Wander logo

Saying Goodbye to West Texas, For Now.

by Adam Lupiani 2 months ago in america
Report Story

The Final Days of Camping and Hiking in Big Bend National Park

Ian and I at the trailhead after finishing the Chisos Basin Loop

We woke up after sunrise on our final day in the park. We took our time breaking down camp, eating breakfast and packing up.

We wanted to be back in the basin by 2pm, but we were feeling good. The sleep had been rough, thanks to somewhat uneven ground. I woke up several times, eventually resorting to stuffing some of my clothing underneath the head of my sleeping pad in order to feel less like I was hanging from my ankles. Once I had some food and water I started feeling better. Nothing a little oatmeal and crisp, clear air couldn’t chase out of me. The air was chilly and we kept our jackets on as we packed up. We made a pit stop at the composting toilet before heading out onto the trail.

We remained hidden from the direct sunlight for much of our winding decent back to the basin. Heading downhill was hard on my hip and I had to take fairly frequent breaks to sip on my water and munch on trail mix. The trick was to keep my downward steps small, slow, controlled. I found myself, once again, leaning a fair share of my weight onto the trekking pole. Despite my cautious speed, we made good time to the inside rim of the basin, the sun finally cresting the mountains as we reached a consistently downhill portion. I stopped to rest a moment and shed my jacket.

Back on the path into the basin, the lodge in view just right of center in this photo.

The downhill portion wound back and forth, too wide to be proper switchbacks. I had chugged through over half of my water the day before, and I was keeping up that pace today. With the knowledge of our water consumption gained from Marufo Vega we managed not to overpack our water by too much. It wasn’t long before we came around a bend into the sunlight. I was immediately glad to have shed my jacket. We made great time into the basin. Maybe too great. By the end of the hike, my hip was screaming in agony again. I stopped to rest and Ian went ahead to the car. When I met him there, only a few minutes behind him, he had unloaded his pack into the trunk and was itching to get up to the lodge where we had promised ourselves lunch if we got back by 2. It was just after noon when I arrived at the car. We had lunch, refilled our water bottles and set out in the car.

Our next destination was Big Bend Ranch State Park, a massive continuation of the wilderness of Big Bend directly west of the national park. We followed the park road south, pausing briefly to admire the Santa Elena Canyon from the overlook. The park road took us north to the western exit on TX-118. In a few minutes we were heading southwest along FM-170.

We stopped for gas in Terlingua, a former silver mining town and nearly empty tourist stop. FM-170 took us to the canyon, high above the waters of the Rio Grande. We snaked along the rim of the canyon, occasionally turning more inland where old creeks had carved a slope into the canyon. The view was breathtaking, and in a couple spots we slowed to a crawl so that we could both appreciate the sheer cliffs opposite us.

We drove for a couple hours before arriving at Fort Leaton State Park, alongside FM-170. There we were able to check in to our reservation at Big Bend Ranch. The park is so large that most visitors never visit the ranger station inside it! We were given a pretty basic map of an overview of the park, told that the road from the entrance of the park to the ranger station was 20 miles, unpaved and graded. So we climbed back into the car and drove back to the road leading us to the entrance to the state park. As soon as we turned off FM-170 the pavement was replaced by packed gravel. It took us five miles to reach the official entrance to the park. The 20 miles afterwards took us almost an hour.

The roads in Big Bend Ranch State Park would prove much less forgiving than anything in the National Park.

At the ranger station, we picked up a more detailed map, got some driving advice from the ranger and took advantage of the showers. I rinsed off, shedding my clothes as I stood under the water, wringing them out and soaking them again. Outside, in dry clothes, I wrung out my wet clothes again and hung them in the back of the car so they’d be in the sunlight as we drove.

We had, as best we could tell from the maps, approximately 20 miles of twisty, narrow 4x4 roads to reach our campsite. The first few miles were on the main road, and we almost missed our turn. The state park is so incredibly remote. Almost void of markers or signs of human activity (aside from that gravel road). Our speed was cut to a crawl once we pulled off the gravel road.

For most the 20 miles we bumped and crawled over the rocky terrain at a sluggish 10 mph. All we knew about our campsite was that it was situated “at the top of a mesa.” Which, of course, sounds awesome. After an hour of driving we began to point at mesas with in sight, in the vague direction of the road and saying, that must be it. And time after time we crawled past those mesas. To our right, the sun inched closer to the horizon. We knew we still had a few hours of sunlight left. It should be enough time, right?

It wasn’t so much the time to get to our sight that concerned us. With absolutely no cell signal, no radio to call the ranger station and the trail getting rougher and rougher, we we getting concerned about getting stuck. About having to turn around and getting caught out after dark on a road that was hard enough to follow during the day.

The view from our campsite in the last daylight hours.

We arrived, a few times, at sections of the road where we had to get out of the car and walk along the trail to figure out the best path to take. As we rounded one wide curve on the side of a steep hill, the 4Runner was tipped far enough to the left side that I had to hold onto the door handle to keep from sliding into the center console.

But, shortly after that nerve-wracking curve, we climbed up one last hill and found ourselves, rather unceremoniously, atop a mesa. We had just enough light to set up the tent, cook dinner and eat while watching the sun sink below the horizon, not a single sign of civilization anywhere in sight.

Clear skies and a chill in the air settled in as we watched the sun set, ending the trip in a similarly remote site as we began.

Given the state of the roads through the State Park, we decided to call our trip done the next day. There were some trails we were thinking about hiking, but the trailheads would require a substantial amount of driving, plus the drive back to the campsite. Since we were both pretty tired and the driving felt trecherous, ending our trip a day early felt like the right move.

We took our time packing up the next morning and planned our route home. The road away from our campsite wasn't any more forgiving in the opposite direction, but seemed to take less time.

The drive home was uneventful, though we stopped a few times to pee on the side of the road and appreciate our last few hours in the west Texas scenery. There was something about it that felt like home, to me. Perhaps an appreciation of the low humidity, or the view of small mountains in the distance, maybe how remote and evenly paced it all felt.

I can never thank Ian enough for inviting me to join him on such an incredible journey, or for the work he did in planning the trip.

In the years since, through the pandemic, I've been itching to return to west Texas to spend more nights camped out in remote sites under the stars. It'll happen again for me soon. I'm planning a trip for early next year.

In the meantime, I'll be taking some short trips to do more hiking and some climbing in areas around Houston. If you'd like to see stories about those trips, then subscribe so you can see them when they drop!

Thank you so much for reading!

Ian and I at our campsite in Big Bend Ranch State Park.


About the author

Adam Lupiani

Reader insights

Be the first to share your insights about this piece.

How does it work?

Add your insights


There are no comments for this story

Be the first to respond and start the conversation.

Sign in to comment

    Find us on social media

    Miscellaneous links

    • Explore
    • Contact
    • Privacy Policy
    • Terms of Use
    • Support

    © 2022 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.