I just got back from a camping trip to Big Bend National Park in far West Texas. From San Antonio, you get on either I-10 or Highway 90 and drive forever. It is about 400 miles and takes 6 hours. Good thing the speed limit is 80 in West Texas because there are hundreds of miles of nothing.
After driving through the desert we finally arrived at the park entrance and paid our 20 entry fee. Then you get to drive another 60 miles through the desert terrain at 45 mph. It takes forever. The road leads up into the mountains and down into the basin where you find a closed information center (Closes at 4:00 pm!) You drive down a twisted road to the almost full campground.
Here’ s where I made my planning mistake. I scheduled the trip at the end of March expecting the spring break masses to have gone back to school and work. It was unbeknownst to me that Easter Week is also a vacation time. It isn’t for me so I didn’t expect it to be so for other people. The campground Hosts were at least handy to help us find a place to set up our tent. I expected to have the place to ourselves but had to settle for a spot without a shade structure over the picnic table.
We first set up our tent which was difficult because the ground is all rocky. It was about to get dark so we started our charcoal fire and grilled up some hamburgers. Right next door was a huge gaggle of girls who should have been in school. They giggled and mulled around for a few hours but went to sleep quickly. That was a relief.
The sun went down behind the mountains and the stars slowly started to show up in the cloudless darkening sky. One of the reasons we went out to West Texas was to see the stars. It was a much better view than you get in the city by definition. As the glow of the sun finally disappeared from the sky, another glow appeared in the East. It looked like it was coming from the ranger station or something but it was very bright. It cast a glow on the western mountain face and we speculated at what it could possibly be. A few minutes later, the moon rose over the mountaintop. DUH! As the full moon rose, the stars twinkled out. We didn’t even need flashlights anymore. It was like daytime. Might as well go to sleep.
It was cool but not cold my my standards. Probably in the mid 50s. I slept relatively well considering the comfort of an inflatable mattress, sleeping bag and a couple of blankets. The circular image of the moon showed through the nylon tent as it made it’s way across the sky during the night. We were right across from a restroom at site 35 so it was an easy walk across the road when nature called. No flashlight needed due to the bright moonlight.
I always bring earplugs with me on trips so I slept pretty well through the evening banging of car doors and the morning rustling of equipment and cars.
The next morning we woke around 9:00 as the sun rose over the mountains. I pulled out my ancient Coleman stove and rustled up some eggs and stuff for breakfast.
We decided to hike the “short” trail to the Window which is an opening in the rocks where the whole basin drains. It was a long but mostly downhill hike along a dusty trail. We eventually made it to the Window. From here you can look off into the distance and see the mountains across the Rio Grande river in Mexico. It is quite a view. We took pictures and rested while other people arrive and made comments about getting too close to the edge.
After resting a while we started the trip back. This hike was excruciatingly difficult. Having to stop multiple times in the tiny shade spots to catch our breath we eventually made it back to the campground. I did this hike with my family 20 years ago and I don’t recall it being that far. I think they made the park bigger over time.
It was after noon and the sun was burning down on us. With no place to hide from it other than a tent that had become an oven. We were lucky enough to sit in the shade structure of the reserved spot next to us. The people had not arrived yet so we took it over for now. There was nothing to do for the next four hours but sit at the picnic table in the shade and watch the campers walk to and from the restroom. The mountain view was nice but gets old quickly.
The basin campground is obviously less excellent than it used to be. There were poles for electricity but all the boxes were locked. The brochure says, “No hook ups”. But there they are. Padlocked. What kind of BS is this? Oh well. I didn’t need electricity anyway.
At each campsite there is a water pipe sticking out of the ground. The faucet has been removed and the pipe capped. No water for you! The only water available was in the restroom area. No showers either. Want to wash your hands? No soap in restrooms. You have to wash your hands one at a time too. One hand to push the button to hold the water on and one to wash itself. Texas is in a drought and water is scarce in the desert but this still sucks.
Evening arrived and we ventured back to our campground, fired up the grill and had chicken thighs and beans. Not a bad meal. We watched the sun set. The moon rose at least an hour later tonight so we had more time to view the stars.
Sleep, Pee, Sleep, Pee.
After an early morning pee we decided to get an early start home. We had more scrambled eggs for breakfast and packed up the camp and drove out of the basin.
I didn’t want to drive 45 miles per hour for 60 miles so I was going a bit faster when an oncoming ranger turned on her flashing lights. I pulled over and wondered what kind of ticket you get in a national park. She took my license and insurance back to the truck and came back a few minutes later to give me a warning. I’m a clean-cut kind of guy with few violations on my record so she had pity on me. I set the cruise-control on 45 and suffered the next 40 miles the main gate. Hard to imagine that a speed limit would matter out in the middle of nowhere.
We stopped in Fort Davis for a nosh and some gas. There was a steak place that looked popular so we went in. It was a pretty good meal for around $20 including tip.
The drive home was never ending. I think we drove over countless hills cut to let the highway through. They all looked the same. After 400 miles we finally made it back to San Antonio just in time for the rush hour. Fortunately we were there just at the beginning so the working- masses haven’t quite hit the road yet.
It was nice to take a shower again after three days. Overall it was a worthy trip but I don’t want to do it again anytime soon.