Our trip South of Fort Stockton down to the campground just outside Big Bend National Park was a short, uneventful 105 miles. We are staying at the Stillwell Store which has about 20 full hookup sites and many more with just water and electric. We have one of the few sites with 50 amps and we will need it to run both air conditioners as the temps reach the high 90s every day.
We arrived here about noon so shortly after setting up camp we went into the park to get info on what we were going to do while here. We got some books and was also provided some great information by the Chandlers who are volunteering in the visitor center closest to our entry point into the park. They seem to really enjoy what they are doing and we appreciated them taking the time to tell us all about th different trails and other items to see.
We then came back to camp and waited until it got closer to dusk before going back into the park to visit the Chisos Basin which is supposed to have a tremendous view at sundown. The basin is 36 miles into the park and at 5,400 feet is the coolest place in the park. The drive itself was beautiful and the view was OK but there are so many fires in West Texas and Mexico that there is almost no long range panoramas to be viewed. There is one spot in the basin where, as the sun sets, it shines through this "window" between mountains and gives you a view for many, many miles across the desert. Needless to say, we didn't see any of this due the smoke. We did see three deer, a jack rabbit and two javelinas
. The javelinas were much to quick to photograph.
We did discover the biggest problem with visiting Big Bend National Park is the size of the place. From entrance into the park to just about any place is at least an 1.5 hour drive due to the distance and the 45 mph speed limit. You go into the park at 9:00 a.m. and don't get to your first trailhead until 11:00, then it takes another 30-60 minutes to get to the next. We burned two tanks of gas seeing what we did but it was worth it.
Saturday we headed for the Western side of the park. We hiked down to Santa Elena Canyon which has been eroded over the years by the Rio Grande. It was something to see. The huge cliffs on the Mexico side and then just beautiful canyon walls on the American side. We also hiked to one of the old homesteads of the area, the Sam Nail ranch, which doesn't have a lot left but a portion of the old house walls, the old windmill and a newer, but definitely not new, windmill which still produces water for a lot of wildlife at this little oasis in the desert. We also drove the Old Maverick road and visited Terlingua,TX just outside the park.
The Old Maverick Road is a 14 mile dirt road, supposedly improved, that we only managed to go average about 15 mph over its length. It did take us through some of the remote areas of the park. We also saw Luna's Jacal which is an adobe style housing structure historically found throughout parts of the south-western United States and Mexico. By happenstance a young man and his father was also there for a visit. The son says he takes his father back here every three years or so since the father is the son of the Luna that built the structure and he lived here with his father until the park took it over.
Terlingua, TX is the birthplace of the chili cook-off. Hallie Stillwell was the original settler of the ranch where our RV park is located and she was the chili cook-off queen for the first several years it was held. The original Terlingua was built to house the miners of the ore in the Big Bend area but that old town is just ruins now and I have included a few pictures of some of the old buildings as well as the unique cemetery which is still active.
Sunday we did the Eastern side of the park. This included a visit to the Rio Grande Village which is one of the visitor center areas and also has most of the campground sites, including a few full hookup sites. They also had gas there at 4.23 per gallon and yes, that is for unleaded regular. We made a few small hikes to different overlooks but again the smoke made any significant viewing of distance impossible. We did take the Old Ore Road 5.3 miles in so that we could hike to the Ernst Tinaja. A tinaja is a term used in the American Southwest for water pockets formed in bedrock depressions that occur below waterfalls or are carved out by spring flow or seepage. Tinajas are important sources of surface water storage in these arid environments. These relatively rare landforms are important ecologically because they support unique plant communities and provide important services to terrestrial wildlife. The hike was a little over a mile round trip which doesn't sound like much but we were climbing over rocks in a 100° afternoon. The real fun was getting to and from the trail head on the Old Ore Road. This is an unmaintained road and required a high clearance vehicle with four-wheel drive. Libby really did well but did drag bottom a couple of places due to the high center. It took 50 minutes to drive the 5.3 miles in and then again to get back out. All in all it was a three hour trip to see a watering hole in a rock!!!
Tomorrow we head for Carlsbad, NM. I think we are done with Texas, at least for now!