January 13 - 15, 2023
Written By: Kayla
Starting off every blog post with a line like, “We had such an amazing time at X Park,” becomes very redundant, but it is always true. Our adventures visiting the different National Parks within the United States always leaves us happy and excited to have discovered new ways to experience nature and history. Big Bend National Park in Texas is no different. Our experience within the National Park was full of fun and exciting explorations.
Welcome to Big Bend!
We flew into MAF (Midland International Air and Space Port) in the afternoon and then made our way to Target for our usual travel supplies, not allowed in a checked bag. Our first day of the trip was a lot of driving to get us into Fort Davis, Texas. We had a relaxing dinner at Blue Mountain Bar and Grill, which was one of a few places open downtown. After dinner we went to our Airbnb, a trailer called The Prowler. The Airbnb was fine for one night, but the shower was not easy to use and there was no heating, so we had to use mini heaters. This was fine until the morning when they stopped running and the hot water went out. Our first night was very relaxing, however, and we enjoyed the outdoor seating for stargazing, until the cold night swept in. We played some Scrabble, where Colin won by a few letters and let it get to his head.
A beautiful first night under the stars
The next morning we woke up bright and early and made our way to grab a warm coffee. Our first destination for Day 2 was Fort Davis National Historic Site. It was a cold, but beautiful morning and we enjoyed walking around the site and watching the park film. Fort Davis NHS was a frontier military post used intermittently from 1854 to 1891. From 1854 to 1861, the Eighth Infantry resided in the fort protecting travelers and mail stations from attacks. Later on, there was a fight for command of the fort during the Civil War between Confederate and Union troops. Then in 1867, the Ninth US Cavalry occupied Fort Davis.
Caffeine to start the day
Find Your Park!
The fort remained in use until 1891, when it was decided the fort had run its' course since the Indian Wars in Texas had ended. Fort Davis NHS has a lot of amazing history to read about as you walk through the site. For example, Henry O. Flipper was the first black individual to graduate from West Point. Flipper was in Fort Davis from 1880-1881, however he was dismissed in 1882 by court decision. Much later, in 1976, the case was reevaluated, and it was decided to give Flipper an honorable discharge.
Shameful U.S. history
There was also an area of the site dedicated to medical procedures and tools used through the years of the fort. We were very intrigued, and slightly concerned, with the tools we saw when reading what they were used for. While interesting, it also made us cringe to think about having to be a patient of these tools.
No, thank you!
Bird's-eye view of the fort
After Fort Davis National Historic Site, we began our trek to Big Bend National Park. But of course, Colin and I can never just head from one place to another, without trying to find some fun spots along the way. Thankfully, Highway 90 had some awesome spots to take pictures and break up the drive. Most of the stops were in and around Marfa, Texas. Marfa has the Ballroom, which is a contemporary art museum and also assists in funding art projects offsite, such as Prada Marfa. Prada Marfa is exactly as it sounds, a free standing art piece modeled after a Prada store. It was created in October of 2005 by Elmgreen and Dragset and is a fun spot to stop and gather some photographs. There is also a fence in the back with locks if you feel like leaving a memory in Marfa.
A little roadside shopping
Next on the list was right down the road - Giant Marfa. This is a “giant” setting from the 1956 movie, Giant. It was honestly much cooler than we expected and it even had music playing when you get out of the car. Now we can’t wait to see the movie!
The music is a nice touch!
The last two photos we grabbed were a “Welcome to Marfa” sign and the historic “Stardust Hotel” sign, both of which are right off the road. All four of the stops in Marfa were really close together and we can’t wait to go back and explore more of the actual town, as it seemed like a really fun and unique place. Within Marfa is also the Blackwell School Museum, which is under renovation to become a National Park Site!
Future NPS Site
We finally arrived to Big Bend a little after 12:00 pm and our first stop was one of the many visitor centers, Persimmon Gap. We grabbed a pass for the window and then made our way to our first hike - Dugout Wells. This hike was great to get out of our car and enjoy the weather, but it was really just a walk through some of the plants of the park. We then made our way to the Rio Grande Overlook. We thought we would be seeing the river, but it actually is an overlook that shows what used to be Daniels Ranch Farm. A very pretty view that is right off the main road!
We made it!
Beautiful contrasted scenery all around
My favorite hike of the day was Boquillas Canyon Trail Overlook. This is a 1.5-mile roundtrip hike, medium difficulty and well worth it. Along this path you can walk along the river, see the landscapes created by the flowing Rio Grande River and wander with wild horses! Along the path, there were also items for sale made by the individuals who live in Boquillas, Mexico. However, we read on the National Park website to not purchase the items in the National Park, but rather when you visit Mexico by crossing the river.
One of many areas of gifts from across the border
It was hard to not buy some of these!
A small section of the Rio Grande
There were a lot of horses in this area
After hiking, we decided to head to our campground, the Rio Grande Village Campground, and setup camp. This was my favorite of the two campgrounds we stayed at during our visit. It had nice bathrooms and a covered picnic table for eating. We were also right next to the path for the Rio Grande Nature Trail. While enjoying our dinner at the campsite, we were watching the sun begin to set very quickly. Our plan was to hike the nature trail and watch the sunset from the top. We made it just in time, after rushing our food and quickly hiking the short path to the top of the cliff to watch the sun go down. It was beyond beautiful!
The perfect sunset spot
A must-visit for sunset
Our night at the campground was very peaceful and the view of the stars was breathtaking. We also had some fun with our headlamps while attempting light painting, using the Night mode on our iPhones.
We <3 Big Bend!
The stars were absolutely insane
Day 2 in Big Bend was one of our favorite adventures so far. We started out bright and early to visit the Hot Springs Historic District. A short .5 mile out & back trail takes you to the spring. The hot spring sits on the river and you can sit on the ruins of the old bath house. It was a gorgeous morning to dip our feet in and indulge in their “healing properties”. On the way to the spring, there are also remains of the Hot Springs Post Office and some of the homesteads in the area.
The road to the springs is tight, curvy and has some rocky portions
It's a beautiful trail that hugs the river
The springs felt amazing on a chilly morning!
Beautiful views from the Historic District
After a relaxing soak, we started our journey into Boquillas, Mexico! When we first learned of this experience years ago, it immediately became a must-do. This was such an unique experience while being in a National Park. To enter Mexico from Big Bend, you must go through the border crossing at The Boquillas Crossing Port of Entry. An officer is stationed here, who will ask you if you have a passport to enter back into the United States. If yes, you can cross over into Mexico and begin to explore.
Check the schedule to be sure you don't miss this opportunity!
Port of Entry
After passing through the port, it’s a short hike down to the river, where you can pay $5 per person to get a ride over the Rio Grande in a row boat! This was so cool!
Rowing across the Rio Grande!
We brought plenty of cash (they accept the US Dollar) and wanted to help support the town of Boquillas by getting lunch, drinks, and a few souvenirs. We decided to opt-in to the donkey rides into Boquillas for $10 per person roundtrip. This also included a tour guide who helped show us around the town. The donkey ride takes less than 15 minutes and was something neither of us had ever experienced before. However, if you would prefer not to ride a donkey or horse, the walk is a little over a mile and on a very easy path (and probably quicker than the donkeys). Once in town, we made our way to a lunch spot called Jose Falcon’s. There are two main restaurants to choose from and this one was delicious - with a great view of the river, mountains and National Park.
Riding into town!
Such an unique experience
View from Jose Falcon's patio
Loving every second of this experience!
Lunch was DELICIOUS!
Fired Up south of the border!
After eating, we walked around the town and heard about how long our tour guide’s family has been in the city of Boquillas, and learned the history of the town and buildings. Our tour guide mentioned that his wife had a shop selling souvenirs, so we knew we would do our shopping from her. We grabbed beers from a bar called Park Bar just to enjoy some extra time in Mexico, before eventually heading back toward the river. We can’t express enough, what an incredible experience this was!
We enjoyed a cold one at Park Bar in Boquillas
$1 billiards at Park Bar!
Our souvenir shop - owned by our guide's wife
Once we arrived back on U.S. soil, we continued to another area of the park. Big Bend has a variety of landscapes, from the flowing river, to the desert habitat, all the way to the Chisos Mountains. The Chisos Mountains extend through much of the park and there are many hikes within the mountains. Backpacking is also an option, if you are feeling adventurous. We started at the Chisos Basin Visitor Center and made our way to the trailhead for Chisos Basin Loop Trail. This was a moderate 1.8-mile round trip hike, full of amazing views and we really enjoyed walking through the mountains. The park is so large and diverse, it can feel like more than one park when you experience all the different landscapes it has to offer.
A quick, but fulfilling trip to Mexico!
The scenery never disappoints
Cottonwood. Timing for the day meant we were racing the sun so we could hopefully have some sunlight while setting up camp. That being said, we still wanted to see some overlooks, so we stopped at Sotol Vista Overlook and Mule Ears Overlook before finally arriving at our campsite.After our hike, we had to quickly make our way to our second campground,
Sotol Vista Overlook at sunset
It was day 3 in Big Bend and we started with our usual Celsius and Pop-tarts (the breakfast of champions), and then did a quick hike into Tuff Canyon. You can enjoy the Tuff Canyon Overlook right off the road, but you can also hike down into the canyon. You can explore down in the canyon for a bit, but we made it quick, having a full agenda ahead of us.
A short and sweet trail and overlook
Beautiful morning views over Tuff Canyon
Castolon Historic District, housing the La Harmonia Store. The Castolon area represents the history of Big Bend National Park as a border community, where individuals from both Mexico and America came to reside. The location was also briefly home to U.S. Army troops during The Mexican Revolution, but this was short-lived. In 1925, La Harmonia Company bought the previous military buildings and created the La Harmonia Store. Additionally, there was a post office added, which allowed the people living in this remote area to stay connected. This store remained open all the way to 1961, until Big Bend became a National Park. A stop to the district is a great way to learn about some of the human history of the area before it became federal land. Sadly, some of the structures are still damaged from a fire in 2019.Nearby is the
Old machinery from the district's heyday
An old home in Castolon
Santa Elena Canyon. There is a 1.6 mile round-trip hike with less than 100 feet elevation gain and an easy walking path. However, our experience was slightly different because the Terlingua Creek, which you must pass over to get to the hike, was high and we had to walk around the creek. This made the hike slightly more difficult as we had to hike through rocks and a steeper path. But once we were to the path, it was easy to follow.After enjoying a short time in Castolon, we made our way to another big-ticket item -
Arriving at Santa Elena Canyon
Rio Grande River and to one of the narrowest parts of the Santa Elena Canyon. You can hear the echoes of everyone who has made their way into the canyon before you. We stayed for a bit watching kayakers on the river and just enjoyed the views of the canyon walls. I would highly recommend this hike because it was relatively easy, with a great reward.The trail takes you along the
"The Shot" from Big Bend
Again, with the 360º of scenery...
Gotta love some switchbacks
Can't wait to return and float the area!
Old Maverick Road to Terlingua Abajo, and eventually, Terlingua, Texas. The dirt road goes from Santa Elena Canyon to Maverick Junction and is 14 miles long, so it does take a bit of time. We had no difficulty on the road with our all-wheel drive vehicle.After hiking along the canyon, it was time to explore our final piece of the park. We drove
Views along Old Maverick Road
Abandoned car in Terlingua Abajo
Old Maverick Road was to see the ruins of the community of Terlingua Abajo. The road to the ruins was the most difficult part of the route for us, and we would recommend a vehicle with high clearance.Our first stop on
A short history of the area
Some of the many ruins
There were artifacts all over the place!
Old Maverick Road after about an hour and half of driving, bringing us to the end of our park journey. From here, we headed to the town of Terlingua. The ghost/tourist town of Terlingua has a cemetery with amazing headstones and art. Terlingua has a very old town feel and you can explore the ghost town and old jail cell.We made our way to the end of
The Terlingua cemetery
Some ruins through an abandoned car
The old jail
Starlight Theater. Due to the popularity, there may be a long wait. The good news is, you can grab a drink at the bar and wait outside, or check out the awesome gift shop next door. The store also has cooler drinks and you’re able to shop around with a cold one and even take it out to the patio while you wait for your table. Once we made it to our seats, we enjoyed the great Mexican food and atmosphere. There are not a ton of options for eating in Terlingua, so be prepared to wait at any location. The Starlight has some great history and the entire experience is worthwhile.One of the highlights of Terlingua is the
Grab a drink and shop around!
Such a cool, old building
Waiting for our name to be called
Well worth the wait!
Ocotillos Village. The spot is absolutely amazing! There are showers and bathrooms in a central location, with clear and lit paths. Everything was clean and enjoyable. The A-Frames come equipped with a bed, fridge, lights, and a heating/coling system. It was awesome to be able to see the stars while laying in bed and we will absolutely stay here again on our next trip to Big Bend! Our final night of the trip was spent in one of the coolest Airbnbs to date. We stayed at a Stargazer A-Frame at
The rightfully-named Stargazers
Gazing at the stars - from our bed!
This view makes an early morning much more enjoyable
, and the surrounding areas, are a beautiful and wonderful journey. The park has so much to offer because of the wide range of wildlife, habitats, and natural beauty. One side of the park has a river and desert features, while the other side has forest and mountains. The park is also unique in its ability to share Mexican culture and even allow you to visit the country during your visit. As we always say, we can’t wait to go back to this park and explore further. We would definitely go back to Mexico and spend a day there. We also want to kayak on the Big Bend National ParkRio Grande River and hike further into the mountains. Until next time!