Camping at Big Bend National Park

Sharing the ride from Austin happened to be the best decision, as it not only helped us economically, but it could have been really boring to ride on my own for seven hours into nowhere. After few of the scenic hill country towns like Dipping Springs and Fredericksburg, one would see a number of ranches and maybe few interesting species of deer, on the way. But soon after Sonora, the hill country is far behind and the land gets absolutely barren, with habitat only in the form of shrubs and bushes.

Here it was more of driving in the middle of nowhere with vast flat land expanding up to the horizon dotted by hills, windmills and oil rigs. But finally, the Big Bend welcomes you with peculiar mountainous structures and soon after the quick registration at the visitor center you are at the campsite in Chichos Basin.

Setting up the tent was the first-time experience for me, but after all, it wasn’t that hard at all. Joe helped me in getting the poles through the hooks on the top and then again hooking them on both the sides. The ground was hard and so a mallet was absolutely necessary, to be able to get stakes into the ground. Having a tent of four gave me that extra space to accommodate most of my stuff inside the tent.

The bear proof lockers were the convenience that you get at these campsites, and in absence of those, there is a huge risk of being ransacked by bears looking for food. So better be careful. We did follow a strict schedule to be able to make good use of our time here. Hill Country outdoor did an excellent job, in providing coffee, breakfast, and dinner and packed lunch for all these days. We always had a leader to go with us on each hike, as getting lost in any of these trails can mean a lot of grief.

Out of five days, the first day was spent on reaching the camp and setting up the tent and last day on packing and getting back to Austin. But we made most, out of rest of the three days, enjoying every bit of it. There were several options and in fact, it’s hard to choose one over the other. I could finish few of the interesting hikes like Lost mine, Window Trail and South Rim on the first and last day, while the middle day gave us the excitement of float trip on the Rio Grande and visiting Terlingua, the ghost town.

Lost mine trail is more of a constant elevation, where you are exposed to Sun most of the time. In fact, although South Rim is a lot more miles and switchbacks and change in elevation, you are in shade most of the time and as long as you keep constant pace, South Rim is definitely not as hard as it seems. Lost mine kind of gave that warm up to get ready for the more strenuous hike like South Rim.

Lost mine gives a good look at Casa Grande almost from all the angles and allowed us to peak into some of the beautiful hilly areas behind Casa Grande. The end of Lost mine has some of the most fantastic rocky structures with cliffs and valleys. Turn around and you would always have that constant view of the Chichos basin and the campsites behind you, surrounded by those peculiar Rocky Mountains on one end and Casa Grande on the other. In fact, the window trail that we ventured on, in the evening was exactly opposite to Lost mine trail.

Doing south Rim at our own pace allowed us to take halts, admire nature, photograph some of the most picturesque terrains and share our experiences. While you are on the south rim, you will stumble upon numerous lookouts that would give you some of the most amazing views of this region. As you stand there on the edge you can see the expanses of rugged terrain, with a very sparse vegetation.

Some of those mountains resemble sand dunes while a few have their own unique shapes. The Rio Grande at distance marks the boundary with Mexico while the terrain continues to be equally barren and tough for a living. Santa Alena canyons are constantly visible from this trail, which is one more interesting hike in this region. We did have Amory peak on our list and adding that to South Rim would have been an achievement, but no fun at all.

While running through the cactuses and tall grasslands with the exception of few shady areas of pinion pines and cedars, it was fascinating to see colorful fall patches on this trail. The inverted boot-like structure at one corner marked the boot canyon trail and looked quite interesting.

Most of the terrain had very few signs of human touch and that is what made this place so pristine. The region was definitely harsh for any kind of inhabitation and having said that there was this vast diversity of flora and fauna. Right from the century cactus tree to the beautiful grasslands and from Road-Runner to Javelina it had its own ecosystem. We took seven hours to finish these twelve miles of trail, enjoying the constant descend from the Amory Peak trail end.

The window trail has its own charm. Mission was to capture sunset from the window trail-end, and so we left as late as around five from the camp. The window trail structures seem to be created by the constant flow of gushing waters through the rocks. Although the water was sparse at this point in time, there seemed to be a number of small streams around as we walked towards the window. They do seem to have monsoon in this part of Texas usually between August and September, but I wonder how predictable it would be. Few of the rocky surfaces appeared as if somebody has chiseled the entire rock. This seemed like heaven for rock climbers as well as rappelers.

We got lucky on our way down as Michell pointed us to a couple of deer’s feeding in the bushes. The trail is mostly a constant descend at a reasonable pace while you have the same constant elevation on your way back. We took Oak Spring trail which is much steeper and slippery at places. Better be careful and make sure to look out for others as the surface is hard rock, and you really do not want to break your bone at this place.

The view from the window was amazing. The window slit is a vertical structure through the rock with few rocky structure right in front of the slit, giving you the view of the landscape beyond. The sunset added fantastic colors at this time of the day and we took our own time, enjoying the beauty and admiring nature.

Water suddenly became precious here and the shower after the long day of hikes made our day. The things that we take for granted become so valuable here. After a long day of physical activity, the food tasted amazing and the hard floor campsite and the freezing cold did not keep us away from a sound sleep. In fact, most of us slept like babies, snoring the bears away 😊.

The float trip was probably my luck at its best because I had completely missed on registering for the event and was kind of sad about my negligence. I knew I won’t be able to make it to Boquillas, as it needs a visa, but always wanted to do this float trip ever since I heard about it, during pre-planning meeting. I got in almost at the last moment, as someone dropped out.

The outfitters, Charlie, Mike, and Robin did a fantastic job in explaining us the do’s and don’ts. Although it appeared to be a huge challenge, counting our inexperience in kayaking. But at the end, it didn’t seem that horrible at all. Myself and Joe had a lot of fun going in circles, but at the same time kept the kayak in line with the flow at rough rapids, not getting into an odd angle, jeopardizing our route. Getting wet is no fun at all. It was interesting to know that this was also a part of the Rio Grande where there were border crossings in the past and looking at the harsh terrain it did seemed like an arduous job.

The float trip gave us that tranquil and happy time as most of the time we were admiring nature and let the Rio Grande do her job to take us to our destination. The tall mountains around, the peaceful atmosphere, a sunny bright day and a fantastic crew of people, what more would you want. It was fun, exhilaration and peace of mind at one go.

Haven introduced me to the all-time old movie called Fandango and the DOM rock somewhere close to our float trip drop off point in Big Bend Ranch Park. The view of Rio Grande from here was awesome and I guess I was lucky to not have missed it. Eric, Haven, Judy and myself took turns to get some pretty pictures at this spot and that was good fun.

Visiting the Terlingua theatre starlight shopping center is another experience of its own. Although the café was closed at that time, it was interesting to visit their shop, which had everything to keep the reputation of its name “The Ghost Town”. The place also gives that unique feeling of being in the wild west, resembling many of those Hollywood movie scenes of the wild west.

Chilli Paper Cafe served us the most delicious and authentic Mexican food in a homely setup. The quantity was more than enough, and it was nice to eat something substantial after living on camping food for a little while. The Fajita was exquisite and so was the chili sauce. The homemade sauces added an interesting flavor to the cuisine.

Although I could not go to Boquillas with the group, it did seem to be an interesting way to cross the border and get to know a little bit about the people on the other side. Being in this rash terrain they do not have ample means to make earning. Once a mining town, currently, they seem to be surviving solely on the tourist coming from the other side of the border.

As you cross the Rio Grande they would provide you with a couple, of options to get to the village, the most interesting being the burrow ride. People are very hospitable, and they would love to show their village around and try selling some of the handmade knick-knacks. The food here is awesome and it would cost you half the price for the more delicious tacos and burritos that you might pay in any of the Texan towns.

One of the highlights of this camping was meeting some interesting people. It was amazing to meet people like Paco who have retired for last 15 years and at the age of 84, he had more vigor than probably any one of us. A very humble guy, with love for nature, kept himself absolutely fit and happy through his hobby to explore. I am pretty sure he did not need a lot to put that constant smile on his face.

The campsite was a perfect spot for enjoying nature at its best. Situated right in the basin of Chichos mountains we had tall magnanimous Casa Grande on one side while a solid rocky range of mountains on the other side ultimately descending towards the window. The window had that peculiar curvy shape and every night we saw the moon rising from the Casa Grande finally setting towards the window. The early morning views of moon setting at the window were soothing. In fact, the moon was so bright that we hardly needed our headlamps most of these days.

The last day festivities were the peak point of our three-day camping with lots of creativity in terms of Halloween costumes, singing and campfire jokes. I could hardly believe to have such a great company, each one of them being special in one or the other sense. It was great to meet some of the researchers, writers, athletes, photographers, business tycoons who were equally interesting as plain humans and I find myself lucky to have met them.

Big Bend camping was my chance to stay really close to nature and experience the wilderness, to see how there can be a whole new habitat that can survive on less and most treacherous conditions. The opportunity to meet people from different walks of life and getting to know their adventures and interests. Where would I get those open skies, the experience of camping right in the basin, surrounded by mysterious shapes of barren Rocky Mountains?

It’s where you rediscover yourself, its where you let the child in you loose and break those boundaries that keep you constrained. Think about a zero-network zone, where all the electronics is automatically switched off and you are left with people and nature around to entertain yourself. It starts with a slight discomfort but as you reach your last day, you have that amazing feeling, which makes all those efforts worth.



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