When we left I-10 in Fort Stockton to head toward Big Bend it was pretty clear that we were heading into the desert. It was over 100 miles of nothing on a back road before we reached the park boundary, and then another 35 miles to the campsite. The scenery was unreal though—miles of flat treeless land and mountains suddenly rising from the desert in the distance. And it was hot. The temperature gauge in the car said 100 degrees, and it would get up to 109 the next day. Luckily we chose the campground in the Chisos Mountains in the center of the park where it’s often 20 degrees cooler than below in the desert… it was still hot though. Haha.
The campground was incredible. It was called the Chisos Basin, and it looked like a bowl sort of carved out in the middle of the mountains. So we were camped at about 5600 ft and surrounded on all sides by enormous 7500 ft peaks. Awesome! Despite the amazing campsite we had a few camping issues. As we were setting up, the string that holds one of the poles together broke, so the pole was in pieces. It’s still functional, but it’ll be annoying to put up in the future. Then, the second night, my sad old tent didn’t hold up so well against a nasty thunderstorm. Even after moving the tent under out little picnic shelter and tying the rain fly to the bear box it still couldn’t stand up to the wind. After it totally collapsed a couple of times we decided that we wouldn’t be able to sleep if we spent all night fixing the tent, so we hastily packed everything up and slept in the car (which is a feat in itself because the back seat is so full of food that the front seats won’t recline all the way). It wasn’t so bad though—we definitely survived unscathed (and now I guess I have a good reason to invest in a new tent :)).
Anyway, tent mishaps aside, like I said, our campground was awesome in many ways, another being that it had immediate access to many miles of trails. We did a short hike during the evening of our first night there, and I saw a bear!!! In all the hiking I’ve done in all the national parks and remote mountainous areas where there are tons of bear, this is the first one I’ve ever seen. And, according to a video in the visitor’s center, there are only 12-15 bears (strange estimate… I know) in the whole park, so pretty luck I guess. However, it was only about 10 or 15 feet from the trail when I saw it. So, although I was excited to see it, I decided it’d be best to not linger and I, perhaps more hastily than necessary (since it was just a small black bear), pushed Jason down the trail before he was able to see it. I think he’s a little upset with me that has thus still never seen a bear… but we have also not been eaten by a bear. You have to pick your battles I guess :).
The next day we got up early for a longer hike before it got too hot. The trail we decided to take went up into the mountains even further (about 2000 ft elevation gain), which made for some pretty incredible views (and some difficulties with the altitude for me… haha… Jason was wondering why the altitude wasn’t really affecting him and I had to remind him that he’s currently training for a 50K). The temperature was beautiful in the morning, but by the time we were done hiking it was near 100 again. Whiped from the hike… and very hot… we found ourselves trying to figure out how to get out of the heat for the rest of the day.
As I think I mentioned before the park is huge. Jason pointed out the name, Big Bend, and if they call something “big” in Texas it must be pretty big. To drive from end to end was something like 60 miles, and we did it, partly because the car has air conditioning, and partly because there are so many things to see! We visited the Rio Grande in two spots and contemplated swimming to Mexico. At one of the stops we saw the huge canyon that the seemingly calm slow river carved. Pretty amazing. We also stopped at a few visitors centers (they also had air conditioning), which was nice because I learned a few things! Haha. The Chisos Mountains (where our campground was) are sort of like an island in the desert, and there are plants and animals on the island from the last ice age that weren’t able to survive in the surrounding area when it turned to desert. Very interesting.
In the end, I wish I did a better job of standing up to the heat, but it was an awesome place to visit regardless. I could probably easily spend a few weeks there. I’d suggest visiting in the winter though :).