Big Bend National Park is “right in my backyard” which translates into a nearly ten-hour drive. Yes, no kidding “everything is bigger in Texas”! It didn’t matter as I was determined to visit a National Park in the early spring and get my “nature fix”. With that goal in mind, I set out to research a visit to Big Bend and all that it entailed.
One of my good friends has visited a few times and he provided some basics to get me started. The most important one was where to stay. Since I would not be camping, I decided the only real option was one of the small places in Terlingua, TX.
While he suggested the place he has always stayed at, I still did a bit more looking on-line at options. I quickly learned that options are limited if you want to be close to the park – which I did. I decided to stay at the Big Bend Resort & Adventures. This “resort” (please don’t let the name influence you) was actually really good for what I wanted – a comfortable room with kitchen facilities. While I was not going to be cooking my meals, I did want a good sized refrigerator so I could store food stuff and prepare breakfasts and lunches to take with me. The Resort can best be described as a “motor inn” and RV park, but it was just fine with its restaurant and gas station (the only one in town!)
The room had a nice porch that I took advantage of in the evenings to sit outside and enjoy the stars. Oh, so many stars. I chose the date to travel based on it being a new moon since I wanted to get some good photographs of the stars and star trails. That is something I’ll have to do during another visit as in my rush to leave (more on that soon), I forgot to pack my tripod!
The rush to leave was brought on by a forecast for very heavy rains and possible flooding in the Houston area – so rather than wait until the morning to get going in that mess, I rushed home and packed immediately after work (yes, I am a procrastinator when it comes to packing), headed out that evening and made a stop just outside of San Antonio. This was a good thing as it cut the drive the next day down by about three hours AND I managed to avoid the heavy rains.
I did not take the more “scenic” road out to Big Bend – from Houston, that would be taking I-10 to San Antonio, then US 90 the rest of the way. I opted for the “faster” route which was I-10 to Ft. Stockton, then US 90/US 67 to Alpine, and TX 118 to Terlingua.
Upon arriving, I checked in, got settled in, took a walk around the property, and had dinner at the Big Bend Resort Restaurant. This is your typical motor inn restaurant with a fair selection of “American” food (i.e., burgers, sandwiches, tacos, and similar). I had the tacos which were not bad. More dining options are available in “town”.
Speaking of dining options, I can’t emphasize enough that Terlingua is SMALL. It’s not quite a town – the closest to that would be the Ghost Town – but I did find a couple of other places to try for dinner. One of those, the Starlight Theater Restaurant and Saloon was VERY good. It was so good that I went twice. It is also the “nicest” place in town.
The Starlight Theater Restaurant and Saloon is located in the old ghost town and serves some pretty good food. As I said, I went twice! The first night, I had the Mesquite Smoked Texas Brisket which was good – not great, but it was good. The second time, I had one of their burgers which I thought was very good. While you’re waiting for dinner there, you can walk around the old ghost town and enjoy that part of the visit. I certainly enjoyed the old cars and walking around the old cemetery. If you want a bit of shopping, you can visit the Terlingua Trading Company which is located next door. They sell basic supplies and souvenirs.
The only other store in town is the Cottonwood General Store which has a surprisingly good supply of just about anything you could want – including some gourmet foods and items from HEB!
The other restaurant I tried was the Chili Pepper Café which serves some good Mexican and American food. It was quite tasty and if I’d have been there longer, it certainly would have been added to the “rotation”!
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As far as planning and preparing for my trip, I knew what I wanted to achieve – several good hikes and some good photographs. I relied on three references for information. The first is Hiking Big Bend National Park by Laurence Parent which provides very good information on all the trails, including descriptions, level, distance, elevation changes, and such. I used this book to narrow down the hikes I wanted to do – but as with anything else, I selected a lot more than I’d be able to get to (more on that in future articles).
The other reference I used was the National Geographic Big Bend National Park Trails Illustrated map that I kept with me at all times. I didn’t really need it while hiking, but I used it in the mornings prior to heading out to get my bearings and an idea of where I’d be going. Finally, upon arriving at the park and stopping at the ranger station, I purchased a locally produced reference booklet titled Hiker’s Guide to Trails of Big Bend National Park. This booklet can best be described as a very condensed version of the Parent book and was my go-to book while on the trails if necessary. It is available from the ranger stations and park stores.
As for the rest of the preparation, I can’t emphasize enough to dress in layers and be prepared for anything. I was there in early March and the weather varied tremendously. The first day it was a bit overcast and cool. At one stop, the temperature was in the mid-50s and very windy. At another stop just a couple of hours later, it was in the 80s.
I also suggest bringing lots of water. It wasn’t very hot while I was there (I think the peak temperature I experienced was in the low 90s), but the altitude and dryness can really affect you. I took a 32 oz. bottle with me and kept several gallon jugs in the car to refill as necessary. Keep in mind, the longest single hike I did was about 5 miles.
I also suggest bringing some snacks – and, needless to say, LEAVE NO TRASH BEHIND!
That was pretty much all the planning and preparation I did. Future articles will talk about what I experienced while there.