Beautiful Big Bend!

After a long travel day, I enjoyed a beautiful weekend in Big Bend National Park.  I started by getting to Midland from Denver via Southwest Airlines which was reliable as usual.  Steve drove from Dallas to pick me up, and we continued on to Alpine for the evening in order to shorten the drive to the park in the morning.

We booked rooms at the Holland Hotel, known as the best accommodations between El Paso and San Antonio.  The historic hotel was built in 1928 for $250,000 and in 2011 was renovated while keeping its 1928 delights.  It’s certainly a place that supports the phrase “Don’t judge a book by its cover”.  It’s façade isn’t terribly appealing, but the lobby, reading room, fireplace heated patio, bar and restaurant are quaint and charming.  After enjoying the atmosphere with dinner at the bar, we called it an early night.

Before heading toward Big Bend, Steve took a short run while strolled around the quiet town with a heavy art influence, and then we indulged in the Holland Hotel’s complimentary continental breakfast.  Try the cinnamon roll – it was heaven!

After a couple of hours of driving through barren West Texas, we finally arrived at Big Bend, a national park that I loved while I was on my year long venture across America.  We set up camp at the Village Campground, before we set out for a few hikes, the first being the Boquillas Canyon Trail.  The trail started with a short uphill climb and then descended down to the Rio Grande.  The river, a greenish color, snaked through the canyon where we encountered a “singing Jesus” on the Mexican side of the border.  He stood near his canoe, sang, and hoped we’d add a tip to one of the jars lining the trail on the USA side.  We continued across the sandy trail past the sand dune created by the wind blowing sand into the canyon wall.  We spotted a turtle sunning on the river’s edge, before we turned back toward the trailhead while passing a variety of cacti and a few butterflies flitting around the only thing in bloom – a weed!

Upon return to the campground, we checked out a looped trail nearby.  I had actually hiked this trail before near sunset, and the banded colors of the Sierra del Carmen glowed red and purple in the setting light.  It was a lovely stroll past marked natural features, as we passed by a horseman carrying reeds on our way up to an overlook that provided a panoramic view of the US/Mexico border.  We spotted horses trekking to the water’s edge for a drink on the 70 degree say and even one or two small flowers, though April is supposed to be the month to see the cacti in bloom.

The light hikes were perfect for Steve’s prep for the 50K he was running in the morning.  More power to him…cheering is all I plan to do, though I did participate in the pre-race dinner at the Chiso’s Lodge, another camping area in the park.  While Steve “Carb-loaded”, I savored luke-warm Elk chili and enjoyed the restaurant’s heat before we headed to our tent!  The weather forecast called for lows in the 40’s, not too bad, but when we arose at 5:30 a.m. the next morning it was a frosty 28.  I did not pack the appropriate clothing!

Steve’s run began at 7:30, so I joined him at the start line to send him off on a rocky road.  The race followed rocky road and trail where spectators couldn’t reach, so I opted for a hike on the Lost Mine Trail in the Chisos Mountains.  After an hour drive, I was the first car to arrive at the parking area.  The trailhead was peppered with warning signs…do not hike alone…mountain lions and bears have been spotted in this area…do not hike in the early morning.  Well, hopefully 8:30 wasn’t considered early.  I picked up a walking stick and headed out for my five mile hike.  The trail changed from paved to rocky after the first rise, much to my pleasure.  I prefer natural.  The scree path led me past oaks, juniper, prickly pear, ocotillo, and many more low water surviving plants as I climbed to an overlook providing me magnificent views or the Chisos and the “window” as the sun rose over the mountains.

There was a bit more wildlife in the mountains than the desert, and they seemed immune to humans.  The bluebird perched on the rock and didn’t mind me getting somewhat close to shoot a photo – a rarity for birds.  The whitetail buck feeding on the prickly pear must have been hungry!  I dropped my water bottle which barely got him to look up for a minute.  He just kept eating while I stood (not even quietly) not ten feet away?!?

The trail continued switchbacking up the mountain at a low grade before I reached the peak from which I was supposed to be able to spot the “lost mine”.  Legend has it that the Spanish forced Indians to work in the mine until they revolted and hid the mine.  I find it hard to believe there was a mine, since there isn’t much precious metal or water in the area…mercury is the only mining mineral.

From the peak, the trail crosses a ridge rock pinnacles.  While the ridge is relatively wide, it still made me a little sick to my stomach as I knew a big misstep would slide me right of the mountain.  I explored carefully and enjoyed some trail mix beneath morning sun before I began my descent as the next pair of hikers summitted.  It was nice to have to majestic beauty to myself.  It wasn’t long that I shared the trail with ten more hikers.  I heard one group trying to determine how many feet are in a mile…I chimed in, “5,280…I live in the Mile Hi City”.

I continued on to the base, dropped off my walking stick, and headed back for a shower in time for the race after party.  I watched the presentations to the winners while I waited for Steve, who was only using this as a training run for a 50 miler in May, to be shuttled from the finish to the food tent!  He had a successful run, but certainly wasn’t hungry immediately, so after cleaning up we went for dinner in Lajitas.

Lajitas was far…but what isn’t in West Texas?  I think we drove for an hour or more.  There isn’t much in Lajitas except the golf resort with a nice little bar.  I had a grilled romaine salad which was fantastic when I visited three years ago, but the menu wasn’t quite as fancy this time.  It didn’t really matter.  Hungry and happy to catch the last five minutes of the Broncos game, we sunk into the cushy seats and wondered if we’d make it back to the camp ground.

I was happy to find that Steve had a small heater, and we slept with on for the night.  Clearly I am not a winter camper!  The stars both nights were magnificent.  We could see the Milky Way, though it took until midnight to spot the Big Dipper which was very low to the horizon.

Sunday included nine miles of hiking after we broke down our tent which was big enough to fit his Mini Cooper.  Many joked that we were sleeping in the garage.  The hikes were located in another area of the park along the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive…I think it took us an hour to get there too.  The park is enormous…at least 50 miles in every direction!

Steve has purchased a trail guide book that provided a description of each trail in the park.  I’m impressed with the author who could write two entire pages about trails the simply crossed the desert.  I’m going to shoot for a paragraph!

The first trail we followed was the Mule Ears Trail which undulated across lava flow and desert to Mule Ear Springs.  The four mile roundtrip took us past a variety of cacti under the beating hot sun in the late morning of a relatively cool day in Big Bend!  It was so still, we could hear the wings flapping of the four blackbirds that flew overhead.  Much to our relief a cool breeze kicked up and stayed with us as we investigated remnants of manmade structure and finally ducked into the shade of trees near the “spring”.  Reeds hid the stagnant water and a little greenery covered the trickle of water coming from the ground that we climbed right over not knowing it was our final destination!  We followed footprints on what we thought was the rest of the trail before turning around after getting scratched by a few thorny branches.  While the changing view of the Mule Ears rock structure was nice, the spring was a let-down.  Having said that, a day in the desert beats a day in the office!

Our next hike, according to the guide book, was easier and not as hot.  It was definitely hot, but fortunately for us a light breeze came and went.  The trail once again led us past a variety of cacti.  Admittedly, both trails probably would have been tremendous had these thorny plants been blooming!  Our final destination was the “Chimney”.  The rock formations, volcanic dikes, looked so close, yet they were 2.5 miles away.  Once we arrived we found proof Indians once lived here… Petroglyphs carved in the southern spire, mortar holes for crushing grains, and rocks piled up to make a wall.  After circling the spire, we followed the path to explore the other rock structures featuring a few cool arches.  Before heading back to the car, we enjoyed a little shade the formations provided.

After our nine miles, it was time to bid farewell to Big Bend and we exited the park from a different direction on our way to Marathon.  We had originally planned to stay at the Gage Hotel, another famous haunt, but being sold out, Steve found a house online.  I didn’t know much about it, but when we drove up to it, I wondered what we had gotten into…Yikes! Our tent looked better from the outside.  Once again, the phrase “Don’t judge a book by its cover” came into play.  The two bedroom adobe house was precious on the inside.  The beds were covered in old quilts, the furniture were antiques, and there was even a non-functional, wood burning stove in the kitchen for decoration.

Since we couldn’t stay at the Gage, we at least enjoyed dinner at the 12 Gage Restaurant.  My spinach salad and crab and shrimp cocktail were both fantastic!  Actually, for a small town with about five buildings along Main Street, I was surprised by the tasty food.  Our breakfast at the soda fountain before heading home was delicious too!  I’ve wanted to return to Big Bend National Park since I visited three years ago, and it was well worth the trip…I might have to visit in April sometime in order to enjoy the cacti in bloom!  For anyone planning on going, the locals say this will be a good year because the area has received so much rain.  ETB


For notecards and key chains, visit My Shop on this website.

purple sky website

Day 104 – Big Bend and Beyond Part 2

Day 104 of a Year Long Road Trip Along America’s Scenic Byways

Hot Springs Historic District

I started the morning in Big Bend National Park by taking the Hot Springs road to the Hot Springs Historic District located within the park.  The dusty, narrow road wound around protruding rocks to the remains of an old town, petroglyphs, pictographs, the hot springs, and Tornillo Creek.  I thought I was just going to see the hot springs.  What a pleasant surprise to find rock art from 1000 – 200 BC. 

The petroglyphs are images carved into the rock that look white.  The pictographs are images painted in red on the rock.  The red coloring is a pigment made from hematite, a mineral sometimes called “red ocher”.  Pigments were mixed with blood, egg, or animal fat to help it adhere to the cliff. 

The Hot Springs Historic District was settled by J.O. Langford in 1909.  He believed the water was a healing source and built a post office/store and motel to serve as the local gathering point.  He charged bathers ten cents a day or $2 for the 21 day healing process that he believed cured his malaria. 

The spring water is 105 degrees.  Given the outdoor air temperature was in the forties and my toes were still numb from the evening, I only dipped my hand in the springs.  Five people visited the springs while I was in the area, so I guess I’m a pansy, but frankly I didn’t feel like going through the process while leaving Petey in VANilla.

Chisos Mountains Basin

After a visit to the hot springs, we drove northwest through Big Bend National Park to the Chisos Mountains Basin, another campground within the park.  As the name suggests, this area of the park is the mountainous region.  It is at a higher altitude and cooler than the other areas of the park.  This is the habitat where the mountain lions and bears live, though the bears are only just beginning a comeback.  It is thought 10-20 bears live in the park. 

I had heard that the Chisos Mountains are popular amongst the park visitors, so I was very excited to see the area.  I took a short walk around the visitor’s center and managed to get another bad picture of a Texas deer.  They are much more skittish than the ones in the Northeast, probably because they are shot at more often!  While I enjoyed the Chisos Mountains, I appreciated the rugged beauty of the canyons more than the mountains in Big Bend.

Castolon and Santa Elena Canyon

From the Chisos Mountains Basin, Petey and I turned southwest toward the Castolon Visitors Center and Santa Elena Canyon.  We passed by many roadside exhibits including Sam Nail Ranch, Homer Wilson Ranch, Mule Ears Viewpoint, Cerro Castellan, Goat Mountain, Fins of Fire, and the Badlands just to name a few.  I know nothing about San Nail Ranch (because I forgot to read the sign) except clearly it isn’t there anymore. Regardless, I loved taking pictures of the old broken down windmill as well as the one that was intact. 

Homer Wilson Ranch and Mule Ears

Homer Wilson Ranch includes the remains of the foreman’s house, a bunkhouse, a corral, and a dipping vat for goats and sheep.  It was abandoned in 1945.  I didn’t read about Mule Ears either.  I just took some shots of this extraordinary scenery. 

Cerro Castellan and Goat Mountain

Cerro Castellan (or Castolon Peak) reveals years of volcanic events.  The tower consists of several lava flows, ash deposits, and layers of gravel and clay from periods of erosion between eruptions.   Goat Mountain is the result of a lava explosion and an uplift.  Magma surged upward through old volcanic rock (the lower dark area) and deposited a collar of pyroclastic material which appears greenish in color. 

Over time the gas content in the magma reduced and the eruptions created a thick, slow moving lava which formed domes above pyroclastic material.  Then 27 million years ago the region uplifted and erosion created the cracked landscape we see today and exposed a dike most likely where the magma originated. 

Fins of Fire

The Fins of Fire exhibit describes the creation of dikes which are the spines of dark rock that march across the desert floor.  Molten material follows the path of least resistance and wells up through faults.  Softer material weathers away leaving the dikes exposed. 

fins of fire in Big Bend National Park
fins of fire

Even with the sign, I can’t really describe the Badlands accurately, so pictures will have to suffice. 

badlands  in Big Bend National Park

Santa Elena Canyon

The Santa Elena Canyon can be seen from over ten miles away.  The Rio Grande abruptly changes directions and has slowly carved away at the limestone cliffs to create a canyon that in part is only 30 feet wide.  It might be the most awesome part of the whole park.  It was well worth taking the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive to all the amazing places.  Normally I don’t like doubling back, but each way provided a different perspective.

santa elena canyon  in Big Bend National Park


Petey and I exited the park by Study Butte and Terlingua.  We made a brief stop at the Terlingua Ghost Town Cemetery and then continued 17 more miles to Lajitas where we pulled into camp for the night.  Lajitas is a resort that includes a golf course, hotel, restaurant, saloon with live music, an RV Park with a clubhouse and a pool, and some shops. 

Terlingua ghost town cemetery

I’m told people from all over the world, including movie stars, come here.  I was surprised because it is truly in the middle of nowhere situated between Big Bend National Park and Big Bend State Park.  There isn’t even a gas station. 

Given its notoriety, I decided to try dinner at the saloon.  I ordered the Lajitas Salad, a margarita, and a banana nut bread ice cream sandwich drizzled with chocolate sauce.  I must admit, the food and beverage were excellent. 

What I found even more astonishing is the two bartenders were from Houston and Fort Worth. And my fellow diner, Cary, was from Garland and used to be the pro at Dallas Country Club, just one mile from where I grew up!  Cary is now in the San Antonio area just east of Boerne where I just visited my aunt and uncle.  What a small world! ETB

cary at Lajitas resort and spa

Map of My Road Trip Across the USA

For a summary about my road trip across the USA, click HERE. For the interactive map, see the below link.

Other Articles on Texas You May Like


Check out the photographic note cards and key chains at my shop.  Each card has a travel story associated with it.  20% of proceeds are donated to charity.

photographic note card, cowboy boots on fence
Best Adventure Travel Blog

Day 103 – Big Bend and Beyond

Day 103 of a Year Long Road Trip Along America’s Scenic Byways

Today was absolutely magnificent.  Fort Davis and Big Bend exceeded every one of my expectations.  My friends can attest, that this is a very rare occasion.   I suppose it helped that I arrived with unusually low ones, due to a friend’s description of her trip.  Additionally, the southwestern, desert-like landscape in other areas has never been that appealing to me, thus I didn’t expect the Big Bend area to be any different.  Perhaps it’s just because I’m proud to be a Texan, and any Texas landscape will do despite the appearance!

Fort Davis National Historic Site

I took away one important piece of information from my conversation with the “full-timer” yesterday. Big Bend National Park doesn’t allow dogs on the trails, but he was uncertain about Fort Davis.  This tidbit was enough to make me stop at the Fort Davis National Historic Site just to see if pets were allowed. 

Most forts I’ve been to don’t allow dogs, so I figured it would be a long shot, but since “full-timer” didn’t recall seeing it posted I clung to hope.  Surprisingly, Petey was allowed on the trails and in all areas of the fort except inside the buildings.  We enjoyed an outstanding visit and I’m certain Petey enjoyed a walk that wasn’t restricted to the parking lot.

The original fort was established on the eastern side of the Davis Mountains in 1854 and named after Secretary of War Jefferson Davis.  From 1854 to 1861 troops of the Eighth Infantry led by Lt. Col. Washington Seawell protected emigrants, freighters, mail coaches, and travelers on the San Antonio-El Paso Road from attacking Comanches, Kiowas, and Apaches. 

Upon the outbreak of the Civil War and Texas’s secession from the Union, the federal government evacuated the fort.  The fort was briefly occupied by Confederate soldiers before Union forces took possession in 1862.  Thereafter, the Union troops abandoned the post and the fort lay deserted for the next five years.

Few of the structures remained in 1867 when the Ninth U.S. Calvary reoccupied Fort Davis.  From 1869 through the 1880s, several new buildings were constructed, and the fort became a mainstay to over 400 soldiers.  The soldiers continued providing safeguards to travelers along the dangerous San Antonio – El Paso Road and finally forced the Apaches and their leader Victorio into Mexico where they were killed by Mexican military.  The end of the Indian Wars in West Texas combined with the army’s effort to consolidate its forces, left Fort Davis abandoned for the final time.

Today, visitors can see ruins of the first fort and restored buildings of the second fort.  The combination of the two forts is quite intriguing. The new houses align to magnetic north, while the old foundation outlines align to true north.  A good view of this is on the interpretive nature trail which travels into the mountains above the fort. 

The weathered rocks towering over Fort Davis are lava flow known as rhyolite porphyry from 25-65 million years ago.  The reddish stone used in the construction of the buildings was quarried from the Davis Mountains.

Ranch Home Historic Site

After an awesome tour of Fort Davis and a beautiful hike in the mountains above, Petey and I continued toward Big Bend National Park.  On the way, we stopped at a few historical markers.  The first was the site of a ranch home owned by Manuel Musquiz, a pioneer who settled in the area in 1854. 

ranch home historic site on the way to Big Bend National Park

Abandoned due to Indian raids, the deserted buildings served as a ranger station intermittently during late 1880’s while the country defended itself against Indians and bandits.  While at this spot, I happened upon a herd of approximately thirty elk.  One big male with at least 14 points was definitely a trophy for hunters.  Knowing most of my hunting friends put in for tags in Montana, I was surprised to see elk here.

elk on the way to Big Bend National Park

Los Caballos

Our next roadside stop was at Los Caballos where rocks in the Ouachita Fold Belt uplifted approximately 275 million years ago.  The folding is shown by the whitish rocks known as caballos.  The Ouachita Fold is similar in age to the uplift that formed the Appalachians.

los caballos on the way to Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park

We finally reached Big Bend National Park, entering through the Persimmon Gap entrance.  Cacti peppered the rocky plains surrounded by the Chisos Mountains and the Boquillas Canyon.  The views were astounding.  I was in awe of the grandeur and beauty of Big Bend.  I pulled off the road countless times to snap photos before arriving at Rio Grande Village to camp for the night. 

As I rounded the camp grounds to choose a spot, I passed by a coyote.  I decided to tell the Ranger, who basically smiled and laughed saying, “They’re everywhere”.  Hmmm, I didn’t want them to eat Petey, so we took cover in VANilla for a bit. 

coyote at Rio Grand Village in Big Bend National Park

I found another camper with a dog and asked what they planned to do with their dog since the rules say dogs can’t be left unattended or in a vehicle.  They seemed to think vehicle living was safe as it wasn’t hot.  Shortly thereafter, the volunteer hosts came by in their golf cart.  They confirmed Petey would be fine in VANilla and suggested I explore the nearby interpretive nature trail. 

As it was nearing dusk, I asked, “Is it it safe given we are in mountain lion and bear territory?”

The hosts assured me. “The mountain lions are in Chiso Basin, not in Rio Grande Village, and near sunset is the best time to go.” 

Oh were they right!  I made it just in time to see the Boquillas Canyon cliffs turn crimson in the sunset.  In addition, the wetlands and river views were mystical.  The landscape offered an array of colors:  yellow grasslands, green trees, dark grey and red mountains.  What a treat! Too bad Petey couldn’t join me!    ETB

Map of My Road Trip Across the USA

For a summary about my road trip across the USA, click HERE. For the interactive map, see the below link.

Other Articles on Texas You May Like


Check out the photographic note cards and key chains at my shop.  Each card has a travel story associated with it.  20% of proceeds are donated to charity.

photographic note card, longhorn
Best Adventure Travel Blog