Have you ever wondered what to do with airline miles? I used to have a credit card that gave miles for American Airlines, netting a healthy stash of miles…that never got used. What’s the point? So I decided to throw caution to the wind and see where we could go. Somewhere new, somewhere palatable in December, somewhere easy to reach on American. Some friends had visited Big Bend National Park earlier this year and raved about it, so why not? I looked at the map: the park was equidistant between San Antonio and El Paso, and the former is supposed to be pretty cool in its own right, so easy choice. I booked the tickets, patted myself on the back, and told Elliott I had a fun surprise for him. (I later learned that a) a more accurate description is that “El Paso and San Antonio are equally far from Big Bend” and b) Odessa is a closer airport, but oh well.)
Our first welcome to San Antonio was Hertz telling us that the type of car we had booked was not available (sigh) so I negotiated a different car for $150 less that wound up being much better on the park’s dirt roads (yay). If you ever go to Big Bend–and I hope you do because it’s wonderful–a high-clearance car is key, and 4WD is optimal. We then headed west. Since we would be heading back to San Antonio at the end of the trip, we took Route 90 rather than the I-10. Very soon, we were in the middle of nowhere.
Rural Texas is great for many things, like stars, 70 mph speed limits, and spotting longhorn cattle. It is not great for things like getting gas or dinner options. When it was around dinner time, we found the one restaurant in the one town we were passing through–J&P Bar and Grill in Comstock, Texas. American flags hung on the walls, next to awards for fishing and speedboats, and advertisements for deer blinds. Shiner beer was $2. And the burger was one of the best I’ve ever had. Welcome to Texas.
We arrived at Big Bend well after dark. Aside from the incredible night sky, we couldn’t see much of anything. There is one lodge in the park, Chisos Mountain Lodge. We planned on staying there one night and camping for two. (Note the careful wording of that sentence.) Like many national park lodges, it was simple and clean, with extremely friendly staff and a restaurant that was surprisingly good for a monopoly. The next morning, we stepped outside and took a look at our surroundings.
Wow. And this was just a portion of the park. Big Bend is unique in that it has three different ecosystems–mountains, desert, and river. We were starting in the mountains, which meant that even if we got tired of that scene (ha!), there was more to explore. We asked the park rangers for recommendations. Alas, one of the more popular hiking trails was closed due to bear activity (which, to be honest, made me even more interested, but I follow the rules), but there were still several dozen other hikes and miles of roads to explore. Here are some highlights:
Since the mountains had dipped into the 30s at night, we opted to camp in the valley, closer to the Rio Grande River, where it would be warmer. Clever! It was also popular with the mosquitos and we had not thought to pack bug spray. Not clever! Let’s just say that while the stars were amazing and we were treated to bobcat and javelinas sightings, we opted to return to the hotel the next night.
But still, the views did not disappoint. In fact, my shoes almost wound up staying there for good.
But we had to tear ourselves away from this beautiful location, as there were more places to see…