Big Bend National Park is right on the Mexican border, in that little dip of Texas on the southwestern side. I’d booked 4 nights at campsites in the park piecing together what was available- the park itself was open, though the visitor centers were closed and staffing far reduced, but the campground reservations and operations are run by a third party so still open. By the time I arrived, though, they announced that all camping would be closed starting Monday, so I just had 2 nights and considered just cancelling it altogether, but decided to go anyway and just make other arrangements for after, and I’ sure glad I did go.

I’d heard that some parks were being crowded by people so I wasn’t sure how it would be, but I had plenty of room at my campsite and none of the trails were packed so it was usually easy to stay my 6′ away from people aside from passing on trails and sharing a bathroom (all the hand washing of course).

Big Bend is arid, with mountains, canyons, and desert, full of ocotillo and bluebonnets, yucca and cacti, piñon pines and mesquite trees, quaking aspens and cottonwoods. I saw roadrunners, squirrels, hares, lizards, and so many kinds of birds (but none of the bears, mountain lions or coyotes the signs warned of). Pretty much every five seconds I felt the urge to pull over and take photos but mostly resisted and just took in the view.

I arrived in early evening, set up camp, had some dinner, and drove to the other side of a tunnel to watch the sun set over the Chisos Mountains, and caught the red glow on the cliffs just across the Rio Grande. So far from any major urban area the sky was so dark and I just stood outside with my neck craned up at the sky for probably 30 minutes each night. Was able to pick out one or two constellations and a few stars and planets but special thanks to my stargazing app for the rest.

Sunday I had aimed to get up early to catch sunrise and get an early start, but when I popped my head outside it was cloudy so just crawled back into bed for a bit before finally getting a move on and driving up into the mountains to the Lost Mine Trail. It was a climb up to a view in all directions, so beautiful. But every trail I did in the park was beautiful so…

I recently had to toss my old hiking shoes and bought the exact same ones as a replacement and am still breaking them in, so wasn’t sure my feet could take a whole lot more that day (of all things, just got a blister on the outside edge of each big toe despite moleskin- any tips?? think I need different socks despite these being great with the old version) and it was not the middle of a hot sunny afternoon in the desert, so opted for a short trail down into the Santa Elena canyon, which is one of the most Insta-photo’d places in the park for good reason. Very short hike into the canyon and the vibrant green Rio Grande. Some people were kayaking and paddle boarding on the river and some were wading in since the water level was pretty low. I would have myself had it been less muddy and I had sandals, but alas.

Before heading back that day my last stop was the Langford hot springs just down the road from my campground. I wasn’t super confident the van would make it down the rutted road well so I parked halfway down the dirt road and walked the last half mile. The hot spring is enclosed by a small stone rectangle and is set on the back of the river, and despite the slight yuck factor of the gunk from the bottom of the enclosure coming up when you moved around, it was the perfect warmth after a day on my feet as the ambient air cooled with the sunset approaching. The hot spring seems to have once been an operating business with a bathhouse from before the park was established, but it’s abandoned now. The cool rock formations nearby have petroglyphs and pictographs from who knows when, too, and at this very narrow point in the river there are stands on either side of the river with crafts for sale though they were both unmanned when I was there. It would have been super easy to wade across to Mexico or back, though around the bend I did see a lot of lighting built on the riverbank so I assume it’s monitored somehow. Anyway, caught a beautiful sunset on the way back to the car and felt calm and fulfilled.

The following day I actually did get up early to pack up camp since this was closing day, and went back out to the Chisos Mountains to do the Window trail near the Chisos visitor center and campground, which was a pretty though rather uneventful trail for the first 2/3 down into a creek canyon, but was pretty magical once I rounded the bend into the canyon portion. Trees were flowering and full of buzzing bees, and a small stream of water was flowing down toward the point where it cascades hundreds of feet down the rock face. When it rains a lot apparently it can get slippery (yikes!) but lucky for me it was dry and easy to navigate, and was a gorgeous place to sit for a bit, have a snack, and take it all in.

What a wonderful way to end my time in the park, though the drive out through the western end of the park was full of surprises as the landscape changed abruptly to a barren area as the boundary neared. I wasn’t stopped at the border patrol station and took off toward El Paso for a little pause. So grateful to have these great memories to hold me over for the next week of corona containment just like everyone else.

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