Last month we gathered up all of our gear and headed west to spend a weekend camping in Big Bend National Park. I didn’t know what to expect, and the 6 (turned 8) hour drive seemed a little long for a camping trip, but Dave was really excited about it and so we ventured off.
I had no idea how easily I would fall in love with the incredible, intense landscape of America’s least-visited National Park. It felt like a well-kept secret. It is huge, diverse, historically rich, and we are already looking forward to visiting again. The drive took us southwest, in and out of small West Texas towns. We rode along, watching the landscape roll by. Most of it looked similar. Dusty sand, brushy desert plants, and horizon so long the curve of the earth showed at the edges. Once we entered the park, about 6 hours from Austin, I expected something…anything to be different and set the park apart from the rest of the state. It took another twenty minutes of driving until we approached the Chisos Mountains and the desert ground started climbing into jagged cliffs, and the rocks turned from brown to pink to white like salt. The thirty-mile Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive took us straight down to our site at Cottonwood Campground, which we had read had great grass to play on and trees for shade. Then we headed over to Santa Elena Canyon and oohed and ahhed at the incredible scenery.The desert just sort of runs into these sheer cliffs, where the Rio Grande has cut the natural dividing line between Texas and Mexico. Luckily, we packed swimsuits, because even though the river bed was muddy (or because the river bed was muddy) the boys wanted to play. Here, at the end of a five-minute walk from the parking lot, the river is only as deep as my waist, and I took turns wading the boys over to the other side where we waved and cheered “Look, Dad! We’re in Mexico!” There is an actual border entrance point a little further down the river, within the park, but since we were only staying five minutes, we thought this was fine. Nice quick trip.The campground was everything it was cracked up to be. Grassy, shady, a little more out of the way than some of the others available in the park. We all slept soundly, Plum only needed to be rescued from the pack and play once, and she fell right back asleep once tucked into my sleeping bag with me. The nights were refreshingly chilly, and the days beautifully warm. We decided spring is the perfect time to visit.
It was really amazing to be able to string up our hammock and hang out together in the camp. The kids piled on me, as they do, and we rocked and read until one of the boys remembered they had brought their nerf guns and they ran off to shoot the wash-tape target I had put up on the bear bin. It was comfortable, meaningful, family time, and reminded me why we do all the work to make trips and moments like these happen. I always pack light for camping, and have a generally low-maintenance wardrobe. I’m so glad Birkenstocks are back in style, because this classic pair from Famous Footwear is my new summer shoeniform. I can slip them on and off with my hands full of kids, and they transition really well from the trails to the beach to the pool. The second day in the park we took a couple different hikes, and I was so overwhelmed by the intense beauty of the desert flora. These plants have to fight to stay alive, they are fierce and incredible. Everything was blooming in it’s own way, including the Octillo, that only gets green leaves when it has enough water and drops them when it’s too dry. I thought that was such a great example from nature of how to let go of the less important things when life gets busy. Only give energy to the things that matter most, when you don’t have extra to give.Lower Burro Mesa Pouroff turned out to be an idea hike for young kids. The pathway is obvious, the mile or so distance felt doable, and you know when you reach the end because of the dynamic curved rock wall, cut away by a seasonal waterfall over the centuries. This was our epic lizard hike. We spotted twelve total, and the boys caught one to look at closer. Our final stop of the trip was this Historic Hot Spring. It was used as a healing pool in the 1940s and is nestled right up next to the river. It was amazing to sit on the rocks in the river, Plum on my lap and water running past, then hop into the hot springs (with a cold Diet Coke from the cooler we packed in on the short hike!) In two days we saw the tiniest fraction of Big Bend, which leaves lots to explore in the future. The trip has me excited for all of the adventure that awaits us this summer as we get out together and explore, jumping into the season with two feet!