West Texas is one of those places that stirs up strong images in the American consciousness. We think of big open spaces, old western movies, and tumbleweeds blowing in the wind. On this trip, I at least got one of the three. For the first week in January, the weather could not have been more cooperative. With daily highs around 70 and plenty of sunshine, I had a great opportunity to spend some time with my new surroundings.
My primary destination was Big Bend National Park, a park that is about as isolated from the rest of civilization as a destination can be. It is along the southern border along the Rio Grande River. As I drove in on interstate 20 from Abilene, I made a quick pit stop at Monahans Sand Dunes State Park. It was very easy to get to, with it being directly off the interstate. Monahans is simple park that is one road in and one road out and doesn’t require much more than an hour to experience. For my non-solo travelers, that have kids, it is great option to stop and let the kids get out and burn some energy. The most popular activity is sledding down the huge sand dunes. With the entrance fee of a measly four dollars, it is a nice spot to have a quick picnic lunch.
After my short pit stop I made my way to the town of Alpine, which was going to be my base of operation for three days. With the last two days obligated to going down and exploring the national park, I thought I would venture out into the town and see what was there. Naturally, I located the one microbrewery on the west side of town. Big Bend Brewing Company is a regional brewery that distributes throughout the state of Texas. On site, there is a small taproom that is in the same building as their brewing operation. You immediately notice the staff behind the counter talking beer and giving tours. A young lady named Alison poured me a flight and it didn’t take long for me to figure out that the only thing better than the atmosphere was the beer itself. I made sure to grab a couple six packs to bring back home.
With my first day heading to the park, I decided that I would take a longer, more scenic route to get there. I’m sure anyone that knows me is not shocked at all to hear that. After going through the towns of Marfa and Presidio, I made my way onto Farm Route 170 and came into the park from the west. This route is more rollercoaster than road with dozens of severe dips and steep grades as it winds along the Rio Grande. Once you come away from the canyons along the river, you go through the resort towns of Lajitas and Terlinga before entering the park at the Old Maverick Road junction. After following Old Maverick Road for the dozen or so miles you come to one of the highlights of the park, Santa Elena Canyon.
There is a great overlook area that gives a great wide shot view of the canyon. If you want to venture into the canyon, there is a short trail that goes back into the canyon which gives you an idea at how step and narrow this canyon really is. I spent the rest of the day on the west side of the park taking it easy with some simple hikes like Tuff Canyon. I headed back to Alpine knowing that my last day in the park was going to be a little more grueling than the first.
So as I headed back to the park on my second day, I headed up to what I thought was the best part of the park, Chisos Basin. Chisos Basin is an oasis of sorts in the middle of the park. You drive into the mountains and after you navigate a couple switchbacks, you come to an area with a visitor’s center, a small convenience store, and a pretty substantial resort. However, the thing that really jumps out are all the different trails available for all challenges. The Window View Trail is a short, handicap accessible trail that is short, but gives a great view of what the call the “Window”, but there is also a 12.5 mile trail that goes all the way to the top of the mountain and runs along the entire South Rim. Now I’m not the most serious of hikers, but I like to think of myself as an enthusiast. The trail that I decided to take on was the Lost Mine Trail. Lost Mine Trail is a 4.8 mile trail that goes up to ridge and gives views of the park floor thousands of feet below.
The trail is a little rough, so I would suggest having a pair of boots that goes up over the ankle because I know the pair I had, saved a rolled ankle or two. After I worked my way back down the mountain, I decided to head over to the east side of the park.
The first thing I will say about the east side of the park is only bother going if you have run out of other options elsewhere (not likely) or if you feel the need to see everything (like me). It is just not all that inspiring compared to the other parts of the park. If you do head that way, the hikes into Boquillas Canyon and to the Historic Hot Springs are enjoyable.
So after two days of hiking and exploring Big Bend National Park, I departed feeling that I got a great idea of what the park has to offer, but also knowing that there is a lot more to find the next time I come.