After our beautiful and invigorating morning hike, we were back on the road, and ready to hit Big Bend National Park! We had gotten over our bout of grumpiness, enjoyed Seminole Canyon, and were excited to explore a new spot, having heard wonderful things about Big Bend. Per our usual levels of preparedness, we had not made reservations, and when we pulled up to the campground where we hoped to stay in the park (Chisos Basin Campground), we learned it was completely full. Dang.
So, we headed over to the Rio Grande Village Campground, which turned out to be very beautiful, spacious, and only a few hundred yards from Mexico! After driving a few loops around to check out all the spots, we chose one we liked, and started setting up. What we weren’t prepared for was the heat — it was in the mid 90s as we were setting up at 5 pm! Since it had been down in the 40s the night before at Seminole Canyon, it was a little bit of a shock.
We had been told that there was nearby short trail that had phenomenal sunset views, so once we had set up and eaten, we headed for the trail to watch the sun go down. And we were not disappointed.
We were blown away by how beautiful it was, and as it turned out, this was only a small taste of the incredible vistas we’d see over the next week. We went to bed as excited as kids on Christmas Eve, looking forward to all the exploring we had in mind.
The next day dawned clear and bright, and after some discussion, we decided to do what we usually do in new areas — give ourselves the driving tour to get the lay of the land and see what we might be interested in exploring on foot. After a discussion with some very helpful volunteer park rangers, we decided to up the ante and take the Tahoe on a 23-mile, four-wheel-drive-only road. I’d been wanting to take the truck into the backcountry for the first time, and Old Ore Road sounded like the perfect place!
Rebecca was a bit nervous, so to be on the safe side, we brought all our food, topped off the gas tank, and stashed about 6 gallons of water. That way, even if we got stranded, we could sleep and eat comfortably while we awaited rescue. Armed with our gear, and a giant new map of the park we’d gotten at the ranger station, we headed for the trail head! I was incredibly excited — I’d been longing for some real wilderness for a while, and it sounded like I was finally going to get it! We got to the trail head, and off we went. The views were immediately amazing, and the road wasn’t too bad!
Our first detour was a stop at Ernst Tinaja, a spring back in the valley. We were told that the spring formed beautiful crystal blue pools, and we were very excited to see them, especially in such a sparse and dry environment, but when we arrived, this is what we found:
Smelly, green, bug-filled pools, buzzing with flies. Not exactly what we’d seen on the postcards. However, the hike into the canyon was stunning — there were amazing rock formations unlike anything we’d ever seen before. Actually, pretty much ALL the scenery the whole week was unlike anything we’d ever seen before. Made it a lot of fun!
We jumped back in the car, and continued down the road. We passed a number of cars going the opposite direction, but never any going our way. Traffic continued to thin out until about mile 12, when IT happened. The Big Bend Blowout of 2016.
Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, this was the one thing I was really hoping would not happen on this trip, and here’s why. Despite building this great camping rig, buying a compressor/battery jumper, packing a tire patch kit, bringing all our food, and having the car checked out before the trip, and all the other preparations we did … I had never actually checked and made sure A) that I had the jack and all the pieces I needed to actually change a tire, and B) that my spare tire was in good shape. I know, I know, it was like amateur hour, and now here we were: 12 miles from the nearest road, zero cell service, and not a soul in sight.
It’s not a real adventure till something goes wrong, right? But in our case, all’s well that ends well — the jack and all the necessary pieces were there, the spare was fine, and within an hour we were back on the road. Despite a nagging fear that we’d blow a second tire and be left without a spare, really and truly stranded, we were able to enjoy some amazing vistas and cool ruins.
Our tires stayed strong, and after a total of 7 hours on a 23 mile road, we emerged victorious on the pavement!
We headed back towards the campground, but the views weren’t over yet. The drive back was incredibly beautiful…
And once we were back to camp, all fed and showered and safe and sound, we were treated to another glorious sunset. So far, we were big fans of Big Bend!
Campground: Rio Grande Village Campground
- Tent/RV site, no hookups.
- Cost: $14
- Pros: Flat, paved, spacious sites with picnic tables and large bear boxes. Easy access to water and decent bathroom facilities. Convenient location to trails on the east side of the park, as well as Boquillas, Mexico. General store, coin-operated showers and laundry, pay phones, WiFi, and ATM just a short walk from the campground.
- Cons: Lackluster showers — especially for not being free. The hot water was lacking and they ran out of quarters in the change machine a few times.