Big Bend National Park | 43/59

Big Bend National Park was one of the biggest surprises of the entire trip.  This may have been because our time here was jammed packed with all kinds of adventures – but I think the real reason is the sky.  For some reason, right as we crossed into Texas, the sky seemed to just open up.  It was beautiful.

“A Boy and His Desert.” – Madison

I have always loved the desert.  There is something about the dry air that I just can’t get enough of.  For that reason, I was SO excited to get to Big Bend.  We had spent a lot of time getting rained on out East, and it felt good to dry out.

There is the Rio Grande by the way! Mexico is just on the other side. Kitty was longing for some good tacos.

We made it to the park just before sunset.  We pulled over in a nice, wide pull out and just watched the colors change all around us.  The colors always pop at golden hour.

But then, when the sun went below the horizon, the party really started.  The sky literally exploded in yellows and pinks!  It was stunning — so stunning I had to jump on the RV and do some glamour shots for Madison.

Even after we had taken the shots, the sky continued to explode.  Madison rushed in to process a few of the photos, and the colors were lighting up the RV like crazy!  How cool is it that this is our office?!

The first day there, actually happened to be my birthday!  Since it was my birthday weekend, Madison said I got to pick all the activities!

After the epic sunset, we set off to check out he hot springs!  We almost didn’t go, but I am SO glad we did.  The springs go right into the Rio Grande.  It was epic.  Since Madison is prego, she didn’t get to really enjoy like I did.  She got to put her feet in, but we already decided that we will have to come back when she isn’t caring a human-bean in her belly.

The hike was mellow, and actually, we didn’t even need our headlamps!  The moon was SO FULL, we were able to hike no problem by the natural light.

The actual hot springs was super hard to take pictures of because of the steam and low light.  Plus, it was my birthday, so naturally I was rocking my birthday suit, and nobody wants to see that on here!  Ha!

Madison knows that I prefer cobbler to cake.  When we came back from the hot springs, she whipped this berry cobbler up!  I have the best wife ever.

The next day we got up early and hit the trail.  After consulting Bivy, we decided that the place to hike in Big Bend is Chisos Basin.  We debated a bit as to which trail we wanted to do, we really only had one day to hike, so we wanted to pick the best one.  The Lost Mine trail had just reopened, and people had reported a lot of bear sightings.  So naturally, since it was my birthday weekend, I chose to go look for bears!

On the way up the views of the surrounding peaks were so amazing, we totally forgot that we were supposed to be looking for bears!

Things got pretty windy up at the top.  Madison’s hair never really cooperates for photos when it is windy.  But that’s okay, because wind-whipped hair is my favorite style anyways.  She even does her hair the way I like for my birthday weekend!

The same views distracted us on the way down.  We were just jabber jawing, talking about all kinds of things, when I looked over and saw that we were not alone.  The bear was probably 40 feet away, but below the trail.  We just sat there and watched him for a good 15 minutes.  He gave zero cares.  He was just busy rustling around.  Such cool animals, right?

After leaving the Chisos we drove down the Ross Maxwell scenic drive toward the Santa Elena trail head.  We had reserved a primitive camp spot on that side of the park.

We were hoping to make it to our camp spot by dark (it is always harder to find where you are supposed to go at night) but there was no chance that we were going to make it.  Again, the desert sunset colors were too beautiful not to stop and enjoy.

We stoped to watch the sun go down and I jumped off the road in order to get to a nearby rock for optimal viewing.  As I jumped, I saw something long and slithery right where I was about to land!  I seriously had a mid-air heart attack!  Luckily, it was just a skin shed.  Had it been a snake, I would have been in trouble because I landed RIGHT on it!  The false alarm was enough to set my heart racing, and taught me a lesson to always look before you leap!

We managed to locate our spot that night, and the extra stop to enjoy the sunset was totally worth it.

The next day we set out to conquer the mighty Rio Grande!  We talked to a few guides about the Boomerang Run up Santa Elena Canyon.  Basically we would paddle up the river until we got tired, and then we would turn around and float back.  Sounds easy, right?

Well, it would have been easy, had we put in in the right place!  We put in about a mile too far down river!  We ended up not being able to paddle up a few rapids and had to get out and walk.  There was also an intense moment when I dropped the GoPro and it floated downstream.  I didn’t realize it was gone until it was halfway down the next rapid!  I saw a little yellow thing bob up and then disappear!  So, I turned the boat around, ran to the sandbar, ditched my kayak, and started running as fast as I could to head it off.  I had to dive into the rapids, but I caught it!  It was a Big Bend Miracle.

Once we made it to the spot where we SHOULD HAVE started, it was smooth paddling.  We were able to move easily up the canyon.  Paddling into the canyon was a neat experience.  It was literally like we were entering a gateway.  It went from shores on both banks, to flat rock walls towering on either side.

We got off, on the U.S. side (we were warned that there were hefty fees if you got caught on the Mexico side illegally), and had a few Clif Bars for lunch.  By this point, Vladimir had reached the end of his kitty rope and was not happy to be on the river.  He started trying to escape, but the thing is, he couldn’t go further than the end of the boat!  He would just wait there, hoping we would get close enough to the side so he could jump.

“Get me off this boat!” –Vladimir

We slept outside of the park that night and we slept well.  Mainly because it felt like we had paddled a million miles.  But really, we just fought the river for about four miles.  Ugh, I need to work out more.

We left the National Park after the canyon, and drove over to Big Bend Ranch State Park.  There was a mountain biking trail system I wanted to check out (remember, I am choosing the activities this park!).

We saddled up and hit the trail.  For being 5 months pregnant, Madison was killing it!

The trail was mostly flat, with some good features here and there.  It was fun to just be OUT.  We did an out and back trail, so we were able to turn around when we felt like it.  I loved it.  There is something about not having a destination, and not having a certain loop you have to finish.  We were able to just focus on the riding and the desert and just enjoy the moment.  I thought a lot about how we will be able to take The Bean (that’s what we call the baby) mountain biking when he or she gets older.  Someday, we will take our little guy/girl out in the wild with his/her own bike and share the magic of this place.  Sounds dreamy, doesn’t it?

Now that I have brought up mountain biking with kids, I can’t help but share this.  It is probably one of my favorite videos on the internet right now:

(This is Madison writing for a second–I catch Cees watching this video ALL the time haha)

We left the area very tired, and very happy.  This park made it to the top of our list easily; we really didn’t want to leave.  As we pulled away, we plotted and schemed about spending every winter in the Texas desert.  What a place.


  1. Hey Cees! Hey Madison! We were on the road last year and sent you a couple messages about our blog Adventures with Eli. So funny to read this post! We are in Big Bend right now and have been here for the whole month. It was our favorite stop the whole trip last year and we made a concerted effort to get back here for January of this year. So we share your sentiments about the magic of this Area, as well as plotting to get back here as often as possible! Winter Texans forever! We are sorry that we missed you and wish we could’ve crossed paths. We are actually staying in lajitas which is right outside of the state park and there’s a great RV park there called Maverick ranch. You should definitely look into it for next year. It’s about 15 miles outside of terlingua and so about 25 miles from the entrance to the national park on the road. Anyway, sorry to have missed you and maybe we will cross paths in Big Bend next winter. Congratulations on the pregnancy and hope the trip is going great!

    • Cees

      Susan! Hi! Dang, that is a bummer we missed you! Honestly, we would LOVE to go back there right now! We are freezing up north! We need to get to warmer weather! We totally drove through Lajitas when we went to ride in the state park – that place looked awesome!

      • Yeah we were surprised how cold it was for so long almost everywhere. Even in march and April we were fighting freezing temps in California and Utah. Just come back to Texas :). We probably will be gone already, but it’s just too awesome here.

  2. Robin Ankeny

    Love SW Texas! Actually have driven almost 100 miles without seeing another vehicle in the area. Having lived in the Dallas area for about 10 years, it was always a treat to get to the desert and feel like I was back in the West. Safe travels….

  3. dawn from camano island

    Love, love, love the video!! You two are going to be awesome parents!! Thanks to your photos, we’ve put Big Bend on our must-see list! What a stunning place!

  4. dawn from camano island

    Oh my gosh!! Nearly forgot!! Happy Belated Birthday, Cees! And Madison, the photo of you & Vlad is breathtaking! The shawl (?) you’re wearing is beautiful! Vlad must’ve been a dog in a previous life–he’s very different than any cat I’ve known!

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