The first time I ever go to a national park by myself, and it is one of the most remote parks in the United States: Big Bend National Park. As with any first times, I was nervous. I did as much research as I could beforehand to prepare for anything, but nothing could have prepared me for the experience.
Driving to and from Big Bend
Driving to and from Big Bend is brutal. If you are able to drive with no stops except for gas breaks, from San Antonio it would take about 7 hours and from El Paso it would take about 5.
I drove from San Antonio bright and early at 6 am. It wasn’t long before I got tired, so I ended up pulling over at a rest area and napping for 30 minutes. Man, that was a really good nap. Thankfully it wasn’t too hot so I only had to roll down my window a little bit to let the breeze in.
Network coverage was pretty on and off after I left San Antonio, so definitely fill up on gas at any opportunity you get because who knows where the next one is. Thank goodness I think I chose the last gas station before arriving at Big Bend area because I wouldn’t know where I would be if I had no way of calling AAA.
On my way to Big Bend from San Antonio, I took a detour to a town called Altuda. Well… town is a stretch. From what I could tell, the only thing that is in town is Target, but it was just an art installation.
About the Area
There are two towns near Big Bend National Park: Terlingua and Steady Butte. The “downtown” and most densely populated area (which isn’t much at all) is the Ghost Town. There’s surprisingly a lot of do for a morning or an evening when you’re not at either Big Bend National Park or Big Bend State Park: a cemetery, art galleries, thrifting, and more.
Where I Stayed
I didn’t have all the right gear for camping, and I didn’t find any hotel availability around the area. I eventually found a faux glamping situation on Airbnb. The owners repurposed old structures like RVs and buses so people can stay in them instead of pitching their own tent. (That’s what I meant by faux glamping.) I stayed in what was named the Cuddle Bug, an old VW car. It was quite roomy for a tiny car – the owner told me the guests who stayed in it before me had 2 adults, 2 kids, and 2 dogs. Wow.
Big Bend National Park: Santa Elena Canyon Overlook
I didn’t do any major hikes while at Big Bend National Park for 2 reasons:
- I have never did a major hike alone, and I wasn’t sure whether I could do it. If I found myself stuck out in the desert, what would I do then?
- I had to manage my energy because I was out there all alone. On top of all the driving I did to get to Big Bend, it takes at least 2 hours to drive from one end of the park to the other. (And for those who have never driven long distances before, it is exhausting.) So add it all together and then put on a hike on top of that? I don’t know if I would have made it out alive.
There are a lot of shorter, easier to access trails that I did. Like the ones below of Santa Elena Canyon Overlook. On the other side of the canyon is Mexico, but unfortunately there was no path to get all the way down there.
Boquillas del Carmen, Mexico
There was, however, another way to check out Mexico from Big Bend National Park. There’s an area all the way on the right side of the park where you can go through customs and check out a small town in Mexico called Boquillas del Carmen. There is a person who will take you across the Rio Grande River in a canoe. Once on the other side, you can choose to walk less than a mile into town, or pay for a truck or a horse ride.
The town has a population of about 180 people, and the closest town is at least a 2-hour drive away. There are a handful of stores that sold the same things such as bracelets and little pottery pieces. The town only source of income is from tourists coming from the US side.
It was weird being in that small town because it was SO tiny. It looked like nobody lived there, but there was a school and community center there.
Right under the Milky Way
There’s minimal to no light pollution in Terlingua. The campground that I stayed at had none, which meant perfect place to view the Milky Way. AND WOW. The picture does not do it justice. Just imagine pitch dark that were being lit up with millions of stars. Unreal.
Hot springs off of Rio Grande River
There are two hot springs off of the Rio Grande River: one on the US side and one on the Mexico side. I stuck my foot in to feel the water, but didn’t submerge myself because of all the people there. I asked someone when I was in Boquillas what the hot springs on the Mexico was like, and he said, “Definitely not as crowded.”
I need and will go back to Big Bend National Park someday. Next time, I want to go with someone so I can feel safe hiking and exploring all the secrets of the park.