Monday, February 7, 2011

Big Bend - Big Extremes

During our last night in Austin a cold front moved in. It hit like a locomotive: howling wind, driving rain and sleet, blowing leaves and falling branches. By morning the temperature had dropped 40 degrees to below freezing. We hit the road and I gripped the wheel, ready to counteract a gusty crosswind. Gigantor's long wheelbase and wide derriere payed off in her unflappable stability on the open road. Broadside gusts up to 40mph were hardly noticeable.

Our destination that day was Del Rio, Texas, a border town about half-way between Austin and Big Bend National Park. We stayed at Hidden Valley RV Park, which is about half-way converted from a mobile-home park. It is close to town, yet quiet, and large sites and a friendly proprietor lady. Toby was fascinated with the stray emu and horses that paced the fence at the edge of the property within sight of our door. (By "fascinated" I mean "barked a lot at") It got very cold while we were in Del Rio. 30's during the day and 20's at night - not exactly what we expected in south Texas! The morning we were to leave I went to dump our tanks and was dismayed to discover that an open valve filled the exposed dump pipes with gray water, and this was now frozen solid. We left anyway to deal with the problem down the road. We drove up and out of Del Rio, and when the plateau leveled off at 4000 feet it was 13 degrees and snowing! In the words of Tom Waits, it was
colder than a gut shot bitch wolf dog with nine suckum pups pullin' a number four trap up a hill in the dead of winter in the middle of a snowstorm with a mouth full of porcupine quills!

We finally entered Big Bend National Park mid-afternoon, having dropped back down to 3000 feet and enjoying temperatures back up in the 20's. 46 miles after entering the park we arrived at Rio Grande campground (1850'), where we were lucky to get a full-hookup site. That night would be single-digit cold (WTF!) so without hookups we would have probably killed both batteries running the furnace all night. Also, it allowed me to set up a bunch of tarps and a space heater to thaw out my dump pipes. Sound like fun so far?

But it got really good after that. The scenery is amazing:

And lots of new-to-us wildlife, like this roadrunner...

...this javelina (collared peccary)...

...and this harmless-looking coyote:

The coyotes that hang around the campground are known to nab small dogs for an afternoon snack. This one was rumored to have poached a poodle during our stay (no joke).

While at the park we had lots of outdoor adventures, like hiking down to Boquillas Canyon, where the Singing Mexican's voice echos in the canyon (he hopes for a handout), and the Rio Grand disappears between towering walls of rock:

The mountain bike saw some action, too. I rode up a rough jeep road for 5 miles or so and back, enjoying the terrain, scenery, and milder temperatures:

Came across this grave while on the trail. Rest in Peace Juan de Leon:

We drove up into the mountains for an afternoon. Starting from camp, at 1850', we drove to Chisos Basin, at 5401', then had a nice hike amongst towering peaks, and keeping our eyes and ears peeled for bear and mountain lion.

Our last day it got very warm out, perfect for a paddle up the Rio Grand into a canyon. The water was like glass, mirroring the gorgeous canyon walls, wheeling swifts, and Nancy:

This was probably my most favorite paddle ever. The conditions were so ideal and the scenery exactly what we came west for. Perfect!

So, Big Bend delivers, from near zero to mid-70 degree temperatures, from river to mountain adventures: big park, big scenery, big extremes: must be in Texas!


  1. What did you guys do with the dogs while you were there? Were you able to leave them in the RV while you went out hiking? We've read on the Big Bend site that you can never leave them unattended?

  2. Brent: We regularly leave our dogs in the RV - they are quiet and just sleep when we're gone. I think that no-dogs-unattended rule is a result of too many lawyers. We also leave the dogs in our truck, which they prefer over the RV anyway, but we are of course limited by the outside temperature in that case. At Big Bend, however, the dirt roads are more like trails than roads, and are suitable for hiking with dogs.

  3. Awesome, glad to hear it wasn't a problem. We leave ours as a practice as well since they tend to sleep but hadn't seen such strong language on any of the other parks and wanted to be sure it wouldn't be a problem.

    We'll be leaving Austin this weekend and following in your footsteps. You are doing a great scouting job for us, keep up the good work! :D