After San Antonio, we had planned to continue west towards Arizona. But looking at the map, we suddenly realised there was a national park in Texas that we had never visited before. This was an opportunity that could not be missed! So instead of returning to the interstate, we followed the US90 via Del Rio, and then detoured to Big Bend.
Deserted in the desert
It was a long journey from San Antonio to Big Bend, and we needed an overnight stop on the way. Seminole Canyon State Park seemed to meet our requirements, and we arrived there in the early evening. It is not uncommon for campers who arrive after office hours to self-register by putting cash in an envelope; what did surprise us, however, was that there were no other campers at all – we had the whole place to ourselves!
Unlike most campgrounds, there were few trees, just covered picnic tables (one per campsite) dotted here and there among the cacti. This gave the place a weird and rather eerie feeling, especially as we were on our own. We were not entirely cut off from the human race however; we discovered to our amazement that there was wifi throughout the campground, so we were able to catch up with our emails! We also confirmed that the stars at night really are big and bright…..
The following morning we continued our journey to Big Bend. This part of the US 90 was very quiet, with hardly any traffic, and we passed through just a few small and old-fashioned villages. No Golden Arches here: it was like entering a different world. From the 90 it was another 40 miles south to the national park entrance, and then a further 30 miles to the Visitor Centre.
The park is so-called because it is on the ‘big bend’ of the Rio Grande, which here forms the border between the US and Mexico. There are three main sections of the park and we spent roughly half a day in each, getting a taste of the different areas.
In the Rio Grande Village area we walked the Boquillas Canyon trail, and saw where the river disappears into the canyon. We camped overnight, and did another trail which gave good sunset views. Our campsite was equipped with a large metal container, and there was a sign on the table warning us that ‘javelina live here’. We are familiar with bear-proof trash cans, but this was new to us! Indeed we had never heard of javelina (a type of pig) but apparently they are aggressive and known to break into tents. Fortunately we did not see any, though we were visited that evening by millions of mosquitoes.
Next day we did a walk down to the Rio Grande to see the ruins of an old thermal bathing pool which used to be popular many years ago. It was full of mud, so we weren’t tempted to take a dip! On the nearby cliffs we could see some ancient petroglyphs.
Later we drove up to the Chisos Mountains area of the park, which is higher and therefore not quite so hot.
After that we did a 30-mile scenic drive to the Santa Elena Canyon at the other end of the bend, where you can see the river emerging. We were planning to do a walk through the canyon, but gave up when we discovered it involved crossing a wide (and deep?) creek with no bridge. However, on the way back down the drive we stopped at Tuff Canyon, which was a real highlight: we were able to walk down to the canyon floor, as well as getting wonderful views from the overlooks.
We left Big Bend by the western exit, and stayed overnight in a motel as the weather did not look good for camping. Next day we headed north, and then west. We rejoined the US90 at a town called Alpine, which did not live up to the blurb in our travel guides (an oasis in the desert, etc). However, further down the road we came to another town called Marfa, which although small had some very attractive buildings. We went for a short stroll round, and visited a thrift (charity) shop where we acquired five books and a CD, all for less than $5! Just what we needed for our travels.
Later that day we said farewell to Texas, and crossed the border to New Mexico. But we were not there long, because the following day we crossed another state border and arrived in Arizona, where our south-west adventure really began!