Everybody's National Parks | ENP 32.1 Big Bend: Trip Report
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  • ENP 32.1 Big Bend: Trip Report

    The world may have changed since Danielle, Bryan, and the girls took their early February trip to Big Bend National Park in Texas, but hope for future family adventures springs eternal. With those eventual vacations in mind, Everybody’s National Parks presents the first episode in its Big Bend roundup. Painted landscapes, dark skies, and lessons in border policy await at the stunning junction where the US and Mexico meet. And this wouldn’t be a family trip roundup without eyewitness reports from Everybody’s National Parks junior ranger correspondents.

    Balanced RockBalanced Rock
    Boquillas Canyon TrailBoquillas Canyon Trail
    Boquillas CrossingBoquillas Crossing

    Big Bend Essential Arrival

    Tips Big Bend is far. There’s no way around a long journey to get to this destination. Closest airports are El Paso or the smaller Midland-Odessa. El Paso is larger with options for direct flights but is a six-hour drive to the park - two hours longer than that of the sleepier alternative. El Paso’s population size may also offer a greater variety of places at which to stock up before heading south. As for Midland...a 90-minute wait for a rental car at the city’s international airport (apparently a routine occurrence) wiped out any initial time savings. A long travel day should always end with a reminder of why you made the trip. Chisos Mountains Lodge, our home base for the duration, did not disappoint. The lodge restaurant, with its iconic views and patio seating, was a fantastic spot to enjoy a beverage and get acquainted with Big Bend.

    Easy-Peasy Park Planning With TripPossible

    Life back at Everybody’s National Parks’ headquarters prior to vacation wasn’t conducive to the in-depth pre-trip research we enjoy - and this was well before COVID19 restrictions began taking effect. Enter TripPossible. Having interviewed Nick Mock for episode 19.7, we knew them to be as obsessive about park planning as we were. The travel guide and sample itinerary they designed for us exceeded expectations. Customized to our interests and activity level, the suggestions fit our family perfectly and allowed us to hit Big Bend ready to go. With the guide in hand and expert assistance from park rangers, we made real-time adjustments based on weather and preference without missing any of our bucket list items.

    Riding Burros from Boquillas, Mexico back to the Rio GrandeRiding Burros from Boquillas, Mexico back to the Rio Grande
    Rocks and bones ranger program at the Fossil ExhibitRocks and bones ranger program at the Fossil Exhibit

    Big Bend’s Bounty: Desert, Mountain, And River

    Three full days of park exploration yielded ample fun and surprising moments for contemplation. Fossil Discovery Center brought the park’s prehistoric period to life and the K-Pg Boundary site offered an up-close examination of rock laid 66.5 million years ago during an event believed to have wiped out the dinosaurs. The Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive comfortably covers Big Bend’s historic and geologic sites while hiking trails wind through the park’s diverse landscapes. The entire family enjoyed Hot Springs Historic Trail, an easy walk to the ruins of a resort and access to springs that are naturally heated to a balmy 105º. A favorite of Danielle’s was the Grapevine Hills Trail, a desert walk leading to a group of balanced rocks. Bryan’s highlight pick goes to the spectacular Santa Elena Canyon Trail, a gorgeous round trip hike that descends to the edge of the Rio Grande - a place of infinite beauty. Visitors with passports can make the short trip into Mexico through US Customs And Border Protection at Boquillas Crossing Port of Entry. While the town caters to tourists with the usual collection of gift shops, restaurants, and burro rides, the experience can foster conversations about how border policy affects people and places.

    Window View from the Chisos Mountains Lodge patio. We did not see this new again did 48 hours due to fogWindow View from the Chisos Mountains Lodge patio. We did not see this new again did 48 hours due to fog.

    Night Sky: The Pride Of Big Bend

    No trip is complete without sampling a park’s ranger activities. From fossils to nature to wildlife, this park has plenty of presentations and hands-on learning opportunities to entice junior rangers and visitors no matter their interest. But what makes Big Bend extra special is its Night Sky program. The park’s rugged, rural location means a refreshing lack of ambient light pollution, thus providing a dark, velvety backdrop for stargazing. Visitors will see an abundance of stars on their own but ranger-led interpretive programs that mix education and entertainment can’t be beat. One of our junior rangers was so taken with Big Bend’s Night Sky program, she followed up her visit with a school research project and presentation of her own.

    It’s difficult to gauge when national park enthusiasts will once again be granted access to Big Bend. Wise precautions now, however, means safer visits across the entire national park service network in the future.


    Walking the Window TrailWalking the Window Trail
    Along the Window TrailAlong the Window Trail

    Discussion includes the following:

    [00:01] Introduction to Big Bend podcast series.

    [01:14] Danielle & Bryan set the scene - with a little help from TripPossible: Big Bend National Park, ENP Yosemite National Park series, ENP Yosemite TripPossible episode

    [06:01] Know before you go: gateway cities El Paso, TX and Midland-Odessa, TX

    [07:50] Know before you go: car rental issues, Avis

    [08:40] Oil country: reflections on a drive through the Permian basin

    [10:18] Know before you go: when and where to stock up on supplies Terlingua, Marathon, Marfa

    [11:23] Beautiful views and home base options: Chisos Mountains Lodge, Chisos Basin Campground, Chisos Mountains Lodge Restaurant & Patio

    DAY 1

    [13:08] West Side: Chisos Mountains Visitor Center, ranger programs, Fossil Discovery Center

    [15:22] Touching extinction: K-Pg Boundary site

    [16:22] East Side: Rio Grande Overlook, Rio Grande Visitor Center, Rio Grande Village Nature Trail

    [17:18] Know before you go: Boquillas, Mexico border crossing

    [20:51] Boquillas Canyon Trail

    [22:02] Nightcap: Ending the day at Hot Springs Historic Trail

    Relaxing at the end of the day in the Hot SpringsRelaxing at the end of the day in the Hot Springs.

    DAY 2

    [26:32] West Side explorations: Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, Panther Junction Visitor Center

    [28:04] West Side highlight: Santa Elena Canyon, Castolon Visitor Center, Cottonwood Campground, seeing prairie dog.

    [29:18] Desert hiking: Lower Burro Mesa Pour-off Trail

    [29:39] Day 2 activity run-down: Sam Nail Ranch, Sotol Vista Lookout, Mule Ears Spring Trail, Tuff Canyon, Castolon Visitor Center, Santa Elena Canyon

    [30:55] Bryan’s trip highlight: Santa Elena Canyon

    DAY 3

    [32:40] Divide and conquer: Lost Mine Trail

    [34:06] Divide and conquer: Ranger tales

    [35:15] Window Trail, Chisos Basin campground

    [35:59] Starry nightcap: Night Sky program

    DAY 4

    [38:32] One last hike: Grapevine Hills Trail to Balanced Rock

    [39:20] Junior Ranger swearing-in

    [39:36] Big Bend bucket list: Exploring the region’s Native American history, Persimmon Gap Visitor Center, The Comanche Trail, Empire Of The Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne

    [40:48] Junior Ranger report, part I: Bear facts, Night Sky review, Hot Springs Canyon Trail review, javelina facts

    [47:58] DIY joke: Royal dinos

    [48:52] Junior Ranger report part II: Lost Mine Trail review, palm tree fun fact, roadrunner fun fact

    [52:58] DIY quiz: Big Bend origins story

    [53:53] Ocean origins and lemurs

    [55:20] Night Sky review

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