Above: One of the amazing views from the Lost Mine Trail.
We finally made it to Big Bend National Park! We’ve been looking forward to visiting for a while, but we knew it would be a challenge, both getting here and camping without electric hookups. The park itself is larger than the state of Rhode Island, and there’s little more than desert and a few tiny towns for more than a hundred miles outside the park. From San Marcos we drove 200 miles to Del Rio, Texas where we spent two nights at Hidden Valley RV Park and stocked up on provisions at the last full-size supermarket we’d see for several weeks. Then we made the long drive of 270 miles from Del Rio to our campground in Big Bend, passing through only three tiny towns and our first-ever Border Patrol checkpoint.
Inside the park we stayed at the Rio Grande Village Campground, which is in a beautiful location deep within the park on the Rio Grande, but offers no electrical, water, or sewer hookups at all. We’ve camped without water and sewer before (Rover has a 70 gallon fresh water tank), but this was our first time without electricity. Between Rover’s four batteries and our on-board generator (the campground has a “no generator” zone and a section that allows generator use between 8am and 8pm) we did just fine. There’s also no cell phone service available, even with our signal booster.
Amazingly, the temperature was almost 80°F when we arrived in the afternoon (we had to change into shorts for the first time in a while) but dropped to 34°F overnight. Simply moving from the sun into the shade feels like going from summer to autumn instantly! The campground has 100 sites, but there couldn’t have been more than ten RVs there plus a few people camping in tents. From the looks of the reservation sheets, things will get much busier in a week as people visit during their time off between Christmas and New Years.
Opie lost his mind a few times in the campground, whining and barking and jumping around inside Rover, rushing from window to window. On most occasions it was due to birds congregating outside the RV, sometimes including Roadrunners which we saw all over the campground. In the evenings we saw plenty of jackrabbits and we heard coyotes howling just outside the campground. Our biggest surprise was when Opie alerted us to a bobcat walking right through the campground. We watched for a while as the cat stalked some prey we couldn’t see, wandering from campsite to campsite.
The International Dark-Sky Association recognizes Big Bend as having the darkest measured skies in the lower 48 United States, so we spent our first evening outside looking up at the sky and seeing the outline of our Milky Way galaxy for the first time in several months. I used the opportunity to take a 15-minute exposure photo to capture some star trails. The camera is pointed north, so as the earth rotates on its axis, the stars appear to rotate around the north pole. It was wonderful seeing so many stars again!
As our “big hike” of our visit, we chose to hike the five mile long Lost Mine Trail through the Chisos Mountains. The trail starts at an elevation of 5,800 feet and climbs 1,100 feet with some spectacular views along the way. The hike is a popular one, and we passed (or were passed by) quite a few other hikers along the way. The weather during the hike caught us a little off guard. Our campground was in a valley 30 miles away, right along the Rio Grande at an elevation of only 1,800 feet. When we left the campground, it was sunny and warm, but much of our hike was shrouded in clouds and with strong cold winds whipping at us. In Big Bend, you really need to be prepared for both warm and cold weather wherever you go! Of course, that assumes you’re not visiting in the summer, when the temperatures regularly reach 110°F and the ground temperature can reach 160°F. We ate our packed sandwiches for lunch at the peak, resting and restoring our energy for the trip down.
A sign at the trail entrance warned about possible (but rare) sightings of black bears and mountain lions, and other hikers have reported coming across rattlesnakes. Our only unusual wildlife encounter was during our return trip down the trail, when we almost stepped on a tarantula crossing the trail right in front of us. Lost Mine Trail was a great hike, but it was also a reminder to us about how long it’s been since we’ve hiked—it’s easy to get out of shape if you don’t keep up with it!
To reward ourselves, the next day we visited the nearby hot springs. The springs were built up as a “healing bath house” tourist attraction in the early 1900s (well before the national park existed), but little remains now of the original structure. Although it’s possible to hike to the hot springs from the campground, it’s a long hike and we decided to take the easy way out: we drove the dirt road to the parking area and walked the rest of the way to the springs. The water emerging from the spring is a toasty 105°F, and it continually flows into the Rio Grande which was quite chilly. One man at the springs took a quick swim in the river, but crossing the deepest part of the river is considered an illegal entry into Mexico. After a nice long soak in the hot water (though probably not quite long enough for Kathie!) and admiring the mountains across the river, we returned to Rover for the afternoon.
In the evening, we took the advice of our campground host and hiked the easy Rio Grande Village Nature Trail up to the top of a nearby overlook to watch the sunset. As the sun goes down in the west, it lights up the Sierra del Carmen mountains to the east over the small Mexican village of Boquillas. We were treated to quite a view, with colors changing by the minute as the sun dropped away!
From our vantage point we also had a nice view of our campground along the Rio Grande and the Chisos mountains in the distance to the west. In the photo below, Rover, along with everything we own, can be seen just below and right of center. I’ve become so comfortable with our new home and lifestyle that seeing Rover from such a distance is a sudden reminder of how different our lives are now. It sometimes seems almost crazy to me that we live in that little bus, but then at every campground we visit, we run into other RVers who are “full timing”, so maybe it’s not so crazy after all!
As the sunset continued, the mountains turned beautiful shades of purple and red.
Once we made our way back to camp we saw the final minutes of our final sunset from Rio Grande Village Campground. After three nights inside eastern Big Bend National Park our plan for tomorrow is to relocate Rover to an RV Park just outside the western edge of Big Bend, about 60 miles west. From there we’ll explore more of Big Bend as well as the adjacent Big Bend Ranch Texas State Park.