We finally hit the road again! It took us four days to travel the roughly 2000 miles from home to Big Bend National Park in Texas. The drive was pleasant through the countrysides of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana; however, it became increasingly stressful as we passed through the major cities and never-ending suburban sprawl of eastern Texas.

On the road again

Once we passed through San Antonio, the suburban sprawl ended abruptly and the remaining 300 miles of our journey was through an overwhelming expanse of nothingness. The last 100 miles was spent on US-385, which has to be one of the most remote roads in the entire country. There was no cell phone service and no FM radio signal. There were no houses, cross-roads, or cars, but there was a pretty intimidating border-patrol inspection station which we will have to stop at when we finally leave. We stayed at the only campground located outside the northern entrance to the park, the Stillwell Ranch RV Park. The campground/general store/museum is more or less a collection of run-down trailers and old ranch buildings, but the people were nice and the place was clean. They did have a pretty strange policy regarding the usage of toilet paper. The first time I read the sign, I thought "Oh, I guess they are telling people not to put paper towels in the toilet," but then I saw the waste bins placed conveniently next to each toilet and began to put the pieces together. I guess they must have a fragile septic system or something, but I still find the whole thing a bit unsanitary. I feel sorry for the poor guy who has to take out the trash.

We spent our first day inside Big Bend doing several short hikes and trying to acclimate ourselves to the park. With over 100 miles of paved roads (and hundreds more unpaved), there was a lot to take in. We headed down to the Grapevine Hills trail to see the park's balanced rock (it seems every park has one of these). According the park's road guide, the gravel road leading to the trail was suitable for all vehicles; however, it was an intense eight-mile journey for the poor Jetta. The hike was pretty mild and enjoyable, ending with a fun .25 mile scramble up to the balanced rock and a beautiful vista.

Balanced Rock
Balanced Rock with view of Chisos Mountains

Mexican nationals selling trinkets
We drove down to the Boquillas Canyon Road, where we hiked the Boquillas Canyon Trail. This hike was the most surreal experience we have had on this entire trip. The trail was empty and in the distance we could hear someone singing. The closer we got to the canyon, the louder the singing became and we realized we were not alone. We saw several Mexican nationals sitting in the shade of the trees lining the Rio Grande (on the American side), with their horses tied up. The song came from a man sitting atop the canyon wall on the Mexican side of the river. His voice was magnified by the walls of the canyon and it was pretty awesome to sit on the riverbank and listen to him sing. We enjoyed "Mexican Singing Victor's" songs so much that we returned the following day just to hear him sing again. Jordan actually requested a song and Victor happily complied. Even though there were signs at the trailhead instructing park visitors not to give money to the Mexicans, we threw a little change in Victor's cup. He is just trying to make a living like everyone else, and I suspect that the closing of the park's border crossing to Boquillas, Mexico in 2002 impacted that town financially. It was actually pretty amusing to watch the illegal border crossings in action, and even more amusing to watch the Mexican nationals quickly retreat when the border patrol showed up on horseback. 
Boquillas Canyon

Santa Elena Canyon
We then took the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive to the Santa Elana Canyon, where we hiked into the interior of the canyon. The canyon walls towered 1,500 feet above us, which according to our guide is high enough for three Washington Monuments to stand and barely peek over the top. Needless to say, it was pretty great. At the end of our second day in the park, we caught a beautiful sunset from the Sotol Vista Overlook.
Sunset from Sotol Vista Overlook

Santa Elena Canyon
The following day, we got up early to catch the sunrise through the window in the Chisos Mountain Basin. Since it was much cooler (60s as opposed to 80s), we hiked the short trail to the Hot Springs near the Rio Grande Village. In 1909, a small health resort was built that utilized the spring's natural hot water for baths and it was proclaimed that the water could treat a variety of ailments including kidney disease, asthma, influenza, and sunburn. The foundation of the bathhouse overlooking the Rio Grande is all that remains today, but the water was still a startlingly warm 105 degrees.  After a long soak in the spring, we waded around in the Rio Grande.

Waiting for sunrise at the Window

Sunrise at Chisos Basin Window

Tomorrow we leave for the Guadalupe Mountains. Until next time...

Taking a dip in the hot spring

Sunset at Sotol Vista Overlook
Cheesin' it up
Former post office/general store at the Hot Springs
View from Chisos Basin Windows Trail
Wading in the Rio Grande 30 feet from Mexico
View from Sotol Vista parking area



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