Tag: NPS

Deep in the Heart of Texas


This year we returned to Big Bend National Park for a few days of camping in Olly. On the way out we stopped over in Del Rio to visit Melina’s parents. The trip was uneventful with the exception of picking up a speeding ticket in Bracketville. Yes, a speeding ticket in a VW Vanagon.

We arrived in the park the next day to find it full because, for whatever reason, the entire state of Texas has Spring Break all in the same week. Since both Plan A (campground campsite) and Plan B (backcountry roadside campsite) fell through, we were forced to look outside the park. I wasn’t terribly worried since there’s a number of RV parks in neighboring areas, plus there’s the State Park nearby as well.

Ultimately we settled in a bare bones RV park just east of Study Butte. That’s the nice thing about camping in the Vanagon: close the curtains and you can grab a night’s sleep just about anywhere. At any rate, staying outside the park turned out to be a good thing. Since we were so close to Terlingua, we decided to hop over to the Starlight Theatre for dinner. Performing on the night we were there were Markley and Balmer, a singer-songwriter duo with a flair for jazzy chordings. The food was delicious, and the music was a treat. When we were done, we went back to our campsite, popped the top, and settled in for the night.


We had decided to try our luck at getting a campsite in Big Bend, so the next morning we got up early and headed to the Cottonwood campground. As luck had it, a couple spots had opened up as we arrived, so we pulled in and staked our claim for the next few days. The campground was quiet (generators not allowed!) and spacious. It also has limited water resources, but fortunately we had filled Olly’s freshwater tank up at the Chisos Basin campground the previous day. After setting up our new Bus Depot Ezy Awning we dug in and did absolutely nothing. Well, Melina turned a few pages in a book, but for me even closing my eyes was too much work, so I did it once and then kept them shut.

IMG_9194That night the stars were proverbially big and bright. I tried to do a bit of astronomical photography on a dying camera battery. Sadly, the 40D isn’t cut out for night time photography, but it was fun nonetheless. The moon sank early and the sky was clear. It is always wonderful to see the Milky Way be the dominant feature of the sky.

IMG_9253The next day we were much more ambitious. After a brief bike ride to the nearby concessions store for a bag of ice, we took a longer ride from the campground down to the Santa Elena Canyon River Access where we had a picnic lunch. The Rio Grande was very low, and neither grand nor much of a river, to be honest. On the way back to the campground, Melina decided to try out not one, but two flat tires on her bike. I had one spare tube, and switched out her rear wheel for my good one so that she could ride home with relative ease. Never let it be said that chivalry is dead. Although after pedaling about four hilly miles on a flat tire I nearly was.

IMG_2287In the morning we tore down the campsite and took Olly up the Old Maverick Road to the ruins of Terlingua Abajo. The town was a small agricultural village inhabited in the first decades of the twentieth century. Now it is nothing more than the tumbled piles of stones and bricks where walls once stood, and a few graves to mark the lives that were spent there. We ate lunch at Cantina Abajo (wonderful views) and then climbed up the ridge that stands behind the town. Along the way we found lizards, butterflies, and blue bonnets. Later Olly took us back to the campsite. Melina made some tasty burritos (as always) and we lazed about through the afternoon.

On Friday we packed up our gear and headed back to civilization via a brief layover in Del Rio. Barring the flat tires on the bikes, the trip was without incident, which is pretty cool considering it was done in a vehicle that’s nearly a quarter century old. The Bostig engine plays no small part in that, and I can’t praise it highly enough. Our food was good and we received many waves and praises for our “cool van.” My only disappointment was that I didn’t see even one other Vanagon or Microbus on the road.

There’s more pictures. And video, too.




Reunion and Desert Communion (Archive)

Edit: This post originally appeared on my Blogspot blog.

Big Bend National Park

Melina and I just returned from our week-long journey to west Texas. First we stopped off in Del Rio (which I believe is Spanish for Cow Town) to attend Melina’s 10-year reunion. I got to meet lots of people whose names I don’t remember and whose faces I’ll hopefully forget, but Melina had fun being the social butterfly, which was the important thing. She was surprised at how fat everyone had become, but I guess that’s what 10 years do to people.

The real excitement began when we left the River City and headed to Big Bend National Park. Melina had never been, and I’d only been once, on a canoe trip with the Houston ICO down Boquillas Canyon some 5 years ago. We stayed in the Chisos Basin Campground for four nights. During the day we alternated between adventure and laziness. The two highlights of the trip (other than lots of napping) were our canoe trip into Santa Elena Canyon and our hike up Emory Peak.

We decided to take a canoe trip (Melina’s first!) offered by Big Bend River Tours. It was a guided trip, which was nice because it meant we (read Jarrett) could enjoy the trip and experience a bit more than if we were doing it all ourselves. We put in at the bottom of Santa Elena Canyon and paddled upstream to Fern Canyon. There we had lunch and made a little side hike up Fern Canyon to the springs and pools in the canyon. It’s really one of the best side hikes I’ve ever been on. That, and the fact that our guide, James, was a great guy made it a really fun trip for both Melina and me. In fact, now she wants to get a canoe! Yesss! (fist punched into air) After we explored the side canyon and took a little nap, we paddled back down to the takeout. Melina even got to have a go at piloting her own canoe, which she did rather well considering it was her first time.

The other trip highlight was our hike up Emory Peak, the highest point in the Park at 7825 feet. Yeah, it’s not a real mountain, but it’s a great hike through some really varied and lovely terrain. The last little bit is a 30 foot scramble up a rock face, and we were rewarded with some awesome views and lots of ladybugs. It was also a plus that we had the peak to ourselves while we were up there. After we got back to the car we started our trip back home, which included an overnight stay in Del Rio.

One other point of note was the Starlight Theater Restaurant in Terlingua. We went on our guide’s recommendation, and had a really great meal there. In fact, we tried to come back for lunch, but they’re only open for dinner.

Sadly, we saw no bears on this trip, despite the fact that I called to them both in English and Spanish (they are Mexican black bears after all).

Check out some other Big Bend pictures.