
Big Bend is relatively uncrowded year-round, but if you want honest-to-goodness solitude, late summer is the time to visit. You can obtain backcountry use permits, a must-have for campers, in person daily at Panther Junction and Chisos Basin Visitor Centers; $10 fee. nps.gov/bibe/planyourvisit/bc_permits.htm
How to Get There
The nearest airports served by major airlines are in Midland/Odessa, Texas, and El Paso, Texas, 235 miles and 330 miles, respectively, from park headquarters.
What to See
You shouldn’t miss Boquillas Canyon, the Chisos Mountains, the Hot Springs, and, of course, the Rio Grande.
Big Bend Expeditions specializes in guided tours by land, river, or air (bigbendexpeditions .com). Desert Sports offers customized hiking, biking, climbing, and rafting trips (desertsportstx.com).
Where to Stay
As an alternative to camping, the Chisos Mountains Lodge, located in the Chisos Basin, is a quaint spot with an assortment of guest rooms and cottages; from $121/night. chisosmountains lodge.com