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I spent most of last week partying in Austin, hiking in Big Bend National Park, and driving. Lots of driving. I drove over 1,000 miles last week. But let me tell you: West Texas is insanely gorgeous. I had no idea. I kept thinking, “This is Texas?!” as I hiked and drove around the Big Bend area, very much in the middle of nowhere.
I was also able to squeeze in the River Road drive between Lajitas and Presidio (on my way to Marfa), 67 miles of pure twisty mountainous highway considered to be the most scenic drive in Texas and one of the most beautiful in the country.
All the hiking and driving made me feel, at times, that I was perhaps the last person on Earth. It’s such beautiful nature out there. And at night, you can see thousands and millions of stars and glimpses of the Milky Way, which make you feel like you’re on the fringes of the galaxy – which you actually are. Absolutely cosmic.
I wasn’t expecting so many mountains. Or to experience such biodiversity in Big Bend. For example, did you know there are bears in Texas? I sure didn’t. But sure enough, the park is populated with thriving black bears, along with mountain lions, deer, rattlesnakes, and lots of other critters that move between scorched desert to canyon to near-jungle, from cactus flowers to alpines.
Here’s more from the trip.
In This Post
Big Bend trip report
I took a week off work to do this trip. Clocked out Friday afternoon, then woke up early Saturday and boogied down to Austin.
I reserved two nights at the Hyatt Place Austin-North Central with Hyatt points for Halloween and the night after. This was purely just for fun. I hadn’t seen my Austin friends in an age and spent two full days brunching, going to the park, and hanging out with them.
I’ve been mostly cooped all for most of the year so I was beyond ready for some socializing. The time flew by, as it does. And then I hopped in my car and drove west – all the way west and a little south, almost to Mexico.
And after driving all day, I found the little cabin I’d rented off Airbnb. For the stay, I paid with my Chase Freedom Flex via PayPal because that’s a 5X bonus category this quarter – so I was able to earn 5X Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Sweet deal!
The cabin was located about 5 miles outside the West entrance to Big Bend, which was so convenient. And it was only ~10 minutes to the little town of Terlingua, Texas, where there’s a ghost town, a few cute restaurants, and… not much else. 🌵
Once I got settled, I got my backpack ready for a couple of days of hiking in Big Bend. The weather was gorgeous throughout my stay. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky – which was a good and bad thing.
Big Bend Part 1
The mornings were chilly, but the afternoons were hot. Maybe high 70s/low 80s – nothing too hot by Texas standards. But most areas of the park are vast and open, completely unshaded and exposed to the sun. So it feels really hot really fast. For that reason, I woke up before dawn and was on my way into the park by the sun’s first rays.
Driving into the park for the first time was absolutely magical. I was the only one on the road and listened to Tori Amos’ Americana-tinged Scarlet’s Walk album, which was perfect for a drive as beautiful as this one was.
When I got there, signs advised being off the trails by 10am. So I did my first hike, the Lost Mine Trail, as quickly as I could while also keeping in mind that early morning is a favorite time of bears and mountain lions. 🙀
It was also at this moment, when I entered the park and stepped foot onto the trail, that nature started to heal me. “Healing” is an open-ended word and process. By this I mean, I could feel myself reorienting and breathing deeply again. I hadn’t been on a proper hiking trail since Glacier National Park a couple of years ago, which is criminal.
I also felt extremely alone on the trail. A long time passed before I saw anyone else. And in that time, I made sure to feel the earth under my feet and the rocks with my hands and look at all the shades of green passing through my eyes. It was so wonderful. And so, so beautiful.
After a while, I made my way up the mountain, which opened to wide, panoramic vistas. Unreal how beautiful it was.
Big Bend Part 2
By the time I made my way back down the mountain, it was indeed pretty hot. I did a shorter hike to Boquillas Canyon, which is only 1.4 miles round-trip out and back. But by the time I was done, I was starting to overheat, so I made my way to the visitor center and loaded up on water, then made my way back to the cabin.
At night, I laid down on the picnic table and looked at all the stars.
The next day, I got up and drove into the park again.
And did two more hikes. First was the Lower Burro Mesa Pouroff trail, which was short and completely beautiful. I was all alone for this one the entire time.
And then hiked to Santa Elena canyon, which involved some scrambling up a mountain to get around the Rio Grande, which was unusually high this time of year – waist deep it was.
Afterward, I spent more time in Terlingua and made sure to grab a drink at the Starlight Theatre (a must if you ever go there!).
Originally, I was going to drive home after this. But I loved the area so much, I decided to extend the trip and spend a night in Marfa.
River Road to Marfa
I absolutely had to see the River Road after being blown away by the natural beauty in the area. There were many long stretches where I didn’t see another car and again, felt like I was the last living person.
SH170 runs into Highway 67, and I took that directly into Marfa. I took my time on the River Road, as it’s very twisty and narrow.
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Of course, if you’re in the area, you gotta stop by Prada Marfa, which is A) actually a sculpture and B) not in Marfa, but in Valentine, Texas, about 35 miles west of Marfa. And yes, I also did it for the ‘Gram.
After the long drive, I went into town and found a cute cafe with local beers, then made my way to a lodge I found on Hotels.com. I thought about trying to see the Marfa Lights, but was pretty well tired by all the driving and hiking by this point, so I let that one go.
Throughout this trip my sweet dog, Fenwick, was right next to me. He was so so good in the car and loved seeing all the new places. My boy is 10 years old by now. 😭
We then drove the home stretch from Marfa back to Dallas, which took a little over 7 hours. When I got back, I went to the store for groceries and passed out.
The next day when I woke up, I felt more energized and ready to get going – an energy I still have now, almost a week later. Being in nature is always so good for me. I can’t believe it’s been so long since I immersed myself in forests and mountains. #notetoself
This trip was definitely a reminder to get into nature more often. Big Bend was amazing. And now that I have my parks pass (which is only $80), I can’t wait to see more of our national parks.
Over and over, I was blown away by the natural beauty of West Texas. I had no idea all that was out there – no one ever talks about it! So I must say: if you ever get the chance to explore Big Bend, it’s unreal how beautiful it is. And how vast. Give yourself at least a few days and perhaps a couple more to explore the rest of the area. (This is true for all national parks, I reckon).
My big takeaway was how good it felt to be in my car and driving. I have missed traveling so much in 2020. This trip got me out of the house and broke my homeostasis in a powerful way. I think I was getting too stir-crazy up at home, really. 😅
So that’s my trip report! Have you visited the Big Bend area? Or taken any road trips? What does travel or having an “escape” look like to you this year?* If you liked this post, consider signing up to receive free blog posts in an RSS reader and you’ll never miss an update! And thanks for using my links to apply for new card offers!
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