Big Bend, an Experience That Stays With You.
The experience of Big Bend is very difficult to capture in words. We live in a world full of beautiful, unique and picturesque places, and the landscape of Big Bend is all of those, yet… it is defined by something more. In my memory, Big Bend is an enormous enveloping silence. A silence that seems to emanate from some ancient being that has seen the ages come and go and which now watches me entering its field of view. In this place, you feel incredibly small and transient and yet, so grateful for the interaction.
This region of Texas is really quite desolate. You’ll drive for miles and discover no signs of human habitation, other than the road itself. Along the way, you’ll find a number of places where you can pull off the road to enjoy a picnic lunch or just spend some time taking in the views. Take the opportunity to stretch your legs but be aware that if you wander through the brush, you’re likely to come away covered in burrs. Without gloves or small pliers, they’re not easy to get rid of.
If you’re traveling on US-90 from San Antonio, the Judge Roy Bean Visitor Center is an ideal place for a stop. You’ll find a walking trail through a garden of cacti, a small museum and some welcome restrooms. Be aware that there are checkpoints on this road where everyone in the car will be asked to show ID.
If you’re planning your trip well in advance, you shouldn't have a problem reserving rooms at the Chisos Mountain Lodge, the only lodging facility inside Big Bend National Park. We were a little late in booking accommodations and ended up staying in Terlingua instead. You lose precious time having to drive in and out of the park every day, but Terlingua is definitely an interesting experience and is certainly prominent in our memories of the trip.
We visited over Thanksgiving a few years ago, which gave us a perfect chance to enjoy the fall colors. It was cold enough in the morning that we had to wear jackets, but were able to do without them by late morning. Winter temperatures can be a bit unpredictable, while fall and spring are the best times to visit. I would advise against going in the summer when you can expect it to be uncomfortably hot.
I regret that we didn’t stay longer than three nights. We made the most of the two full days we had to explore the park, and we saw some amazing views, but there is so much more to see. Some of the trails can be steep and it would be wise to match your abilities with a fitting trail before you arrive. If you’re not in a position to do a lot of strenuous hiking, there are plenty of areas with relatively flat terrain.
While you’re in this part of Texas, you should make sure to stop at Fort Davis National Historic Site. It’s an old, and surprisingly large, frontier military fort with an incredible ability to make you feel like you’ve just stepped back in time. It immediately made me think of the westerns I watched as a child.
We didn’t have time to visit the world’s largest spring-fed pool at Balmorhea State Park or the small scale desert at Monahans Sandhills State Park, but they’ll be on the itinerary when I return. Once you’ve experienced this part of Texas, you can’t let go of the feeling that it’s calling you back.