Even though Texas is our home base, we didn’t visit Big Bend National Park (one of only two national parks in the giant state of Texas) until this year.
Our reason was straight-forward: we need Internet to work; we work full-time; there isn’t Internet at Big Bend; we can’t go.
But times change. While we still need Internet to work, we aren’t currently sticking to our old travel rhythm. Many of our community members will remember our rhythm from before: drive no more than 250 miles and stay for two weeks.
When we were staying everywhere for two weeks, of course we couldn’t stay somewhere with no Internet. But now that we’re breaking our own rules, we can pop in somewhere for a weekend and get out before the work week starts.
That’s exactly what we did in order to visit Big Bend National Park. We just couldn’t put off a visit any longer!
Big Bend National Park Campground
We left Austin on Thursday, April 18, and spent the night at Caverns of Sonora ($25/night for water and electric in gravel lot, no dump station). It kills me that we didn’t have a chance to visit the caverns during our quick overnight, but you can read about them on one of our other blogs, The Austinot.
On Friday afternoon, we pulled into our campground, Stillwell Ranch Store & RV Park ($22/night for water and electric in gravel lot, dump station on-site). We chose Stillwell because:
- The national park campgrounds were walk-up only by the time we were ready to make a reservation, and we didn’t want to risk driving an hourish there and an hourish back, to find no sites available.
- Stillwell had decent reviews online.
- The location was right for the direction we were arriving and leaving from.
- Stillwell is located only a few miles from the park’s boundary. It’s about 45 minutes to Panther Junction, the visitor’s center in the middle of the park.
The Internet connectivity was bad, and we weren’t even in Big Bend. Our AT&T and Verizon were basically unusable, and the campground Wi-Fi didn’t usually work unless we were right at/outside the office. So I had a stressful Friday evening finishing up a work project. But fortunately, after that, I didn’t have to think about work for the rest of the weekend.
To be fair, there are places you could stay just outside Big Bend where you could have connectivity, like Terlingua and (according to friends) other private RV parks near the park boundary.
An Inauspicious Start
For our visit to Big Bend National Park, we had one main goal: run the Jeep Badge of Honor Trail called Black Gap Road. (If you aren’t familiar with the Badge of Honor program, read our Jeepsies article here.)
We were fortunate that our trip coincided with meeting friends from Austin Jeep Veterans club. We didn’t know Brian and Tori well before we went wheeling with them, but they ended up being fantastic people we loved spending time with. And they were so kind to Caspian, which is everything to my momma’s heart.
But it didn’t start well. On Friday, I insisted to Eric that we get an early start the next morning. I knew it was going to be another hot day and wanted to take advantage of the cool morning. Brian and Tori graciously agreed to meet us at Panther Junction at 7 a.m.
I set my alarm for 5:30 a.m.
The next morning, I woke to Caspian’s toddler chatter from his bed. “He’s up insanely early, I thought.” Then I wondered, “Why is there light coming through the front blinds?” And then I decided, “I should check my phone.”
It was 7 a.m.
I won’t go into detail about the knots in my stomach or the fact that Eric is not a morning person. Use your imagination.
Somehow, we got dressed for the day, fed the baby, packed for a potential overnight in the Jeep, made the 45-minute drive, and still arrived at Panther Junction at 8:40 a.m.
Sure our new friends were going to think we were total flakes, we were so grateful for their graciousness. They had watched the sun rise together and seemed perfectly at ease.
We got Caspian’s passport stamp, did a potty run, waited for the guys to talk Jeep mods, and left for the Black Gap trailhead.
Off-roading in Big Bend: Black Gap Road
To get to Black Gap, you have to take a dirt road called Glen Spring. We quickly realized we should’ve aired down the tires before we left the visitor’s center because even Glen Spring was fairly rocky/washboardy. So we pulled over before long and took care of that.
It’s just over seven miles from the Glen Spring turn-off to the start of Black Gap Road. We didn’t know what to expect from this Jeep Badge of Honor trail. Our expectations were fairly low because many people had led us to believe it wasn’t challenging at all, even bordering on boring.
We had already fallen for the landscape of Big Bend, so we knew it wouldn’t be boring. But we ended up being pleasantly surprised by the changes in terrain, natural features, and one climb up a rocky embankment. We thoroughly enjoyed the 16-mile drive (and earning our 10th badge)!
Having concluded Black Gap at River Road, we had to decide which way to go. We opted to drive east towards Rio Grande Village. To get there, we had quite a few more miles of off-roading to go. We pulled into an empty primitive camping site for lunch, deploying our Batwing awning for shade.
In hindsight, the things we forgot to pack were our swimsuits. We would’ve loved to hit the hot springs, where you can also dip into the cool Rio Grande River. It was a hot day and the water sounded so refreshing.
Off-roading achievement under our belt, we decided to head home to Basecamp.
Easter in and Around the Park
We got up the next morning (with the correct alarm set) and Caspian did his first Easter egg hunt.
Then we headed back into the park for Easter service at Chisos Basin Amphitheater. We were in the shade for most of the service, enjoying the beautiful cool of the morning. The uphill drive to Chisos was stunning because of how much the flora changed. Suddenly we went from scrub brush to trees!
Return Visit Required
During our stay, we pulled out our “1,000 Things to Do Before You Die: U.S. Edition,” which we hadn’t looked at in a long time. We studied the region around Big Bend and were astonished to learn how many awesome things were in the area, from the quirky town of Terlingua, to Fort Davis National Historic Site, to Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
I started planning an itinerary that would take us to everything, but realized I was trying to do too much. Next time we are heading west out of Texas, we will make a point of giving this area its due.