Life on the Road – May Part 2: Texas

Everything is bigger in Texas, so they say. I’m sure for most that conjures images of big oil, big trucks, big cowboy boots, and big attitudes; I know that those are the images that came to my mind before our visit. Texas has all those things, for sure, but it also has beautiful, BIG wilderness. We were keen to check it out.

Same section of road a couple hours apart on the way to the Chisos Basin in Big Bend.

Some roadside shots in Big Bend National Park!

The Chisos Basin & mountains from the outside!

Now well into our travels and far better practiced in our planning than when we first set out, we had managed to “pick up” some time in our New Mexico leg, affording us the opportunity to venture all the way down to Big Bend National Park. Big Bend sits in the crook of the Rio Grande River, which defines the entire Southern border of Texas from Mexico. It is a vast, varied, and remote section of wilderness that encompasses large expanses of desert, some of the highest peaks in the state, and a lush riparian environment following the Rio Grande along its’ meandering path.

A sweltering late afternoon down at Santa Elena Canyon. See Cory in photo #2 for an accurate depiction of how hot it was!

Down the canyon. Mexico on the left of the river and USA on the right. And a stranger deciding to toe the line (probably a poor decision but excellent for some scale!)

We made our way up into the Chisos Basin to talk with a ranger and get some camp sites booked; the wilderness sites are accessed of dirt back roads and have no amenities, but you need to book each night’s stay – presumably to keep track of everyone in the park. When we got to the desk to speak with the ranger we had one of the strangest conversations of our trip so far: we told him what we were driving and where we wanted to go, and each and every site we requested he told us would be inaccessible for us. I assured him that though we’re a little hefty and only rear wheel drive, we’ve got substantial ground clearance and are equipped with proper off-road tires, along with a decent bit of experience driving our rig off the beaten path. Still, he said that they were all too rugged for us – a vehicle like his jeep liberty would be more suitable… I can guarantee that our van has more ground clearance and larger tires than his jeep, but by that point I was done bickering with him and we decided to go and check some of these sites ourselves. We drove out to a few of the “inaccessible” locations and stopped for lunch at one. Now armed with the experience of having been to some of these sites, we went to another ranger station to finally book spots for our nights in the park. This ranger too, was adamant that we were ill equipped, even after we told her we’d just visited the sites that we were trying to book without any difficulty! In the end, this one caved and gave us our permits – Big Bend rangers are weird about their roads, they’re mostly just gravel for Pete’s sake. After our permit chaos, we drove out to the Santa Elena Canyon. Here the Rio Grande has sliced a deep gorge through sandstone cliffs, Mexico’s wall on one side, Texas’ on the other (sorry Trump, Mexico’s wall is bigger). We walked along the canyon floor until the walls pinched and there was only water between. Returning to the van we made the long drive back to our campsite – the park is huge, driving from end to end takes well over 2 hours. We rested up and prepared for our hike the next day.

Everything is bigger in Texas, including the critters!!

The next day we made our way back up into the Chisos Basin and did a long day hike up and around Big Bend’s peaks. We hiked a big loop of the Chisos mountains, including summiting the highest peak in the park – Emory Peak. Gaining the summit required a little bit of scrambling at the top, but the risk was worth the reward: panoramic views of the entire park – the Chisos basin far below, the Chihuahuan desert stretching all around the island of peaks, and the deep canyon of Santa Elena visible in the distance. It was breathtaking. The rest of the hike was superb as well, and we made it back to the van spent, but satisfied.

Summit shots at the top of Emory Peak!

Panorama from the peak!

View of the Chisos Basin on the hike back down. Ferris is parked down by the buildings with the orange roofs!

There was a lot more to see in Big Bend, you could probably spend a couple weeks in the park and still have much to discover, but it was now time for us to move on. Leaving Big Bend, we made our way to Austin for an oil change, restocking, and some city exploring. We had managed to get ourselves a spot at an RV park nice and close to downtown, and were ready for a change of scenery from the wilderness to the food, beer, and music scene that Austin is known for. We parked the van, freshened up, and hit the town on foot. Our first evening there we wandered a trendy little bar strip on the edge of downtown, a whole street of old little houses renovated into pubs and restaurants, with enticing smells and amusing sounds wafting from their kitchens and outdoor seating areas. We wound up drawn to a German-themed pub, with house made bratwurst (including some special vegetarian ones for Alex), plentiful local brews on tap, and a large outdoor venue with a live band playing bluegrass tunes. We ate and drank our fill there before going down to the Congress Avenue Bridge, where a roost of bats usually puts on quite a spectacle around dusk. We waited with a throng of other onlookers, but unfortunately the bats didn’t make a show for us – they sure drew a crowd though! We wandered the university bar strip a bit, and poked our heads into a couple of bars with live music, before hopping on some ride-share electric scooters to get home. They were a hoot!

Downtown Austin from across the river and the Texas Capitol.

Our second day in Austin we hopped on the bikes and went to check out the city’s greenbelt. The Barton river flows right through the heart of the city, with trails running along both shores and a number of swimming holes along its’ course. Unfortunately, recent rains had flooded the river, making the trails a bit soggy, and the waters dirty and dangerous in some places. We got in a good ride and a short dip of the feet, though not the swimming we’d hoped for. That evening we hit the town again, picking up some killer tacos before heading to the Elephant Room – a well-known late-night underground jazz club in downtown Austin. Playing that night was the Boss Street Jazz Band. They played a funky, groovy brand of jazz, and interestingly had a sousaphone in place of a string bass; the sound and phrasing of the bass parts had me fooled that they had a stand up bassist, until I took proper count of the musicians on stage and noticed there was none. We watched one of their sets before hopping on the scooters again to go home.

Ferris on the Gulf Coast!!

We spent a good part of the following day getting a few more city chores done before embarking on our drive out to the Gulf Coast. There we had a free campsite lined up – right on the beach! We pulled onto the crushed shell beach at dusk and parked within 10 feet of the water’s edge. Tides are almost non-existent in this area, and the beach was so flat that moving closer or further from the water would hardly make a difference, you just don’t want to be anywhere near the beach in inclement weather. We fell asleep with the sound of gentle waves on the beach. The next day we got up and had our first honest day of doing nothing since who knows when… long before our trip departure, that’s for sure! We rolled out our sun shade, sat, read, played games, and had some cold beers; we hardly moved all day. It was pleasant in it’s own way, but by the evening we were getting bored with sitting still; not to mention that we had got ourselves some wicked sunburns by that point, even with being in the shade all day! Just goes to show that neither of us are all that good at “relaxation”. Good thing for us we’d get right back into it, with a big drive east into Louisiana the next day, followed by a couple days in the heart of the South – New Orleans! But that’s for next post.

Cory and Ferris straight chillin’ all day on the beach!

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