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  • J.F. Rowan

Big Bend National Park - Part 1 of 3

As I write this, I’ve heard of the tragedy in Florida. It doesn’t make any difference who you are or where you live, people are moved by this tragedy. Prayers and hope go out to those families affected by this senseless act of hate.

Seminole Canyon State Park

Seminole Canyon State Park

The trip from Seminole state park to Big Bend was long and at times, dare I say it, kinda boring. Two towns equally distributed along the way both looked like they had been bankrupt since the 70’s. And, my first real checkpoint inspection. Even that just consisted of, “Good afternoon sir, how many are you today?” “Just the two of us,” I replied and he waved us on. On to Marathon, the last town before we head south into Big Bend.

Marathon Tx. (Google Photo)

Marathon. The town where we would get our fuel topped off and all the fresh fruit and vegetables we would need for the next ten days or so. Fuel, 3.44 a gallon. Gulp. Then the grocery store. We figured we would hold off as long as possible to buy fresh fruits and vegetables to limit the amount of spoilage while in the back-country. A search on the internet came up with a grocery store in Marathon, the only store in Marathon. We had enough canned goods so all we really needed was a bag of apples, oranges, and some greens, as many greens as we could stuff into the fridge. But the intel we had was bad. Oh, they had a produce department alright, but it should have been named the “Scratch and Dent” department. The produce was old wrinkled and way overpriced. We bought nothing green. I’ve seen produce on compost piles that looked better. We left with two cookies and a loaf of bread (which to their credit were homemade and very good). We would have to make the best of it. We had come 200 miles and still another 70 or so to get into the park. We turn south to the park.

Route from Comstock Tx, to Big Bend National Park

The first indication that your getting to the park is the speed limit, then instantly the road has no shoulder and gets slightly narrower. About 5 miles later, you come to the gate. You pay the nice man and he gives you a pass that gets stuck on your window. This is just the pass to get in, we still have to travel another 20 miles to the visitor center to see if we can get our backcountry passes so that we can camp. Unlike the state system, there is no reservation system for backcountry site. You can reserve them, but you have to be standing in front of the only person in the entire park that holds “The Ledger” and that only happens at one of the three visitors centers called Panther Junction. We have booked a spot in an Rv park inside Big Bend. Sort of like base camp for us while we navigate the bureaucracy of the backcountry system.

Panther Junction Visitors Center, Big Bend National Park

Panther Junction Visitors Center, home of "The Ledger"

We arrive at Panther Junction. There are other campers waiting. We get in line. We are able to procure two different spots (two of the three we hoped for) and get our permit. We are elated. We can always come back to see that other third spot to help us extend our stay. It’s another 20 miles to the RV park even further south near the Rio Grande. We are only planning to use this "RV" park for one night before we head into the back-country. We also hear from a ranger that the RV park has a grocery store! not the kind of food we are looking for, basically seven thousand boxes of “Hot Pockets” and “Jiffy Pop”. All marked up about 400%. Needing to use the restroom, we find the "his" and "hers" and use the time to check out the shower availability. It’s not pretty. Smells pretty bad, like old urine and the floors don't look like they've been mopped since Nixon was in office. The showers. Unlike other showers we've encountered, these showers are coin operated, $2 for five minutes. I got a picture of my self-stuffing quarters in the machine while I’m showering, not. Maybe because it been a long day, and the issues we seem to be having getting our backcountry permits, but I’m just not feeling the love. Yvette comes out of the ladies room, she looks disgusted. I don’t even ask. We move through the building looking for the laundry facilities.

Rio Grande Village Store (Google Photo)

We have about five days of laundry to do. We find most of the machines are not working and there is a line. One out of 4 washers is working and I suddenly discover, none of the dryers were working. A "sorry, out of order" sign is dated two days ago. “Let’s just go to the site, things will look better tomorrow,” she says. I bite my lip and say nothing. We drive a few thousand feet to the actual campground. There is more room in a sardine can than there is between sites here. We find the camp host and they direct us to our “pull through” spot. When I see it, that’s exactly what I do, I pull right through. “Honey, I’m going to make a command decision and do you a favor in the process, we are not staying in this %^&#*$((!” Yvette agrees. Back to the visitors center, another twenty miles. During the return trip, we strategize. Once back at the center Yvette pleads our case, and we are able to snag a backcountry site called “9-Point Draw in the backcountry for the night. It’s another twenty-two miles but we gladly take it.

"Nine Point Draw" campsite.

“Nine Point Draw”, is smack dab in the middle of the Chihuahuan desert area of the park. The access road, if you can call it that, is about a mile and a half long and ends up in a spot with magnificent views. We are both overwhelmed of…well…all of it. I’m sitting here trying to put into words how our view looks. Frankly, it’s beyond words, it’s pure and vast. Maybe not in the conventional sense, or maybe it is but the point is it’s just so magnificent in both its grandeur and its simplicity. From the limestone lines to its Creasote bushes, it looks surreal. Did I mention it was late? We make camp and start supper. We have no hook-ups, we are completely off the grid. No cell service, no internet, no AM or FM radio. I retrieve the weather radio, nothing. All I can hear is the slight case of Tinnitus that I have, and even that starts to fade.

Just one after another. They seem to last for an hour!

As if that all wasn’t enough to process, the sun began to set. And sunsets here, are not at all like they are at home. Not just in how they look, but how LONG they look the way they do. You can watch a sunset for an hour or more. And it constantly changes. My camera was probably overheating due to the number of shots I took the first night. Wait, there’s more. After the sun gets finished with its dazzling show, the stars come out. My god, so many stars! From one horizon to another gleaming and twinkling, all fighting for your attention. And all that space in between the stars is pitch black giving you the illusion that you’re watching it all in 3D. We are intoxicated from it all and turn in.

At 3 AM, I’m awake. I’m anxious. About what? Who knows, I just get this way from time to time. I decide to get up and get some fresh air and look again at the stars. Once outside I wander a bit from the coach to get a larger picture of the sky because some of is obscured. I coyote barks within 50 feet of me and then begins his (or her) howl at stars. I slowly walk back to the coach. He sticks around for a few minutes, just long enough for Yvette to get an ear full. For us, this is paradise. Morning comes but not before a thick layer fog settles over everything. The dust on the coach has turned to mud. We’ve been baptized. After breakfast, we head to our next camp, Nugent Mountain.

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