What it do, y’all?! This morning my topic of choice is Big Bend National Park, and I’m interviewing my friend Lindsay about her recent trip. Her pictures are incredible, and I’m excited to share them with you today.
Big Bend is one of only two national parks in our state, located far out in West Texas, on a big bend in the Rio Grande river. It is rugged, dry, and mountainous. But when it rains, as it did before Lindsay’s trip, the hillsides light up in shades of green and the cacti bloom, and boy, it is a sight for sore eyes.
I met up with Lindsay last week over lunch in her office, which happens to be the same engineering office where my husband works, and she gave me the scoop. Lindsay is a member of the succulent society in Austin (look at the row of plants behind her desk,) an occasional vegetarian, a cat owner and one of the more creative people I know. Her husband Kevin is a martial arts extraordinaire with a great sense of humor, and we enjoy their company.
Lindsay, I cant wait to hear about your trip to Big Bend! Who did you go with? What was your itinerary?
We went with two of our friends, and spent about four days. Day 1 was Thursday, and we left around 6:30pm and made it to Ft. Stockton. We arrived at 11:30 and stayed at the Deluxe Inn. Kevin had chosen it, and I was glad it was surprisingly clean!
Editor’s note: Fort Stockton is halfway to Big Bend from Austin.
So you chose to split up your driving. Would you recommend that to others?
Yes, definitely. The drive that morning was only two hours, and we drove to the park just as the sun was beginning to rise. It was a great time to see wildlife. We saw deer, javelinas, coyotes, jackrabbits, and road runners, which were surprisingly not what I expected them to be–they did not look like the cartoon at all!
The rest of our itinerary looked like this:
- Day 1 – Drive to Ft. Stockton
- Day 2 – Big Bend, hike
- Day 3 – Santa Elana Canyon, Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute, Indian Lodge, McDonald Observatory Star Party
- Day 4 – Balmorhea State Park
Where did you stay within the park & what did you think?
Chisos Basin. We liked it. The campsites aren’t super private but they’re fine. Each campsite had a picnic table, grill and a bearproof bin for food.
Some had covered awnings and I would definitely recommend getting a campsite with an awning if you can. Sometimes you need a relief from the sun.
Wait. BEARS?! Did you say bears?
Yeah. The park ranger said he spotted a mother and cubs nearby. We saw one last year when we were here over Thanksgiving too. I would be sure to put your food in the bear proof bin, instead of your car…you don’t want them trying to get in your car.
Dare I ask…how were the restrooms?
They were pretty clean actually! They also have a heater, which is a real perk if you’re visiting in winter. Last Thanksgiving I would stand in front of them and think Oh my Gaaaaad, this is so wonderful! It was so cold outside.
What were the rest of the buildings and amenities like?
The architecture of the park is very midcentury, which I love, so I thought everything looked great. They had done a really nice job of keeping it maintained and clean.
The CCC built many of the structures there around the turn of the century, so it was cool to see that history too. Like this old post office and wagon!
On to the important part…what did you eat?
Our friends brought a propane stove and we brought a cast iron skillet, so we mostly cooked with that. Kevin made chili one night, and of course because he’s a meat-itarian, he had to use some Kobe beef instead of regular ground beef. He let me put bell peppers in there, so I liked it.
That looks like Brandon and my cooking–all meat on one side, meat and veggies on the other.
Did you have coffee?
Yes! I brought a kettle and French Press.
You are my kind of woman, Lindsay!
We also had egg sandwiches on English muffins and breakfast tacos. Heating up the tortillas in the skillet is the way to go.
The night we stayed at Indian Lodge, I had a chicken fried steak. The restaurant was called Bear Lodge, and it just seemed like the place you order a chicken fried steak.
Yes I would agree. So was dish cleanup relatively easy?
Yes they have a special kitchen designated for cleaning dishes. They don’t want any food left out at your campsite. (Bears.) The park ranger got after us for leaving a cooler unattended for 45 minutes. Whoops!
Any trails you loved or didn’t love? Where did you hike?
We hiked the Lost Mines Trail this time, which was fine, but it had a lot of switchbacks.
Last time we came we hiked Window Trail which I liked a lot more. It follows an old stream bed, and there is a big carve out where a waterfall used to be.
The first time we hiked it, Kevin slid down over the edge. My heart stopped. I hadn’t known there was a second small landing so I thought he had fallen off the cliff.
Editor’s note: please be careful, readers, when on Window Trail! Do not try Kevin’s tricks at home.
Did you see Santa Elana Canyon?
Yes, the next day we hiked there. It was pretty. We could see Mexico. It’s refreshing to be out in such wide open spaces when you live in Austin.
Another important question, what did you wear?
Shorts. It gets hot. I had some from the North Face, which I wore with tank tops.
But my arms got burned so I would have preferred Columbia fishing shirts. Even if you put on sunscreen, you just want a relief from the sun. Other than that I just wore a sports bra, and one day I wore yoga pants–though they got really dusty.
I used my Camelbak for water.
So if your Camelbak had water…then what’s in that can? 🙂
I was fine in my Nike running shoes, the Pegasus Trails. I should have worn taller socks because of the thorns, but I didn’t want a funky tan.
Glad to see you have your priorities straight.
Tell us about the rest of your trip! What was your favorite part?
I loved the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute. We walked in, and there were succulents everywhere. Kevin was like, “I know you’re going to be in here for a while.” There were so many different types of agaves and cactus, and they had my favorite agave, Queen Victoria.
(Queen Victoria Agave – green and white above)
A man resigned to his fate.
Editor’s note: I’m going to post more pictures from this separately, there are too many good ones not to share.
Wow, looks like your happy place. How did you get so into succulents?
I’ve always been a fan of the desert because it’s so unlike the habitat I grew up in. (Florida.) I also just like plants. When I was little I used to draw lots of pictures of trees.
How was Indian Lodge?
Indian Lodge was just down the road. When we got there, I was thinking, where are all the people? I had heard it was so hard to get a reservation there, so I was expecting it to be packed. But it wasn’t.
Was it as amazing as the pictures?
Our friend made the reservations so I had no preconceived notions. The rooms were really cool, the original 16 rooms built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Depression and had old wooden beams and hand carved furniture.
Our room was newer but built and furnished the same way. There was plenty of space, and a coffee maker. And the restroom was nice!
We hiked the trail around the lodge and it was good, though would be too difficult for some people because there were a lot of loose rocks.
That night you went to the Star Party at McDonald Observatory, right?
Yes, it was very cool and I’m not even that into stars. There were about 100 people, and we all sat outside as a guy led us through a tour of the night sky with a laser pointer. He made us turn our phones off so our eyes could adjust. He said that could take up to 40 minutes! We then got to look through seven telescopes, where we saw Jupiter’s lines and four moons, and then our moon and its craters.
Last but not least, how did you like Balmorhea State Park on your way home?
I loved it. I was like, How is this here, and how have I never heard of it? Since Barton Springs is just about my favorite thing, I was surprised not to know of Balmorhea. I actually liked it more. I want to go back and stay there at their campsites.
Me too. It’s such a cute park.
Any tips for someone going on this kind of trip in the future?
- Take one more day and spend the night in Marfa at El Cosmico.
- One night at Indian Lodge is plenty.
- Get an exterior campsite at Chisos Basin if you can. They are more private than the ones on the interior of the loop.
- Precut your food before you get there.
Thank you Lindsay, we will take note. Anything else you want to share?
I loved driving through Big Bend. The landscape changes so much and you don’t realize how big the park is until you see it. I’m not used to that kind of landscape. It was cool.
Thanks for spending time with Whit’s Wilderness today. This was fun!
Plan Your Visit
FYI, reservations required at several of these places.
- Indian Lodge: here
- McDonald Observatory: here
- Balmorhea State Park: here
- Big Bend National Park: here
- Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute: here
- Big Bend Brewing Co.: here