You’ve no doubt heard this year is the 100th anniversary of our National Parks. And while all of the National Parks are amazing, Big Bend brings something unusual to the package. It’s not just about the park but also the surrounding communities that make this remote corner of Texas a worthy destination. This is a land where roadrunners chase rabbits across the road and you will find yourself searching for Wylie Coyote.
Named for the vast curve of the Rio Grande River in the far southwest of Texas, Big Bend is remote and wild. Getting there takes a commitment. It’s not close to anything and even with a flight to get you somewhat close, there will be a road trip involved for at least four hours. But, it is worth every minute it takes to get there because Big Bend is absolutely magical.
Spreading out over one million acres and encompassing the entire Chisos mountain range along with a large section of the Chihuahuan Desert, Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park are home to over 1,200 species of plants, 450 species of birds and 3,600 species of insects and animals including mountain lions, bears, jack rabbits, mule deer, roadrunners and coyotes (to chase the road runners, of course.) Options for recreation include hiking, camping, river float trips, horseback riding, mountain biking, and birding.
The Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive leads to the ruins of Sam Nail Ranch. The steep limestone cliffs of the Santa Elena Canyon beckon hikers and a dip in the Langford Hot Springs, near the Mexico border situated in the ruins of an old bathhouse is both relaxing and exhilarating as the Rio Grande River flows swiftly past.
Located in the Chisos Mountains Basin, the Chisos Mountains Lodge is the only lodging within the park boundaries and is the proud owner of one of the grandest views in the region. The sunsets will take your breath away.
When I first heard I was going to be taking a rowboat to Mexico, I had visions of an illicit border crossing that could quite possibly land me in a Mexican jail. I’m adventurous, but I do try to avoid being locked up. So, I was relieved and amazed to learn that you can legally take a rowboat to Mexico at the Boquillas Point of Entry.
After a short walk down the path to the river which brought a brief encounter with a Javelina, we boarded a rowboat paddled by the mayor of Boquillas and crossed the Rio Grande. We were greeted by Mexican cowboys who helped us saddle up our burros for the 15-minute ride up to the town’s immigration trailer.
We spent the afternoon sampling the local Mexican dishes and sipping a margarita before boarding the rowboat back to the USA.
Located at the western edge of Big Bend, Lajitas is home to the Lajitas Golf Resort, a 27,000-acre property featuring a world-class 18-hole course. The resort also offers a spa, pool, restaurants and shops. For more entertainment, you can fly through the air on the zip line or do what I did, channel your inner Annie Oakley with the "Cowboy Action Shoot" experience.
We ventured out to the shooting range that is set up as "Stargazer Springs" – a Wild West town façade. To my surprise, this was not a clay shooting experience, we were handed an assortment of weapons including pistols, rifle and a double-barreled shotgun with live ammo. We sauntered through the town taking our turns shooting at the targets through the windows of the saloon and other town landmarks. Annie Oakley I’m not, but I have to say I wasn’t bad with a pistol!
No visit to Lajitas is complete without meeting the mayor, Clay Henry. Not your typical politician, Clay Henry is a beer-drinking goat that has been elected mayor more than once. He wasn’t all that interested though in speaking with me as I arrived at his residence during dinner.
Once the thriving home of the historic Chisos Mining Company, Terlingua became a ghost town after the mines dried up in the 1940s. But ghost towns are cool and Terlingua is no exception. For one thing, it’s the home of the original Chili Cookoff which attracts over 10,000 "chili heads" each year.
The Starlight Theatre restaurant and bar is the hangout for tourists and locals and the only unwelcome guest is progress – the residents want nothing to do with it. Catch the view of the Santa Fe de Los Pinos mountain range 80 miles south in Mexico from the porch on a clear day.
Each year on November 2nd, Terlingua’s 113-year-old cemetery takes center stage for the annual Day of the Dead celebration – a Mexican tradition honored in this little border town. Residents and visitors spend the evening in the graveyard decorating the graves of their dearly departed with flowers, candles and photographs. There’s plenty of music, food and drink, and a couple dressed as skeletons roams in and out of the shadows of the tiny cemetery.
Have you been to Big Bend? What were your favorite experiences?
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Terri Marshall is a New York City based freelance writer whose work includes travel, spirits, and all things chocolate. Terri's work appears in several publications. She has been a featured guest on Peter Greenberg's Worldwide Travel radio program and Denver's KZKO Radio Morning Express show. Terri will not hesitate to go to the source for great chocolate - even if that means hiking through the jungle and picking cacao pods herself.
Happiest when she's globetrotting, Terri has covered destinations all over the United States, Europe, and into Central and South America. Favorite adventures include reindeer driving in Norway and fishing for piranhas in the Amazon jungle of Peru. You can keep up with Terri's adventures on her website www.TrippingwithTerri.com. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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