Big Bend National Park

The window
October 2013 was the first time I visited Big Bend; I have been 5 times since. I love it so much. With over 800,000 acres in the National Park and the state park as a neighbor, you will never get bored.  The geology changes from one corner to next.

Red Rocks

Especially along the Rio Grande River (it is called Rio Bravo in Mexico) there is a steep canyon with large red rock walls. Grab an inflatable kayak and be in utter awe as you float the river. And don't forget to grab some picture at the top of the canyon at Dom Rock.


In the National Park, there are several hikes that start in the basin. Do a few day hikes or backpack overnight in the primitive sites. Tons of trees and wild life. If you're lucky, you might see a black bear or a mountain lion! Keep your distance; remember to make noise on the trail do you don't sneak up on anyone.

Natural Hot Springs

Jump between hot and cold water in the hot springs that is backed up to the Rio Grande. This is also a good place to wash up if you brought biodegradable soap. You can also swim the small rapid to the sandy beach about 100 yards from the hot spring. Remember your water safety. Nose up, toes up, feet down stream.

History in the Rocks

Year after year, history is carved into the rocks. You can see history right before your eyes.

Big Bend never disappoints. It is so vast, with varying types of activities, that every trip can be completely different. We camped in the basin for the 2nd year in a row with Hill Country Outdoors (HCO). The weather was much warmer than the 2013 trip, but still cool at night for camping. And every year it seems we get one really windy night…tent poles swaying in the wind, sometimes hitting you as you try to sleep.


Wednesday, October 29th – The ride up

What were we thinking?! With a few vacuum sealed storage bags, Mike and I were able to fit everything we needed to camp in the back of my Jeep Wrangler. With all of the windows off and the top down, we started our 11 – 12 hour journey to Big Bend. Even though we left before the sun was up, we dressed for a sunny ride. That never happened. The sun tried to break through the clouds, but it wasn’t until about 9 hours later, that we got some warmth. The wind was whipping right through my ears. When we got to our first stop, Buc-ee’s of course, I had to buy a beanie. The only beanies they had were UT. Mike reluctantly agreed to wear something with UT on it. 🙂 See the 10 things I learned about my Jeep here.

We got to the entrance of the park and had to decide where we were going to set up for the night. We were both in agreement that we wanted to have camp set up before dark. When I asked Mike how much further it was to the group site, he said 20 minutes. It was a no brainer for me. I wanted to make our way to the group site so we only had to set up camp once. Being only 20 minutes away, we would have plenty of day light left to set up camp. Mike wanted to camp at the entrance, a spot he camped at years ago. One main hesitation with this option was how precisely we had to pack up the Jeep to fit everything in. It seemed too much of a hassle. So I convinced Mike we should head to the group site. About 30 minutes later, I say…”shouldn’t we be there by now?” Mike informs me that it was 20 minutes to the visitors center, and then probably another 20 minutes to the camp site from the visitors center. What??? Why would he give me the time to the visitors center and not the actual camp site? I would have agreed to the entrance camp site if I knew we had 45 more minutes to the group site. Now, we had to fight daylight to get everything set up before dark.

We got everything set up and relaxed with a beer before crashing after a long day.

Thursday, October 30th – Grapevine Hills

Since Mike and I arrived Wednesday night and everyone else arrived Thursday, we decided to do a short day hike on Thursday. Since we left a bit later in the day, of course we already had a beer or two before we started the hike. Last year at Big Bend, we mainly hiked in the Basin area which stays pretty shaded and cool. The Grapevines Hills is completely exposed…full sun, little cover. By the time we hit the trail, the sun (that we so missed the day before on the ride up) we were now wishing would go behind a cloud or two. Two beers and burger heavy, we started on the trek to Balanced Rock.

I knew I was in worse shape this year than last, however, the easy Grapevine Hills hike really put how out of shape I am into perspective. If hiking the South Rim wasn’t already ruled out, it was by the end of our mile stroll to Balanced Rock. Despite being out of shape, I really enjoyed this hike. It was a flat hike until the very last part but you are completely removed from everything. There was 1 person leaving as we arrived, outside of that, it was us and the desert.

Balanced rock was pretty awesome. There was a nice breeze through the rocks and it was so peaceful to just sit there and take it all in. I absolutely love this Big Bend trip. This was HCO’s 14th year (I think) and I can understand why it continues to be one of the biggest hits of the year!

After the short hike, we went back to camp to see who else had arrived. We all gathered around the picnic table and started to catch up. Since Mike and I are from Houston, we are apart of the BCO group. HCO is an affiliate company based in Austin so we don’t get to see everyone regularly. As with all good friends…we picked up where we left off without skipping a beat.

In the midst of catching up, we realized it was Thursday and we didn’t finish setting up our football lineups. So Mike and I jumped in the car and ran up to the lodge where you can get an internet connection. We headed back down to camp to find dinner had already been served and almost completely cleaned up! Luckily, we go there just in time before the last bit of food was taken care of to keep the bears and mountain lions out of our camp.

Friday, October 31st – The Secret Red Buffalo / Terlingua / Dom Rock

Most of HCO did the South Rim hike today.  Some camped out at the top and returned to the basin the following day.  Since Mike and I decided South Rim was outside of our physical limits this year, we came up with our own adventure for the day.  We ended up getting a few takers to join us.  Ted told us about this Secret Red Buffalo on one of the hikes leaving the park.  Apparently, there are no directions on the internet or in any books to get to the Red Buffalo.  You have to know someone who knows where it is.  So we got the directions from someone else on the trip with us and went out searching for the Red Buffalo.

The first part of the hike was just like any other.  But quickly, the trial disappeared and we were completely in the middle of the desert with no path.  Climbing to a high rock, we scouted a water basin.  We hiked within the basin, looking for the Red Buffalo.  We were completely unsuccessful finding the Red Buffalo.  Eventually, we decided to turn around and head back to the car.  This proved to be a more difficult task than just retracing your footsteps.  Since we got off track in the beginning, we didn’t quite know where to exit the basin.  By the time we exited, we were surrounded by desert and cacti.  The tall people said they could see the top of the car so we headed in that direction.  I couldn’t see anything except the large bones of something that didn’t make it in that particular spot.  However, I followed and we did indeed found the car.

Later at camp, we found out another small group from HCO decided to look for the Red Buffalo as well.  They apparently followed our tracks and had about the same luck…no Red Buffalo.  Determined to make it to the secret location, 1 guy returned the next day.  He claims he found it … but a solo trip, after ~10 people didn’t find it….I’m still suspect.  Does the Secret Red Buffalo exist?

Big Bend Dom Rock
Saturday, November 1st – Canoeing Rio Grande/Bravo

Everyone on the trip is talking about how the Rio Grande is “raging” this year.  We also haven’t done any water trips with HCO so it was hard to gauge what they consider “raging.”  At one point, Charlie said their might be a class III, depending on the water level.  The outfitter we rented to canoes from had a few inflatable kayaks.  I was thinking Mike and I should take one of those instead to be on the safe side.  However, Mike quickly volunteered us for a canoe. 🙂

We head to the water and go through some basics strokes, commands and safety (we talked about safety but for some reason, the outfitter didn’t provide helmets. I’m not used to being on white water without a helmet…especially if there was going to be a class III…I would have preferred to have one on.)  Anyway, we get everything tied down and get in the water to warm up.  The very first turn was a small class II rapid that curved to the left.  As soon as we hit the rapid, the wind blew off my visor. 🙁  I stumbled through a few comments, forward paddle, 1 stroke on the right, forward paddle.  It was sloppy and a little wobbly but we made it through.  Immediately after the first rapid, Mike and I discussed a few standard commands.  Luckily Mike is left handed and I’m right handed so he paddled on the left side and I guided on the right.  This made it much easier for me to maneuver the canoe.

With the first rapid past us, I’m feeling more comfortable.  Although, Charlie and Regina said you have more control if you kneel, I felt like I had less so stayed sitting.  We’ll have to practice the proper canoeing form on another trip.  Today’s goal was to stay upright and dry.

We finally remembered to bring the GoPro with us but the wifi button was on so the battery was dead.  We ended up getting 7 seconds of footage.  🙁  I was so disappointed because this stretch of river was so gorgeous!  Some others had good cameras with them so we’re hoping they captured some good pics for us.

As went floated down the river, we both got more and more comfortable.  All of the rapids were class II so we were good to go.  Apparently, the Rio Grande at this water level is comparable to the Buffalo River in AR so I’m excited to know I can do a trip out there too.  2 canoes tipped over on the trip, and Charlie and Regina quickly gathered all people and equipment.  Everyone was okay and quickly back in their boats.  And for only $38 per person, we couldn’t have had a better day in Big Bend or on the River.  I’m such a River Rat!!  I love being on the water and can’t believe I continue to let so much time go back between water trips.  Definitely on the list of things to change.

Sunday, November 2nd – Ernst Basin & The ride back

Even though HCO has been going to Big Bend for 14 years now, not many people have done the Ernst Basin trail because you need a 4×4 vehicle.  Since Mike and I drove the Jeep up, we grabbed 3 other people and headed to the trail.  Driving in, the outfitter we used for canoeing the day before passed us.  He gave us a couple quick tips and then proceeded with his group.  Ernst Basin was a pretty flat hike but required a bit of scrambling.  We got to one point that was more climbing than scrambling.  I was determined to make it up…not certain I’d be able to get back done.  I pretty much smeared the rock as Mike pushed my butt up upwards. 🙂  It was pretty but it was successful.  Two of the girls stayed behind.  Charlie, Mike and I continued just a little further until we got to another spot I knew would be impossible for me to maneuver.  So we turned around and headed back.  The rock formations were cool. I will have to get some pictures from Mike…he got took his time on the trial and captured some pictures as I just pressed forward and stayed with the group.

After the hike, Mike and I headed back to break-down camp.  Mike had a 7am flight out of San Antonio (7-8 hours away) he had to catch.  We learned from the drive in to have multiple layers of clothes ready for the drive back.  The first part of the trip was sunny, warm and very pleasant.  When we turned right to head towards Ft Stockton, we were hit with a cross-wind; a cold cross-wind.  We pulled over for some gas and bundled up.  I checked the weather report and apparently the cross winds were not going away any time soon.  Quickly, the sun went down. Now it was dark, cold and windy.  The trip was miserable.  Mike ended up driving the entire way….did I mention how great he is? 🙂  I learned on this trip back that I can still sleep even with 30 mile cross winds, 50 degrees and tracker trailers zooming by!

Finally, we made it to San Antonio.  We stayed at the Hilton and took much needed showers.  We cracked open an Big Bend Brewery IPA that we brought back with us and quickly passed out from the long day.

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