And now, the conclusion of our series on Far West Texas …
When we pointed the RV toward Far West Texas our intention was to visit Big Bend National Park … little did we know how much we’d enjoy our stays in Marfa, Fort Davis, Alpine and Marathon! After two weeks we finally tore ourselves away and made the 48 mile drive from Marathon down to the national park gates.
Big Bend National Park encompasses more than 800,000 acres along 118 miles of the Rio Grande River, which forms the border between the United States and Mexico. Though the park has 150 miles of back-country dirt roads and 200 miles of trails open to walking, hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding – as with many of our national parks – access is severely limited for dogs. Pet are allowed only on roads, on one paved trail, in developed campgrounds, and at primitive roadside campsites.
We approached this park in much the same way we did Yellowstone – we toured the park in the RV one day, and spent the next day doing something that was more fun for the dogs. It worked out fine and we really enjoyed our visit.
The most unusual thing about Big Bend is it’s diversity. From the lush Rio Grande riverbed at 1,800 feet in elevation, to the Chihuahan Desert, to the nearly 8,000 foot peaks of the Chisos Mountains, the scenery is stunning. I’ve never seen a desert as beautiful as this one, and I can’t even describe what makes it different from the others we’ve seen. All I know is that I couldn’t get enough.
The one paved trail in the park where dogs are allowed is only three tenths of a mile round-trip – so short that we’d usually dismiss it as a waste of time. I’m really glad we didn’t in this case! Window View Trail leaves from the Chisos Basin Visitor Center and gives you a fantastic view of the valley through the “window.” Facing west, and with plenty of benches along the way, it would be the perfect place to watch the sunset.
Boquillas de Carmen sits on the Rio Grande across from Big Bend and approximately 135 miles from the nearest Mexican town … as the crow flies. The little village survived on tourism from the United States – folks visiting Big Bend who crossed the river to have lunch at the taco stands or the restaurant, or quench their thirst at the village bar. A few months after 9/11 the crossing was closed, crushing the local economy, and for the next eleven years the families in Boquillas struggled.
The timing of our visit to Big Bend couldn’t have been better, because the crossing reopened on April 10th, and we got to venture across the Rio Grande to have a lunch unlike any other. You’ll need your passport for the immigration officials on both sides of the border and your pets won’t be able to join you on this adventure – the crossing is a special tourist class port of entry were only pedestrians are allowed.
Before following the signs for Boquillas Crossing, head to the Visitor Center at Big Bend’s Rio Grande Village to purchase a $5 ticket for the round-trip rowboat ride across the river. With tickets in hand, head to the immigration building and get details on the purchases you’ll be allowed to carry back into the country. Then you’re ready to take the path down to the river … follow the sound of Victor’s voice (he’s rather famous!) – he’s been serenading visitors for tips for many years.
Once across the river, you’ll have the option to rent a horse or burrow ($8), ride in a pick-up ($5), or walk the thee-quarters of a mile into town. The gentlemen here are also available as guides if you’re adventuring into the 520,000 acre Maderas del Carmen biosphere reserve. When you reach town, you’ll need to fill out a visitors form with Mexican immigration, and then you’re free to explore.
Walking around Boquillas is like stepping back in time. It’s a tiny village, with no electricity, eking out a life in the desert. Still, the residents are working on setting up a community center where they’ll display work by local artists and give people some history of the area. The people are kind, speak English quite well and, while no one was angling for a handout, they were clearly appreciative of the few dollars we spent. Our lunch at the little restaurant consisted of three of the best bean and cheese burritos I’ve ever had and a Corona … for five bucks.
While we were there we learned that the school kids really need supplies. We saw several displays at the pull-outs in Big Bend with beaded figures crafted by the children in hopes of collecting some money to purchase pencils and notebooks. We’ll be sure to stock up and take some along the next time we go!
We didn’t have to go far to find something that made the dogs happy! Big Bend Ranch State Park is the largest state park in Texas at over 300,000 acres and an easy drive from Big Bend National Park. The pet policies here are a little more accommodating with two trails, Closed Canyon and Hoodoos, both allowing dogs on-leash. Dogs are also welcome within a quarter mile of all roads, trail heads and designated campsites.
Closed Canyon trail meanders though a narrow slot canyon that makes a nice hike in warmer weather because the canyon walls provide shade. With temperatures rising into the 90’s – even in early April – it’s best to get out early, carry plenty of water, and stay out of the sun.
Hoodoos trail winds around some unusual rock structures, but there is no shade, so this one is best saved for a cloudy or cool day.
Right between the national park and the state park is the town of Terlingua and BJ’s RV Park. I can’t say enough nice things about this place. The night we arrived we were invited to join everyone for dinner in the pavilion as they bid a fond ado to a couple heading back to Iowa after their winter hiatus. When I explained that we didn’t have a dish ready for a pot-luck dinner, the reply was, “Of course you don’t, you just pulled in! Bring your drinks and a chair – we’ll have plenty of food.”
The food was wonderful, but the company was even better. We learned a lot … met the owners, who escape from the Minnesota winters here and will happily take your dog for a walk while you’re out and about … where the best happy hours were located … the upcoming live music schedule … got an offer to join a couple from Colorado on a hike of the nearby property they’d recently purchased … and got the inside scoop on the best places to walk the dogs.
Perhaps it’s the seclusion, but the people we met in Terlingua were the most open and welcoming of anywhere we’d been in Far West Texas – and, if you’ve read my other posts, you know that’s saying something! We made some great new friends and thoroughly enjoyed hanging out with them for the week.
When the time came to leave Far West Texas and start making our way north, we drove the scenic River Road from Lajitas to Presidio. As you might have guessed, it runs right along the Rio Grande – but what you may not know is that it’s regularly voted the most scenic drive in Texas.
Far West Texas may be a way off the beaten path, but that’s what makes it so appealing. We’re already making plans to go back, and we’re hoping to take some of our other RVing friends along the next time!