Take one look at my legs and you’ll have no trouble figuring out how I spent this past week.
My shins? They look like someone swiped them with a Weed Eater. My nose? It collected a new sprinkling of freckles. My butt? It feels like I competed in my first rodeo.
I had a couple of work assignments in West Texas, so I tacked on a night of camping and a day of mountain biking through the desert.
First, a note. Covid is spiking in the Big Bend area right now. If you decide to go, consider the people who live there. Medical facilities are limited. Wear a mask if you’ll be indoors or around other people. Bring your own food so you don’t have to go to grocery stores or restaurants.
Big Bend National Park is partially open. You need a reservation to stay in the park’s three campgrounds, which are limiting capacity to two-thirds each. You also need reservations for drive-to campsites in the desert. The lodge is partially open, but the restaurant is closed. Also, crews are working on the paved road that leads to the Basin, and it’s closed part of the day. Check the park’s website for details and plan accordingly. Most of the park’s hiking trails are open. The exception? The hot springs historic area and all associated trails are closed. So is the Boquillas Crossing port of entry. (For the latest, go to https://www.nps.gov/bibe/planyourvisit/big-bend-covid-19-status-updates.htm).
My husband and I nabbed a reservation in the Chisos Basin Campground, where we pitched our tent, then walked over to the short Window View trail to watch the sun sink into a V-shaped notch in the Chisos Mountains. When the show ended, we headed back to camp, where we heated water for dehydrated chicken and dumplings (PackIt Gourmet is my fave!). Before bed, I interrupted a skunk that was foraging around the washroom. (I backed carefully away and avoided a good saucing, but got a close up view of its rear end.) Then I climbed into my tent for a cozy night on a cushy air mattress beneath three layers of blankets, enjoying the comforts of car camping.
The next morning, we strolled down the Window Trail to the pour off. West Texas is experiencing a drought, and I didn’t see a trickle of water. I did, though, see a flock of Mexican jays, which cooperated nicely as I snapped photos.
That afternoon, we drove down Ross Maxwell Drive, and spent a couple of hours hiking out to Mule Ears Spring, where a tiny bit of water was visible behind the ferns. The trail doesn’t offer the spectacular payoff of the South Rim or Lost Mines trails, but it does serve up beautiful, broad views of the open desert, in all its spiky glory.
After the full-quad workout of a day spent hiking, we aimed for Terlingua, where I’d reserved a room at Casa Vista Grande, a rental house on the outskirts of town. You’ve got to drive down a rough gravel road to get to the place, but the payoff is huge: Unobstructed views of the Chisos Mountains, three patios for sipping coffee or grilling steaks (we did both), and a thick-walled adobe structure with a gigantic and cushy king-sized bed and full kitchen inside. If you’re into star gazing, check it out at https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/24559952?source_impression_id=p3_1607211554_d44rr92rd%2FSHWVsx.
The next morning, we unloaded our mountain bikes and joined some long-time friends for a 26-mile scramble through arroyos, up mesas and into dry riverbeds on one of the best rides I can remember. Our guide, former Yellowstone National Park Chief Ranger Dan Sholly, pointed out an old brick factory and the ruins of a couple of rock houses, and took us to a gorgeous creek bed lined by yuccas. Our ride took us over gravel roads (public) and into private property (we had permission to enter) and at one point connected with Lajitas Trail 4 (that’s a blast, with lots of undulating single-track with dips into.)
My legs were trashed after that ride. It seems I use the tender skin on my shins to test the jabbiness of the local cacti. By the time we rolled back to the rental house, I looked like I’d gotten into a fight with Edward Scissorhands.
All the scrapes and burns, though, and even the sore butt, faded along with the color in the sky as the sun set. Terlingua puts on a great show – look east, toward the Chisos, to watch the mountains light up. A couple of homemade pitaya margaritas, made with the fruit of a native cactus, made the evening even better.
I’ve probably visited Big Bend 30 times or more. At first, it looks desolate and barren. But every time I return, I sense more life and beauty.
This trip just added to my love of the prickliest part of the Lone Star State.