This article first appeared in our Summer 2017 Ranch House Journal. Be the first to see and read articles similar to this, subscribe to the magazine here.
By Meg Drake
I love to travel, and have done much traveling throughout my 27 years of life. Recently, I checked another destination off of my travel bucket list: Big Bend National Park located along the Texas-Mexico border.
After spending a little over two years in the Lone Star State (I’m a Kansas native who now calls Texas home), I felt as though I have a good grasp on the Texas terrain. Boy, was I wrong. I’ve seen much of East Texas, the Texas Hill Country and the Texas Panhandle. I’ve even experienced the Texas coast, but Southwest Texas has remained somewhat of a mystery to me.
When I think of Southwest Texas, my mind immediately drifts to Big Bend National Park. A park filled with terrain and scenery that embodies the term Wild West. A location where scenes from your favorite westerns immediately come to mind. However, the Big Bend region is not to be confused with Hollywood. The area features rough terrain, scorching temperatures during warmer months and predator species like mountain lions and black bears. Still, despite the aforementioned, a trip to see this beautiful country is most certainly worth it.
In an effort to experience this part of the world before blazing temperatures set in, a group of close girlfriends and I set aside the weekend of May 12th and made the eight hour drive to explore the area.
The first stop on our Journey was Terlingua, where we had already made plans to stay the night in a refurbished Airstream and upscale teepee (for lack of a better term). Terlingua is a tiny town located just outside of the National Park. It’s filled with an eclectic mixture of personalities, ranging from artists and vagabonds to tourists and dogs. Yes, you read correctly, dogs. The local canines were very friendly and seemed to patrol the area at their own leisure.
Although Terlingua looks like a scene from a John Wayne classic, the town is not to be confused with a movie set. It’s rich in history, especially as it pertains to mining, but I’ll save that for another column.
During our brief stay in Terlingua we met fellow travelers at the Starlight Theatre, experienced wonderful hospitality at the “Espresso…y poco mas” coffee shop, and had the best stay of our trip via the “Desert Pearl” and “The Nomad.”
Day two of our trip meant leaving our cozy teepee and Airstream in Terlingua to venture into the no cell service zone that is the Big Bend National Park. We traveled up into the mountains by way of twisty-turvyy roads. The vehicle fell silent as we took in the expansive, desolate countryside and mulled over the idea that we were now four girls, alone in Big Bend National Park, without cell service.
Once we made it to camp, we eagerly packed gear bags in preparation for our first hike, the Window Trail, a beautiful four mile round trip hike from the Chisos Basin Campground to “the window.”
The hike came with its fair share of excitement. We saw many creatures including roadrunners, hornets and even a black bear. The most exciting view however, was that at the end of the trail, “the window.”
You’ll notice we’re all barefoot. The edge of the rock nearest the window is extremely slick. We were advised by another hiker to remove our shoes before venturing too close to the edge.
Mid-May is still a warm time to visit the park. Despite efforts to stay cool, when you’re hiking with a pack, in the middle of the day, in the desert, you tend to get drenched…with sweat. After completing the hike, we decided setting up camp was our best bet. We met several friendly travelers in the Chisos Basin Campground, including a group of Austin locals who were spending four days hiking and taking in all the sights and sounds of the park.
One day and one evening was all the time we had allocated to spending in the park this particular trip. So on day three we headed toward Marfa by way of the Presidio Trail or Highway 170. The highway parallels the Rio Grande through the park and contains beautiful vantage points and lookouts along the way.
While in Marfa, we stayed at the El Cosmico, which is essentially a large campsite offering many different lodging options, including tents, teepees, yurts, and renovated campers. We opted for the more economical choice, and made ourselves cozy in one of their many canvas tents. I’m sure at this point you’re wondering how we maintained our hygiene. We got very used to bathing outside by way of private shower stalls, which we determined was rather liberating.
Marfa is a very interesting destination. A sleepy, small, artsy town that boasts tourists like The Weekend, Beyoncé and Kevin Bacon. Its upscale shopping, dining and downtown area make it seem as though it should be located along the California coast, but its friendly habitants, West Texas surroundings, and occasional dive bar make Marfa seem very much at home in Texas. Overall, I’ve decided it’s a destination that I would like to visit again and again.
While in Marfa we dined at the Paisano Hotel. A beautiful historic site that has rooms named after stars that have stayed in the hotel, like Elizabeth Taylor, Elvis Presley and Rock Hudson. After dinner, we enjoyed cocktails at the Saint George Hotel and played a round of pool at the Lost Horse Saloon.
A trip to the viewing area to witness the famed Marfa lights once nightfall had arrived was the final stop on our weekend getaway. Rather than disclose my opinion concerning the lights, I’ll let you chart your own experience and make your own determination.
Until we meet again Big Bend!