Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Trek America Day 10 & 11: Big Bend National Park, Texas

Day 9 was mainly spent in the van, driving from San Antonio to Big Bend National Park.  It was a 414 mile drive taking over 7 hours, with a few pit stops thrown in.  We also had to go through border control, where we were all made to get out of the van and show our passports and answer a few questions about where we landed etc.  Ben said this was quite unusual and usually they take a brief glimpse at the passports and let him on his merry way.  We must look like a motley crue!

The park is beautiful, mainly long flat roads flanked either side by vibrant purple, white and yellow desert flowers, cacti and green shrubs, and in the distance rising up before you is a huge never ending horizon of rocky mountains.  As we neared the campsite we climbed elevation and my ears popped, the rocky mountains suddenly weren't in the horizon any longer and we were within the belly of them, reminding me of a much yellower and hotter and less jagged Llanberis Pass. 

Big Bend is over 800,000 acres of massive canyons, desert, forested mountains and river scapes in the bottom of Texas, on the border of Mexico.  Early explorers called the area El Despoblado, the uninhabited land, as it was so remote and wild.  It is called Big Bend as it is along the curve of the Rio Grande river, which provides a natural border between Mexico and the US.  The area rises up over 7000 feet in the Chisos Mountains from the Rio Grande at 1,800 feet. 

We arrived eager to put up our tents and get settled in to our camp grounds.  The tents are simple enough to put up, little A frame 2 man tents.  We were camping on rocks and stones so I was super happy I had decided to borrow Kim's self inflatable mattress, as the sleeping mats that Trek provide aren't the thickest.  Thanks Kim!! After tent construction we cooked a spaghetti bolognaise dinner and chilled out, watching the sun set and the stars come out.  Big Bend has one of the darkest skies in the country due to low levels of light and air pollution, and I don't think I've ever seen so many stars, the sky was glittering with them.  We spent some time spotting constellations (my offering was Orion's belt, knowledge I acquired from Men In Black. Who says Hollywood isn't educational!), bear proofed the camp ground (everything scented, including food and toiletries, goes into a locker) and went to bed. 

I sleep on my side so it isn't the most comfortable even with two sleeping mats, but I managed to get some sleep until the wind woke us all up at 3 am.  I almost thought a hurricane had hit but logic told me Ben would have evacuated us by this point so I just shoved my earplugs in further and tried to ignore the tent sides flapping in my face and the gusts of wind blowing through the tent. 

We woke in the morning to find the tents still in place and everyone accounted for, but with no sunrise yet the place is freezing and the wind still howling.  I put my shorts on and then pull my leggings over the top as it's pretty nippy compared to yesterday's balmy 30 degrees. We had a hearty breakfast (2 nutella covered bagels for me.... and I wonder where my spare tyre is coming from) and set off for our activity of the day - hiking Mt Emory Peak.  This is the highest mountain in the Chisos range and stands at 7,832 feet.  Our campground is already quite high up so we are actually only climbing 2,400ft which is still pretty good going.  It's a beautiful 10.5 mile round trip that takes us just over 5 hours to complete, including breaks and a half hour lunch stop at the top.  The first mile is the hardest as we're all pretty sleepy and our bodies cold, but once we warm up it gets easier.  Pretty sure I'm the only one panting like I'm having an asthma attack though!! 

The trail up is well marked and mainly rocky pathways and some steps where it's particularly steep.  All around is rock and cactus and more rock and cactus and as we climb higher and turn corners the views get more and more spectacular.  We spot a few deer and some beautiful Mexican Jays, crow sized birds with a gorgeous chalky blue colour and an inquisitive face.

The last part of the trail is a 100mtr scramble that involves some light rock climbing, something that petrifies and thrills me in equal measure.   The adage of "don't look down" was never truer here and I made the mistake of looking and then feeling immediately sick at what looks like a vertical drop to my right. 

However we all made it to the top safe and sound, and once I'd stopped feeling sick at the height, began to eat lunch.  Not a bad lunch spot! You can see a 360° view of the Chisos Basin and it's endless.  Lunch on top of the world! 

As usually happens the trek down was much easier and faster and we headed back to the campsite tired but happy.  I really enjoyed the scramble at the top of the mountain and it reminded me of the one me and Amy did in Thailand.  I want to do more scrambling when I get back to the UK if anyone wants to join me!!

We rested at camp for a while then cooked an early dinner, it was mine, Simon and Sun's turn and we had decided to do a chili con carne which turned out pretty well considering it was all cooked on camping stoves.  This trip has been a bit of a camping revelation for me!
After dinner, Ben knew of some hot springs about an hours drive away so we elected to go there (this campsite has no showers so a dip in a hot spring sounded like bliss.  As a side note, given than none of us had showered in 2 days and had just done a 10 mile hike in 20° heat, we didn't smell that bad considering).

The springs were magical.  Located by the side of the Rio Grande river, the walk from the car park to the spring led you down a sandy pathway, flanked one side by a huge layered sandstone cliff, formed in such a way it would please anyone who loves geometrics, all lines and jutting out triangles.  On the other side was bright green grass and reeds, and beyond that the river.  I felt like I was walking in Egypt beside the Nile rather than in Texas.  

There is an opening to the right and you stumble upon an infinity pool of warm water, sitting above the river. The spring was discovered years ago and some enterprising individual had built a brick pool to separate it from the main river but it went out of business a long time ago, and is now a free for all.  A foot below the pool was the rushing Rio Grande, and half way across the river was the Mexican border.

There were 2 couples in the spring when we arrived, who both looked slightly crestfallen at having to share the pool with a bunch of youths, but we were very nice to them and struck up conversations with them.  One of the best things about travel is meeting new people and they all seem to have interesting stories to tell.  One of the couples was drinking wine from water bottles which seemed a fabulous idea.  They'd retired and were working their way around all of America's National Parks.  The male of the other couple looked and sounded Mexican and I had a romantic theory that he swam across the river every evening to meet his American partner every night in the hot spring. 

You can climb over the ledge and lower yourself into the cold water of the Rio Grande, so you can almost get the full spa experience.  We wallowed in the warm sandy water for an hour or so until dusk, then headed back to camp, warm and clean and very much ready for bed.  We collapsed in our tents and I think we all got a good and well deserved sleep!

I took billions of photos but WiFi is patchy so will only upload a few. Check out my Instagram for more pics (if I can get them to upload!)


  1. I assume you didn't see any lions or bears then?

  2. No (un)fortunately! But Daniel and I did spend a good ten mins staring at a black dot on the hillside convinced it was a bear. It was a cave..

  3. All this talk of cactuses and yet no cactus pictures?

    1. Sorry Leanney!! I'll go back and get one for you xxx


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