Located in the far southwest corner of Texas, Big Bend is remote and wild. This is a land where roadrunners chase rabbits across the road, and you’ll find yourself searching for Wylie Coyote. Take a row boat to Mexico, meet a beer-drinking goat currently serving as mayor, and celebrate Day of the Dead in the ghost town of Terlingua. And if sunsets are your thing, well, these will take your breath away.
Big Bend is Remote, but Definitely Worth the Journey
I love every national park I’ve ever visited. And there’s no better time to visit these beauties than in the 100th anniversary year. But if I had to choose just one to introduce to my grandkids, I would choose Big Bend. It’s not just the park, but also the quirky and intriguing communities nearby.
Named for the vast curve of the Rio Grande River in the far southwest of Texas, Big Bend is about as remote as it gets. Getting there takes a commitment. It’s not close to anything. I flew into Midland then drove about 4 hours before reaching Big Bend National Park.
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But, believe me, it was worth every minute.
Big Bend is a magical place where mountains, desert, and rivers converge and roadrunners scurry across dusty roads in pursuit of rabbits.
The Main Attraction: Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park
Spreading out over one million acres and encompassing the entire Chisos mountain range along with a large section of the Chihuahuan Desert, Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park is home to over 1,200 species of plants. There are over 450 species of birds and 3,600 species of insects and animals including mountain lions, bears, jack rabbits, mule deer, roadrunners, and coyotes (to chase the roadrunners, of course). There are plenty of options for recreation including hiking, camping, river float trips, horseback riding, mountain biking, and birding.
We tackled the Lost Mine Trail which initially meanders up toward the 7,550-foot peak with a gentle hike and later becomes a bit of a climb. We ultimately gained around 1,000 feet in altitude before reaching the peak. Along the way, we were rewarded with splendid views of Casa Grande Peak. The waypoint marked “Lookout” was ideal for a break. We sat on the rock outcroppings and took in our first view of Jupiter Canyon.
After our brief break, the trail got steeper with several rocky switchbacks. We conquered them all, It is manageable for children as long as they listen and heed warnings about snakes and other possible wildlife encounters. Hey, this Globetrotting Grandmom made it to the peak and I don’t have half as much energy as the kids!
Having used up most of our energy on the hike, we opted for a lazy afternoon adventure with a river float trip on the Rio Grande. We glided along through the Santa Elena Canyon surrounded by towering limestone cliffs. The river serves as a natural border between the USA and Mexico – and one of the most peaceful borders anywhere.
Outfitters like Big Bend Far Flung Outdoors offer a number of guided float trips ranging from a half-day float available for ages 4 and up to overnight camping and float trips for ages 6 and up.
Row Row Row Your Boat…To Mexico
When I first heard I was going to be taking a row boat to Mexico, I had visions of an illicit border crossing that could quite possibly land me in a Mexican jail. I’m adventurous, but I do try to avoid being locked up – partially because I don’t like small confined spaces and also because I want my children to continue allowing me to take my grandkids on trips. So, I was relieved to learn that you can legally take a row boat to Mexico at the Boquillas Point of Entry.
After a short walk down the path to the river and a brief encounter with a Javelina (an odd looking critter akin to the Old World pigs), we boarded a row boat paddled by the mayor of Boquillas and crossed the Rio Grande.
Mexican cowboys greeted us and also helped us saddle up burros for the 15-minute ride up to the town’s immigration trailer (yes, I said trailer.)
Along the way, my friend’s burro attached itself to mine resulting in locked stirrups and a slight burro induced injury to my ankle. But that’s a small price to pay for the experience of the country’s strangest border crossing.
Luxury, Weapons, and Politics In Lajitas
Located at the western edge of Big Bend, Lajitas is home to the Lajitas Golf Resort, a 27,000-acre property featuring a world-class 18-hole course. The resort also offers a spa, pool, restaurants and shops.
For more entertainment, you can fly through the air on the zipline.
Or do what I did, channel your inner Annie Oakley with the “Cowboy Action Shoot” experience.
We ventured out to the shooting range which is set up as “Stargazer Springs” – a wild west town façade. To my surprise, this was not a clay shooting experience, we were handed an assortment of weapons including a pistol, rifle, and a double barreled shot gun with live ammo. We sauntered through the town taking our turns shooting at the targets through the windows of the saloon and other town landmarks.
Annie Oakley I’m not, but I have to say I wasn’t bad with a pistol!
No visit to Lajitas is complete without meeting the mayor, Clay Henry. Not your typical politician, Clay Henry is a beer-drinking goat that has been elected mayor more than once. He wasn’t all that interested in speaking with me, probably because I arrived during his dinner and didn’t bring beer.
Get a Little Spooky in the Ghost Town Of Terlingua
Once the thriving home of the historic Chisos Mining Company, Terlingua became a ghost town after the mines dried up in the 1940s. But ghost towns are cool and Terlingua is no exception. For one thing, it’s the home of the original Chili Cookoff which attracts over 10,000 “chili heads” each year.
But for a real taste of the ghostly nature of Terlingua, schedule your visit for Day of the Dead – a Mexican tradition honored annually in this little border town.
Each year on November 2nd, Terlingua’s 113-year-old cemetery takes center stage for the annual Day of the Dead celebration. Residents and visitors spend the evening in the graveyard decorating the graves of their dearly departed with flowers, candles, and photographs. There’s plenty of music, food, and drink. And a couple dressed as skeletons roam in and out of the shadows of the tiny cemetery. It was just one of many experiences during my time in Big Bend that I won’t soon forget.