Just a couple hours into our spontaneous drive to Austin, Jody thought we might take another route, and instead drive twice the distance. Within a quick minute, our short weekend in Austin became a weekend thrill in Big Bend National Park.
Upon the approach of Big Bend coming from the north, the last bit of civilization you'll find is a town called Marathon, TX, a small conglomeration of assumedly Mexican-Americans, from what I could gather from the two competing gas stations. There is a welcome sign and a visitor's center (shack). Behind the gas stations sits an old abandoned wooden structure, which I figured to once have been a general store or larger visitor's center.
We drove into the park as the sun was setting, myself as nervous as ever that we wouldn't be able to watch the sun fall behind the peaks and glisten above the Rio Grande. Surely enough, my nervousness was displaced - only after speeding to the campsite, running through the surprisingly lush marsh of the Rio Grande, and breathing heavy up the final cliff of our speedy hike. Keep in mind, my legs had laid mostly dormant thru the prior 7 hour drive, and the transition to complete sprint up a small mountain was anything but smooth. I stumbled and heaved and gave Jody's back a minor death-stare for cutting it this close. We arrived at the top of the cliff just as the final rays of the sun shone above the distant peaks. And so the sun set, the sky quieted, and my chest came to a rest as my breathing slowed.
Just as soon as the sky dulled, it came alive with new light. The glistening of thousands of tiny suns lit up the Big Bend sky. Jody told me that Big Bend is the least light polluted region of the contiguous states. Ill-equipped for astrophotography, we still set out to try. Not only did I see the Milky Way with my naked eye, I took my first shot at pointing a lens at the night sky. Unbelievable. As if I had run up another cliff, my breathing quickened - this time with the excitement of a new and thrilling experience.
We cranked the AC and slept in the car, because apparently as it gets dark in Big Bend, the temperature rises. This was the strangest phenomenon. We both twisted and turned till about 6am, and we both seemed unusually well-rested. Jody pulled his seat up and put us in drive, and we made our way to the hot springs, where Jody had visited about a month before on a cross-country motorcycle trip. The hot springs are on the American bank of the river. A short hike led us to a warm morning bath as the sun rose above the Rio Grande and correspondingly, Mexico. The splendor of Big Bend was persistent.
The rest of my day was spent mostly camera-less as we trekked through the Santa Elena Canyon, both wading and swimming as the depth would vary. My right foot cramped, I sank waist deep in mud, and I was handed a couple of catfish by some Mexican fishermen. So adventure goes. Our short trip to Big Bend ended post-Santa Elena as we began the long drive out of the park. After an unwarranted car-search at border patrol and a brief stop at Sonic, we were well on our way to Austin. Big Bend had impressed. I had little to no idea of the expanse and magnitude of the landscape of Big Bend prior to last weekend's trip. Incredible, the majesty we may stumble upon.
Do yourself a favor and visit our National Parks.
They are rich with resources, beauty, and opportunity - they pave the way for adventure, each in unique fashion.
Don't miss out.