When you think of Texas you are probably like me. You think it’s a very large dry state and it’s known for BBQ, large portion sizes, ranchers/cowboys, oil fields and the occasionally good sports team. Congrats, you are like me and 99% of all other Americans. BUT WAIT…
there is more to Texas than Austin, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and the spring break hot spot. You’re forgetting about the diamonds of Texas, her majestic and amazing State and National Parks. I’m serious. I didn’t really know much about them until we arrived in Austin, TX a few weeks back (just about the time our favorite football team was playing in the Super Bowl in Houston). Pamela and I arrived in Galveston, TX with the thought of enjoying a few warm days on the beach. Mother nature had other plans for us. She hammered most of Texas with heavy winds and rain, making for a pretty unpleasant stay in Galveston. With mobility at our disposal and a desire to spend more time in Austin, we left the coast and headed inland to McKinney Falls State Park, just 11 miles outside of downtown Austin. McKinney was home for about 5 days as we explored Austin and the surrounding country/farm lands by two wheels. During our stay we purchased an annual Texas States Park Pass. Why? When you pay for a night of camping you also have to pay a per person park fee of $6 each. In buying the parks pass we no longer had to pay the per person fee and a bonus of the parks pass is that you get 50% off your 2nd nights stay, 4x during the year. With the math known, it was now our goal to squeeze the most value out of that pass as possible.
After we enjoyed McKinney, and on a return to Austin after a quick weekend stint in Houston (Pamela took a physical therapy continuing education class), we parked in front of our friends house in north Austin for a few nights. We stayed in the van, but took advantage of their indoor plumbing. In exchange, we cooked them dinner. We just to happened to have watched an amazing Super Bowl game to boot. While at our friends place we took a moment to plan the next 4+ weeks. Tops on the list, Big Bend National Park, located in the bend (not the cone…I know it’s easy to confuse them) of Texas along the Rio Grande and the Mexican boarder.
. Honestly, the park wasn’t even on my/our radar until I saw a photo posted from a fellow Vanlifer and Insta-Friend, @PermanentRoadTrip (one day we’ll connect on the road and become real friends like Dakota and I are now from @traipsingabout…that’s another post and topic though). A day after seeing their post CBS Sunday Morning (my all time favorite Sunday morning tv fix..when possible) aired a piece on Big Bend National Park and the US/Mexican boarder crossing to the town of Boquillas. The piece was aptly timed given the executive orders that President 45 has put into place and all of the legal issues surrounding it…not to mention the notion that he wants to build a wall along the boarder. I wonder if he’s ever been this far south in Texas. If so he might see that Mother Nature has built a partial wall, it’s call the Rio Grande Canyon…see. (photo of SUP). Sorry for the political tangent, back to the story/recap at hand. Texas and her unknown beauty.
Big Bend is a playground for all types. The park is so large and diverse that each designated and backcountry camping opportunity are nothing alike, which is a good thing as you want to explore it all, and explore we did. From sleeping at 7,000+ feet at Chiso Basin, then along the river near the Boquillas boarder crossing at the Rio Grande Village and finally along the river at the far western side of the park at Cottonwood. Each site had their own beauty and pull, but they all had one thing in common, Big Bend NP is the darkest place in the continental United States. At night the stars fill the sky like Clark Griswald’s lights his house. The moon is so bright that no headlamp or flashlight is needed.
The ultimate highlights from our time in Big Bend wasn’t the dirt road riding (it’s plentiful, but nothing memorable) but standup paddle boarding on the river into the canyon and taking a row boat across the boarder to Boquillas for some of the freshest and best Mexican food either of us has had. Boquillas isn’t a town that is full of art or much in the way of overall attraction in terms of beauty, but what it lacks in those departments it makes up for in hospitality and kindness. The people of the town know that their livelihood depends on the row boat and tourism and it’s reflected in their desire to show you their home and offer you a meal that won’t soon be forgotten. So before our 45th President is able to do anything else to jeopardize this authentic boarder crossing and life line to people, do yourself a favor and visit Big Bend and travel to Boquillas. Be sure to see Ms Falcon for some of the freshest and best Mexican food.
Besides filling our bellies in Big Bend we made sure to work it off by taking advantage of free water access permits. With an inflatable SUP board at the ready in our Thule roof box, we never questioned using it while in the park. If you’re into canoeing, kayaking, rafting or paddling floating, the Rio is something to behold. The river was running low at points which made our SUP’ing adventures more manageable (paddling on a moving river is 100x different compared to a lake). The best paddling section (if paddling up stream…like we did) is near the Santa Elena Canyon. This is also the canyon that is most photographed and shown in brochures. The water in late winter and early spring is manageable and smooth. The paddle into the canyon is something other worldly and majestic. When you talk your voice echoes off of 400+ foot granite walls for what seems like miles. As I paddled my mind wandered to a time when the canyon was created and how it’s still being formed as tons of silt makes its way down river in a mirky brown flow. To truly appreciate the Santa Elena Canyon, I suggest you do the standard hiking trail to see the views available from the cliffs edge and various bends then get on the river in your floating item of choice! You will not regret or forget it.
Some of the other key parks and points of interest we hit while enjoying the vastness of Texas and wanting to use our annual pass :-), Davis Mountain SP. This little gem is located about 30 miles north of Marfa (an adorable little desert town with an accomplished art scene and a pretty good coffee roaster, Big Bend Coffee). DMSP had some great day hiking trails we took advantage of and the given it’s location and lack of city lights make the star gazing spectacular. The park is perfectly located to break up a long drive if and when you head to Guadalupe National Park, which is at the Texas / New Mexico boarder. GNP is home to the highest point in Texas, at 8,700+ feet. The hike from the parking/lot is worth the time and effort. The views on a clear day will let you see how truly large Texas is and/or how small we really are on this great big Earth.
Well, Texas you outdid yourself on this trip…Thanks. After many work visits to your known cities such as Dallas/Forth Wroth, Houston and Austin, I have a new appreciation for what you’re about and how to enjoy to the fullest what you’re hiding. We will be back soon to see a few things we missed for sure.