When you’re looking for a place to get away, disconnect, escape into nature, there’s no better place than Big Bend! As we spend time here, I can’t help but notice the contrasts all around us. The landscape is harsh, yet breathtaking. The border between the US and Mexico is there, yet invisible, winding and somewhat fluid based on the level of the river. The wildflowers, including the Big Bend Bluebonnet, are blooming, and yet we’re in the largest desert in North America. We are in what is known as the busy season, and yet we feel like we’re alone. As a family of full-time travelers, we are amazed by what we discovered in Big Bend.
Big Bend National Park is known as one of the darkest places in the lower 48 states. Being so far out in the wild decreases light pollution and exponentially increases stargazing opportunities! We happened to be in Big Bend during the full Snow Moon, and watching the moon rise over the buttes was marvelous. We did find however that the moon was so bright, that we couldn’t see as many stars. In fact the moon shone so bright that we were better able to watch for wildlife!
The new Fossil Discovery Exhibit was a great addition to the trip that we weren’t expecting. The exhibit covers the changing landscape over the last 130 million years, from an ancient sea, to wetlands, to volcanoes, and then to today’s desert. Fossils have been discovered all over the park and some are on display.
Within Big Bend National Park is the Hot Springs Trail. After driving down a 2 mile dirt road with some tight curves, you’ll find yourself at the trail head. There are some historic buildings here from before the land became a protected area. As you proceed down the trail, you’ll walk along the base of what we believed to be a limestone bluff. Pictographs can be spotted in both red and white along the bluff. You might even spot some crafts from Mexican merchants who’ve used “social trails” to cross the river. There are signs posted all over the park stating that it is illegal to purchase these items. A quarter of a mile down the trail, you’ll find the hot spring. The hot spring is contained within a square stone bathing area, overlooking the Rio Grande. This is our favorite hot spring that we’ve been to so far, mostly because it is in such a natural environment, nestled in the river cane, with the overflow of water spilling into the river. If you get a little toasty like we did, you can jump into the Rio Grande to cool off! Just be careful of the tide and water depth.
We went on a half-day float with a local outfitter, Far Flung Outdoor Center. Our guide, Reed, shuttled us to Big Bend Ranch State Park and we launched into the Rio Grande in a large raft and floated through Dark Canyon. Being that we had our smallish children and I was sporting a broken arm, this was the perfect float trip for us. There were some small rapids that Reed guided us through like a pro, and also calmer areas where the kids jumped in the river to cool off. We were told stories of life and history along the river and border and we learned about the vegetation, including edible and medicinal plants. After we returned to Terlingua Ghost Town from our float trip, we went to High Sierra Bar and Grill for a relaxing dinner outside.
One of the activities we enjoy is the National Park Junior Ranger program! Our kids work through workbooks to learn about the park, and then when they complete their tasks, they get sworn in by a ranger and receive a badge! This is a fun way to get our kids engaged in the park we’re visiting. Our kids learned about the plant and wild life in the Chihuahuan Desert, the Night Sky, the Rio Grande, Paleontology, Geology, and ways to be safe hiking in the desert environment.
There are miles and miles of trails in Big Bend country, and everything is very spread out, so we didn’t have time to do as many hikes as we would have liked, but one that we did really enjoy was Santa Elena Canyon. Gazing up, next to the Rio Grande, at the base of this magnificent canyon is dizzying. The size, the grandeur, the power of the water that has washed this area away… is breathtaking.
Getting to and around Big Bend requires a lot of driving, but it is worth it to get out, reconnect with nature and your travel companions, and find new adventures.
Our quick tips for a fun trip to Big Bend:
-Reservable camping spots are limited, so arrive mid-morning for your best chance to snag a space in the campgrounds
-Bring plenty of water, food, and sunscreen
-Come prepared with an epic playlist, as you’ll spend quite a bit of time driving
by Tori Martin, Trippin Yogis
About the author:
Tori, along with her husband and two children, are an adventuring family on the ultimate road-trip, traveling full-time in their fifth wheel camper, across North America. They document their experiences via photos and videos and share them on Instagram and YouTube, as a way to inspire others to get out there and find adventure. You can find them at www.TrippinYogis.com.