desert in bloom
Words by Blakely Kneisley
Not too far away from the vibrant lights and sounds of East Austin is one of America’s best kept secrets, a desert wilderness many do not know exists in the bend of far west Texas.
Take a scenic drive to Santa Elena Canyon where you can do a short hike into the mouth of the canyon, or just soak in the view from the lookout point.
If you are a camper, primitive campgrounds are world class accommodations in Big Bend. The sites off Glenn Springs Road offer spectacular views and true seclusion. Check availability of sites when you arrive at the park stations since you cannot reserve your spot ahead of time.
If you prefer a cabin, try the Chisos Mountain Lodge, complete with front-porch views and indoor plumbing! While Chisos Mountain Lodge offers in-park dining, food is limited. Try your hand at some gourmet camp side cooking if you’re feeling adventurous!
Challenge yourself to a longer hike, such as the Window Trail, and immerse yourself into the beautiful landscape of the Chihuahuan Desert. Wildlife is abundant, and if you are a bird watcher, spring is an excellent time to check species off your list. Take note of the spectacular Ocotillo plant, with its spindly green stalks and bright red blooms.
Rafting or canoeing the Rio Grande is another fantastic way to enjoy the park. Rentals and guided trips are available through a variety of outfitters in Terlingua. Desert Sports has experienced guides and affordable prices.
Get up early to bask in one more breathtaking sunrise. Do a short hike to the Hot Springs located on the banks of the Rio Grande to soak your tired feet. As you leave the park, drive north towards the small town of Marathon. You will be amazed at the wide array of landscapes you will see within the boundaries of the park. Getting a little hungry? Then grab a bite to eat at the Marathon Coffee Shop. If you have time, walk around the historic Gage Hotel.
If your trip allows for more exploration time of far west Texas, check out the Starlight Theatre in Terlingua or Donald Judd’s famous aluminum boxes at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa.
If you go…
Stay: If you only want to day trip into the park, try La Posada Milagro guest house in Terlingua or an AirB&B. The Nomad Tipi and the Desert Pearl are two far-out options.
Getting Around: A high-clearance vehicle is not absolutely necessary to get around the park but is required for most primitive camping and maintained dirt roads.
Safety: Pay close attention to the park’s rules regarding its border with Mexico and warnings regarding wildlife sightings, complete with black bears and mountain lions.
Forecast: Spring days are warm and mild, with highs in the mid 80’s, but desert temperatures can drop drastically by night. Be sure to pack layers, especially for hikes.