Friday, March 2, 2018

Big Bend National Park

Christmas 2017 Brett surprised me with a trip to Big Bend National Park, I'm going to start this recap by saying going on adventures instead of giving material items for gifts has unintentionally become a tradition for us & I really love it! We always end up having so much fun & make wonderful memories I know we will remember for the rest of our lives instead of wasting money on something we will forget about.

The  day before we left for our trip the Government was shut down for the first time since 2013, so the park wasn't even operating!! Just our luck. We decided to take the chance & begin the drive anyway, Brett had been planning it for months & I had been dreaming about it for years so we were just going to make it work. The trip started with a 7 hour drive, we lost all radio stations & cell service about halfway through the trip so we spent most of the drive talking, daydreaming, singing, and being silly. It was actually refreshing not listening to the same radio stations, boring commercials, & not having to worry about getting sick of the same old songs on repeat. Big Bend National Park is one of the least visited parks in America & it was obvious before we even got there! Once we exited i-10 there wasn't a soul in sight!

The first sign we saw after pulling into the park!

Thankfully when we arrived the next day things were worked out enough with the government that it was up & running! Driving from the entrance to our campsite took about an hour, with the most gorgeous views the whole way. Every direction we looked was breathtaking. We stayed in the Chisos Mountain Basin in our tent, with no running water and no electricity. It was so simple & wonderful to be off grid.

"The Window" we could see from our campsite & the first trail we hiked after setting up camp!

All of our supplies & food had to be locked up in the bear box at all times. 

Brett reserved a campsite for us in advance but it was in a busier area & had no shelter from weather or any privacy so we ended up switching our spot to one of the largest & only secluded ones available. We loved it! After getting unpacked & settled into camp we headed out for the first hike of the trip before dinner. 

The Window Trail

The trail started just a short distance from our campsite & lead us to the cliff between the two mountains in the picture above that I took from our campsite.

We had to crawl on smooth rocks to get to the very end, it was slippery & had our hearts racing!

It was gorgeous, a perfect short hike to get acclimated to the elevation & stretch our legs after being in the truck for so long. After that hike & traveling all day we were exhausted so we made dinner & planned out the next few days before hitting the hay. 

Not 5 minutes after laying down for bed I fell asleep & Brett began hearing an animal roam around our campsite playing with somebody's trash. He also insists he heard a cat purring near his head, needless to say between that & the 30 degree weather he did not sleep much. Ha!

The next morning we woke up before the sun, made a hearty breakfast, and packed our lunches up for a big day of hiking. We had decided to start the trip off with a bang, use our fresh legs for the biggest hike we could do. Emory Peak! 

Emory Peak is the tallest mountain in Big Bend. It has an elevation of 7,832 feet, a 12 mile hike roundtrip from our campsite.

That's "The Window" behind us that we hiked the night before.

Throughout the whole hike up the mountain we kept turning stopping in awe of the views but they just kept getting better & better!

He is the cutest. I cannot get enough!

This hike was NO JOKE! We were getting our butts kicked by the distance & elevation change.

The further we got the more strenuous the hiking became & the less people we saw hiking. The trail we started on had a lot of detours for those to take if they didn't want to do the entire Emory Peak Trail, looking back I can see why they veered off. I had so many moments where I wanted to give up but I had to remind myself we had already gotten as far as we did & that we may never get another chance! It was not for the faint of heart.

Throughout our trip we saw a lot of bear & mountain lion warnings. Other veteran campers had told us about sightings they had so we knew they were out there & we looked constantly but never saw any.

After about 5 hours of hiking we made it near the peak, that's when things got even more challenging! We actually had to scale boulders after hiking all the way, truly climbing to the peak. Our legs (or at least my legs, lol) felt like jello at this point but we didn't go that far just to turn around. 

Let me just say, the views were indescribable...absolutely breathtaking!! The photos I took do it no justice, we could see for hundreds of miles! From what we read the only thing that stopped us from seeing further was the curvature of the earth!

The best lunch break we have ever had. We sat on top of the mountain for about a hour taking it all in. We really did not want to leave but we knew we only had so much daylight left in the day to make it back to camp & it was freezing cold with some brutal winds up there.

To put the hike & boulder scrambling into perspective, this was the view going down...the photos do it no justice.

We saw these blue birds all along the hike. They were not camera shy!

The Emory Peak Trail ended up taking us every bit of 9 hours to complete. We were exhausted, starving, & could not believe we had completed one of the most challenging hikes on our very first day! I was honestly worried the rest of the trip would seem like a joke compared to the first day but boy I was wrong!

The next morning we were feeling very sore from hiking so we decided to take it easy. We started off the morning with a good breakfast & a trip to the natural hot springs to soothe our muscles & rinse off.

The hot spring is on the bank of The Rio Grande in the Chihuahua Desert, an old bath house during the mining days and one of the only places to rinse off in the park to this day! It stays 105 degrees year round and carries mineral salts that are supposed to have healing powers. We didn't really care what was in the water, it felt great & helped our sore muscles so much! It was in the fifties outside so the hot water felt great. When we arrived there was one person enjoying it & before we left about an hour later another couple had arrived.

The hot spring was about an hour from our campsite so we decided to take advantage of already being on the east side of the park & explore the Boquillas Canyon, The Rio Grande, and the some of the Chihuahua Desert.

The Rio Grande in The Boquillas Canyon

Brett looking at Boquillas, Mexico on the other side of The Rio Grande.

When we were exploring this side of the park we saw a lot of these metal figurines, hand painted walking sticks, hand embroidered bags & coozies made by the Mexican's from Boquillas, Mexico. They come over to the American side illegally before daybreak & place the items for the tourists to (illegally) purchase with the honor system & come back at night to pick up the money. Notice the coozie on the left that says "NO WALL".

The hike to the Boquillas Canyon said "1.4 miles" so we thought no big deal....every hike that seemed "no big deal" was in fact a very big deal. This hike was a steep rocky hike in the sand, since we were in the desert side of the park it was sunny & already in the mid eighties. We were sweating our tails off because we dressed for the cool weather in the mountains. I could not imagine exploring this side of the park during the summertime.We ran across "Jesus the singing Mexican", he rows his boat across the river each morning to the American side, illegally, and hides in the trees along the trail, singing to the tourists & begging for money. I wish I would have gotten a photo of him but I didn't want to encourage it.

We spent the rest of the day leisurely making our way back to the Chisos Mountain area, stopping anywhere we pleased. We enjoyed taking time to hang out at our campsite, playing yahtzee & resting after hiking Emory Peak the day before.

We spotted the Fox that came out each night looking for scraps, keeping Brett up at night. haha!

The next morning was our last full day at Big Bend. We decided to hike The Lost Mine Trail, explore Terlingua, Santa Elena's Canyon & everything on the drive's to & from those places. We began the morning with The Lost Mine Trail since it begins in The Chisos Mountains where we were camping at. Every person we spoke to we asked "What's your favorite trail?" & almost every single person said The Lost Mine Trail. It was STUNNING! We really liked that even though it was still a challenging hike since it was 5 miles roundtrip with a 1,000 foot elevation change, it only took about a half day. It was SO REWARDING! The views throughout the entire hike were incredible but the top was almost as impressive as the top of Emory Peak. We agreed if we only had one day in the park this would be the trail we would choose. 

We ended up taking over 900 pictures!

Right before taking this picture I was so focused on finding a place to balance the camera I backed my butt right into a cactus! 

After we finished up the Lost Mine Trail we headed West about 45 minutes to visit Terlingua, Texas! An old ghost town converted artsy tourist town with a population of a whopping 58 people. While there wasn't much to see it actually is a historic town being the home of the historic Chisos Mining Company and the self-proclaimed home of the very first Chili Cookoff which actually still exists to this day each November!

We visited The Terlingua Trading Company which is in the original company store of The Chisos Mining Company, The Cemetery & even toured the old jailhouse...which is now the public restroom. Ha!

After leaving Terlingua we decided to take one of the many "unimproved roads" (meaning nobody ever drives on this road, nobody maintains it either so it's not even really a road) to the Santa Elena Canyon, highly recommended to us by our campsite neighbor, Tom. Tom was the sweetest old man that ended up being our unofficial tour guide for our trip. He has been visiting Big Bend every year, at least once a year, since 1999. He was in his late seventies so he had a lot of stories to tell & advice to give. We ended up talking to him quite a bit on the trip & really enjoyed his company.

So Tom had also recommended to take this specific trail from Terlingua to the canyon a few days prior. He said he has taken it often through the years & really enjoys it. We are no stranger to driving in places without roads so we decide to take it, why not? This road was 13 miles long, flat through the desert & felt like driving on a washboard. We could not stop laughing the whole way down it, we were amazed that he recommended this horrible "road"! It was not the fun off road trail we were anticipating. So we were terrified thinking this Santa Elena's Canyon wasn't worth it either. Everything in Big Bend is so spread apart we drove hours a day to do the things we wanted so we really researched what was worth our time & what wasn't so that we used every moment wisely. 

This canyon did not make the cut during our research...

I am SO GLAD Tom recommended the Santa Elena Canyon!! It ended up being one of the best sights we saw, even though we seemed to love every single thing we saw. When we finally arrived the sun began sinking behind the canyon & it was breath taking. We stood at the entrance to it for awhile soaking it in.

Brett skipping rocks on The Rio Grande.

We took the trail up & along the edge of the canyon to go deeper into it.

We already want to go back to Big Bend & want to bring our kayaks next time!

After The Santa Elena Canyon we took the "normal" road back towards our camp. It is called the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, it lived up to it's name! We weren't expecting much after taking the other road but we ended up stopping at any & every hiking opportunity or scenic overlook there was.

The terrain during the 38 mile drive back to our camp varied so much.

Big Bend was SO WONDERFUL! It was such a unique place, full of adventure. We spent a total of 4 days there & there are still so many things we didn't have time to do or see! 

I am so thankful that Brett & I enjoy so many similar things...being unplugged & out in nature is one of the many things we both love & there's nobody else in this world I would rather do life & adventure with. 

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