We recently took a trip out to West Texas and visited Big Bend and the Davis Mountains. It was vast and often barren (with the exception of loads of cacti) but it held a unique beauty that I have never seen before. I read every travel book and guide I could get my hands on before I went but there were things I only learned once I got there.
It’s big. I mean really, really big. In my mind, I was prepared for this. It was, after all, a ten hour drive for us and I had read the travel guides and I knew that Big Bend National Park itself is over 800,000 acres yet I still wasn’t prepared for the vastness of the entire area. After we passed through Del Rio, the towns became fewer and farther between. Then we hit the Big Bend area and I’m not sure what I was expecting but just entering the park was a bit of a reality check. We went in through the gate and literally drove miles to get to the first ranger station. Then it was another 45 minute drive to our campground. Miles and miles stretched before us as we made our way from one end of the park to the other. That meant it took a long time to go from one trail to the next. All on twisty, curvy roads. So if motion sickness is an issue, expect to feel it here. Around every beautiful bend. Down every magnificent hill.
But it wasn’t just the park, it was that entire part of the state. Miles and miles stretched before us as we went from one small town to the next. It seemed as if nothing but land stretched before us as we hoped we’d make it to the next gas station. Grocery stores? Not many. Walmart. Hardly. Cell service and wifi? Incredibly sporadic.
On the way to Big Bend, we stopped to camp one night at Kickapoo Cavern State Park and then we went to Seminole Canyon State Park for lunch. Near Seminole we caught our first glimpse of the Rio Grande. The river has clearly been appropriately named as we learned in exploring Big Bend. There was only one area that we saw in our exploring where the river seemed crossable (those goats you see are on the Mexican side of the river); the rest of it seemed to be a wide raging river separating us from Mexico.
That vastness though? It made me appreciate just how incredibly little we are in the great big scheme of things.
It also made me seriously think about how easy I have it living in the suburbs. Forgot bananas? Just run down to the store…no literally, I could run to my store. Out there? It was a good 45 minute drive to even get out of the park and then that grocery store wasn’t what I’d consider big or well-stocked (although there was a small convenience store located near Panther Junction in the center of the park). Food was expensive out there as was gas (and rightly so, it has to travel many miles to be delivered). The Cliff bars that I sometimes treat my kids to go for $2.98 at my local grocery store. Out there? $6.79 a box. A quick trip for a few bags of ice, some jugs of water and a few grocery items (including some much desired fresh fruit) came out to over $100.
No one – and I mean no one – is going to welcome you to the wild west. I mean that both literally and figuratively. I honestly imagined myself walking into our first camping reservation desk and someone saying to me, “Welcome to the Wild West.” (I think that daydream might even have included saloon doors and me twirling a revolver on my hip so keep that in mind and remember I might be a bit prejudiced in my disappointment.) It didn’t happen. I walked into the visitor center at the Big Bend National Park and I think the most I got was a nod. I walked into a restaurant that looked like an old saloon and again my imagination was less than fulfilled. No “Welcome to the Wild West” there, not even a “Welcome.” Those folks in the west, while kind, seem a bit wary of strangers. It felt like everywhere we went, we might just have been intruding on their privacy. Once we got past Alpine and up into the Davis Mountains, folks seemed a bit more friendly and engaging. Still no one welcomed me to the Wild West (or even to the West) but at least they didn’t seem wary of me and they were quick to engage in a conversation.
(I sat down to write this, thinking I only had a thing or two to say…turns out 10 days in West Texas made me think I have the right to say quite a bit about the area, so…)
To be continued…