We have been to the Big Bend of Texas four times. Once during June in 2013, again in November of the same year, again the following November, and then in late 2016. Going in June was kind of a mistake. We knew it would be hot but what we didn’t know is that it would be 116º. It was stifling hot and our dogs were as miserable as we were. At one point, when we took Petunya on a short walk at the Contrabando movie set in Big Bend Ranch, she made a beeline for the Rio Grande and just laid in it to cool off. The one good thing about going here during this time is that you’re pretty much the only person in the park. We spent about five hours there and in that time we saw two other people. It was deserted which to us added to the incredible loneliness and expansiveness of the park. It really is one of the more under appreciated parks in America drawing about 320,000 visitors per year compared to Yosemite’s 3.6 million yearly visitors.
Big Bend is located about 8 hours to the west of Austin and 4 hours east of El Paso. The cities of Alpine, Marathon, and Terlingua contain a combined population of 6,500 people and the vast majority of them are in Alpine. So, it’s a pretty remote place with a truly unforgiving climate and fairly rough terrain with few accommodations. So, I get why it isn’t visited. But if you ever are planning a trip to Texas, Big Bend should be at the top of your list. It is an incredible place. The landscape when driving down the Ross Maxwell Scenic Rd is like looking at an alien planet. Maybe you’ve seen the movie Prometheus? If you have then you know what I’m talking about, when the humans land on the alien planet the landscape there is, well, very alien. When I go through Big Bend, I think of that scene in Prometheus. My advice is drive down the Ross Maxwell Scenic Rd about 1.5hrs to 2hrs before sunset. The colors in the valley are fantastic. Purple and orange and red burning everything. Or in the early morning drive up the Old Maverick Road from Santa Elena Canyon. It’s a gorgeous unpaved road taking you through the heart of the valley.
When we’ve gone in November, the weather is less hot and we’re able to enjoy more of the locations in Big Bend for a longer time. That was when we came across Jesus. He was singing for tips at the bend in the river right outside Boquillas Canyon. Of course, there were many more people there that week and so some of the magic of being alone in a remote place was missing but overall, it was a more pleasant trip since we didn’t feel like we were going to melt into the desert.
We took some friends in November of 2014 and we did over 100 miles of off-road driving in the back country of the National Park. We also drove through Big Bend Ranch State Park. In our opinion, the State Park is just as impressive as the National Park and should not be missed. The Ranch also has quite a few off-road tracks that are four-wheel drive only and are not maintained. They are pretty intense but they lead to some gorgeous areas in the State Park.
Our latest adventure to Big Bend was with our friends, Mary Ashley and Owen. They are full time vanlifers and have become some of our favorite people we’ve met while traveling around the country. Our time in Big Bend with them proved to be trying. We drove on one of Big Bend’s many off-road tracks and found ourselves confronted by a 1/8 mile long mud pit. Both of our vans made it through but their van was damaged in the process. The CV boots shredded in the mud and the CV joints filled with mud and water thus necessitating a full-on trail repair where we removed the axles, cleaned the CVs, repacked them, McGyvered the boots and got back on our way. All in all, it took 8 hours of work to get them up and running but we did and it was a memorable experience. We’ll write about it more another time. Suffice it to say for now that we saw an amazing sunrise and sunset on the trail that day. Big Bend is a must.