I enter Big Bend park, the ranger at the entrance station says that I might be out of luck for a backcountry camping pass, it’s supposed to be below zero again tonight and they might not issue me one. I smile and thank her, drive through the gate, and down to the Castolon visitors center to see what the deal was. There, I was informed that I wouldn’t be able to go to the Chisos Basin portion of he park, due to ice on the road, but otherwise the park was all open. We looked at the map, I decided on staying three nights, and they helped me select three campsites all across the park. It was awesome
Of course, day one was still overcast, the storm was still hanging around and there were lots of grey skies, I stayed in the truck except for the random hop-out to grab a pic:
I went on a few short hikes, but for the most part I stayed in the truck. As the sun headed towards the horizon I went to my first campsite, Terilingua Abajo. Just as the sun was setting the clouds began to dissipate:
I made a quick ramen dinner, setup the truck for sleeping, and crawled inside. It was a quiet night with the exception of a ranger coming by to check in and make sure I was okay. I awoke to sunshine over Santa Elena Canyon:
I drove along a nice dirt road for an hour or two, then headed towards the Panther Junction visitors center for water and gas. Gas at a ridiculous $3.67/gallon! Sadly, their potable water spigot was still frozen over, so no topping off my water supplies today. No worries, I was off shortly thereafter to check out ‘balanced rock’, which is exactly what you would imagine:
And then it was onto the ‘Black Gap’ road, a rough and tumble high clearance 4x4-required trail down through the Chihuahuan desert. The truck bounced along, and two hours later we were at the end of the nine mile road, with a big smile on my face.
My next campsite was close by, and so we set up shop at ‘Fresno’, and went to look around the nearby Mariscal Mine, a quicksilver mine that was active primarily before WWII:
Since the day was a bit warmer, I got a workout in, hiked up to the top of the nearest hill for a panoramic shot:
Then made some spam and beans for dinner, and enjoyed a very long stretch of not seeing a single other person. The dog woke me up just before dawn, so we putzed around a bit, and shot sunrise photos in one of the structures near the mine:
Then it was packing up the truck, watching the last of the ice melt off of it, and heading down to the ‘Rio Grande Village’ visitor’s center to pick up a junior ranger packet, finally top off my water, post a facebook update that I was alive (since cell service is fairly nonexistent in the park), and check out the Boquillas canyon:
My final night was spent at a site called Telephone Canyon, a few more hours down another dirt road. I arrived, and went for a nice six mile hike down the telephone canyon trail, with a dead battery on my camera. This was the last thing I snapped before it keeled on me:
A gorgeous hike to a lovely basin, and turned around just in time to get back to camp as the sun set. Overall, it was one of my best experiences in a national park. The scenery – well it’s the desert, and I’ve seen lots of desert before. But this was the first national park that I got to explore the backroads, I didn’t have to deal with tons of RVers inching along in front of me, got to hike bunches every day, and enjoy a few days of near total disconnection from the outside world.
It seemed like the weight of all that cold weather had been lifted from my spirit as I stopped at the last visitor’s center, Persimmon’s Gap, turned in my junior ranger paperwork, received my badge, and headed East towards San Antonio: a huge grin on my face.