Saturday, December 27, 2014

Big Bend National Park

     It was not heavily on our minds where to spend our first Christmas on the road after retirement.  This year it just turned out to be here. Big Bend Nat'l Park is located in SW Texas on the banks of the Rio Grande River.  The term 'banks' might be a bit of a misnomer as the river here cuts through deep gorges and ravines that inspire the imagination. 
      Looking for a place to get away from it all?  This might just be it.  The park is located 411 miles NW of San Antonio and 290 miles SE of El Paso, and as such pretty much qualifies it as in the middle of nowhere.  The last town is Marathon, TX about 95 miles north of our campground.  The park is renown for hiking and river trips through some very spectacular country.  Barb and I reserved a campsite in Rio Grande Village without power and water which allowed us to break out the boondocking equipment once again.  Camping here is perfect for solar power with abundant sunshine forecast during our visit.  Luckily our campsite was located next to a water spigot and staying only 5 days allowed us not to worry about waste water dumping till departure.  Thanks to our Golden Access Pass our 5 day visit cost us a mere $35.  We only needed to run the generator about an hour a night (except for Christmas) to completely top off our battery bank thanks to the sunshine.  It is important to note that the only cell phone service in the park is AT & T and it is extremely limited.  Stores at Rio Grande Village and Panther Junction do offer WiFi, as well as gasoline and diesel.  With the sheer high mileage commuting involved in the park this is pretty handy and the prices are very reasonable. 
     The park itself contains several distinct ecosystems.  All the elevations have a variety of about a dozen different types of cactus as well as about a half dozen types of yucca and agave.
      Wildlife varies depending on where you are.  They do claim that about 2 dozen mountain lions inhabit the park and as such anywhere you are, you're likely in one's territory.  The park is enormous and so each adventure will take you many miles by the end of the day. 

     Our first day we ventured to the far SW corner of the park to Castalon.  The road wanders over hills, through arroyos, and many miles of desert.  This area is home to Javelina, Mountain Lion, Roadrunners, Tarantulas, and 4 different types of rattlesnakes.  We traveled over 100 miles this day ending up at the Rio Grande River Cliffs bordering Mexico. 

Unfortunately the only wildlife we saw this day was an 'eight legged freak'. 
      Day 2 was a beautiful, warm day and so we decided to venture to the Chisos Mountain Lodge and Basin area.  About 5 miles past Panther Junction you turn and head uphill with elevations rising fairly quickly.  We had some rain at camp the night prior, but at these elevations the precipitation remarkably changes to a more frozen form, even in the desert!   
     The area is home to whitetail deer, mountain lions, and a population of about 17 black bears, but our 'wildlife curse' continued.  The scenery was absolutely beautiful.  I thought it was the most beautiful place in the park.  We had lunch at the Chisos Mountain Lodge: Soup, Salad Bar, & Club Sandwiches for $24.  We discovered they were also having a Christmas Dinner, but we had already decided on our menu.  Afterwards we strolled out and explored the basin area which includes a visitor center, store, and a camping area.  There is a size restriction on RVs for this campground of less than 24', which is evident due to the tight winding roads on the trip up.  The basin itself is a high desert bowl surrounded by peaks topping 5600 feet with the most beautiful view being 'The Window' which provides a view to the valley below. 

     The area is home to several unique types of vegetation.  Although there are yucca plants all over the park the variety found here have very tall flower/seed pod stalks. 
     This area of the park is also home to some pretty fascinating agave plants.  A cousin of the aloe plant, the agave once mature will grow a very tall tree with limbs out of it's core.  This rise to heights very much like the yucca. 
      Christmas Day found us with another very warm, sunny day although feeling a little out of place.  Wildlife here consisted of two retirees and an impatient dog and cat.  I had worked out a menu that we felt was on a smaller scale due to our situation and yet still festive and delicious to be remembered.  Christmas Eve we enjoyed the first of our 'Hog Hunting Bounty' with some Wild Hog Fajitas and Ranch Beans.  The Wild Hog meat is delicious, but does require seasoning.   

      Christmas Day the bounty continued with us enjoying Crock Pot Wild Hog Tenderloin (which required 4 hours of generator time), Baked Sweet Potatoes, Deviled Eggs, and some Fresh Fruit.  Although not fancy, we thoroughly enjoyed the meal. 
     Our last day in the park we ventured a bit closer to the campground with a hike to the Boquillas Canyon Crossing Area.  It was another beautiful, sunny day.  Javelinas, mountain lions, and snakes also frequent here.  Although we saw none, we did see tracks.  This area actually overlaps with Mexico and the Boquillas Crossing is place where you can cross to the south. We did come across a very personable gentleman selling souvenirs at several places as he traveled on his burro, but the signs warned that purchasing any souvenirs from Mexican Nationals was illegal.  Barb told me later that the same trinkets he wanted only $6 for were $14 in the park gift shops.  Capitalism......?  There are also others just across the river that seemed to be looking for something better.  
      Boquillas Canyon is where the Rio Grande River in the lower park enters the canyon area which has proven to be so beautiful. Steep escarpments rise 1400 feet from the river providing views of indescribable beauty.  The cliffs do not stop the prickly pear cactus from growing whenever and wherever they can, even on the high cliffs. 
      It was also in this area that our 'Wildlife Curse' was interrupted as we watched a couple of the more famous local residents play on the banks, but funny......they don't really go "Beep Beep"
      This park proved to be quite the hidden treasure.  It is located far away for the nearest definition of civilization, but loaded with beauty on so many levels.  The park offers a little bit of something for anyone and everyone.  I found it impressive that the campgrounds in this park were over half full during this Christmas week.  Barb and I found that our ideas of traditional Christmas needed some redefining this trip, but were not the least disappointed at our choice of destination.  Next year?  Something different. 
NOTE:  As I sit here editing and publishing this blog I am in Van Horn, TX watching it snow with temps in the 20s.  Not what we figured for winter down south, but we are learning to 'go with the flow'.  Interestingly enough the community of Van Horn does NOT allow any RV parking in places other than licensed RV Wal Mart or Truck Stop boondocking here.  In fact it is a $65 fine.  So far this has truly been Joie de Vivre. 
WiFi courtesy of the Desert Willow Campground in Van Horn, TX.  


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