The next days destination was Big Bend National Park in Texas – named for the huge u-turn the Rio Grande makes there. It was about 120 miles straight on down and there was NO traffic. Great route if you want to drive and feel a bit of solitude. I knew very little about Big Bend other that it borders the Rio Grand and Mexico. The surrounding area on the drive down was desert which was interrupted every so often with a small ridge of mountains or buttes but nothing on a grand scale.
This is really a remote part of southern Texas. So I was quite take by surprise as I got close to Big Bend, the Chisos Mountains and canyons and sandstone cliffs and buttes began appearing on a large scale. It offers diverse landscapes of desert, mountains and river. There are a multitude of hiking trails and also access to the river. It was stunningly beautiful after so many many miles over the last couple of days of relatively featureless desert, oil country, and cattle ranges. We were into the campground and set up by noon. I opted for the Chisos Basin which was by far the best choice for tent camping (or small RV). There were lots of sharp curves and steep grades, both up and down, to access this campground in mountain lion, javelinas, coyotes, rattlesnake and bear territory!!!! It keeps the adrenaline coursing through my veins. Getting to a campsite early in the day was a first ever for me I think in the travels.
Again, since the dogs aren’t allowed on the trails I opted for the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive over to Santa Elena Canyon and the Rio Grande – that fluid border between Mexico and the US and of course at this time of great political controversy. The drive was lined with multi-hued mountains and canyon walls and lookouts across the vast area. There was lots of geological splendor to take in.
My favorite formation and vista was the “Mules Ears.” It is not that it is so beautiful but so aptly named.
Seeing the river at two points in the park made it hard to imagine that this ribbon of greenish brown sluggish appearing water has carved deep canyons. But given the sapping of its waters via dams, irrigation, manufacturing, agriculture and evaporation, it is by no means at it’s Rio Grandest here. But I enjoyed seeing its narrow flood plain in the mist of the arid desert and the mouth of the Santa Elena Canyon – half a canyon in the US and the other half in Mexico. It’s walls tower a 1500 feet above the Rio Grande A drive like this, so filled with the remarkable wonders of the natural world, is so satisfying and somehow in those moments everything seems right with the world.
Back in camp at a reasonable hour, I cooked the first hot meal I had in several days, followed by a relaxing sunset walk around the campground. It was fun talking to a couple of folks who were part of an Adventure Cycling bicycle tour. They had quite a challenging ride getting up the campground as the winding road rises at least 2000 feet above the desert floor as it transition into the cooler mountain environment. I had taken a couple of trips with Adventure Cycling many years back and often thought of another — though I know it will not be this one.
The next day I opted to break camp though I had originally thought about staying put another night. I find it harder and harder to stay in camp as I yearn to hike the trail I read about . But because of my fur buddies that is only possible in a minute number of instances. There will be a day I will return to some of these park to hike. I decided to visit the southeast corner of the park and enjoy the impressive Sierra del Carmens and views of the Boquillas Canyon.
Then it was time to move on to a new phase of this trip. At this point I was ready to head straight home. I still had close to 1500 miles to go and decided to split it over three days. Even though I was already on the way in my head the boys were not. Neither one of them wanted to leave the camp that morning].
Another decision was to dump my “spare” lifestyle and stay in LaQuinta Hotels — always nice, great beds and very dog friendly. I would do 450-500 mile days but still try and stay off the interstates as much as possible. Overnights were in Del Rio, TX; Lake Charles, LA; and Ft. Walton Beach, FL. I can’t say that there was anything extraordinary about the rest of the trip though a few challenging incidents. The worst day was the drive from Del Rio from San Antonio thru Houston and on to Lake Charles. I had hoped to take 90 across but it just became an impossibly long haul, so I entered the truck traffic corridor of I-10. I always regret those decisions but it did serve to expedite the journey home. I find I am gripping the wheel so tightly with all the traffic barreling down the highway that my wrists ache and are sore long after. The speed is usually 75 which of course means most are going 85 and I find that exhausting. But a lovely room awaited us in Lake Charles LA. By morning the room was not so lovely because Kili began his bout with diarrhea. The first was a mad scramble episode down the elevator after he frantically barked and charging outside before he exploded. No chance of getting to the pet walking area!!! The second occurred of course in the middle of the night when I was asleep and we had lots of piles of poop all over the entryway. Thank goodness it was not the carpet or bed. Poor little guy. We had such a bout with this in Colorado on the way out. Against my better judgement, since he would not eat any dog food, I got him his McDonalds cheeseburger which he devours. Of course Simaba has to have one too so now he does not want any dog food (though there is nothing wrong with him!) The next day I vowed to get back on route 90 and I did so for a much more relaxing journey until I lost it when I hit the New Orleans area. So I wandered around (in car) some very dilapidated areas of New Orleans trying to get back on track but finally opted to take I-10 (aargh!) When 90 crossed it again I gladly jumped on it and enjoyed the drive along the Gulf through Biloxi MI until I had to get around Mobile AL via I-10. At Pensacola I could again enjoy a more peaceful, though stop and go ,drive to Ft. Walton Beach. Here was another very nice LaQuinta and it being not so nice in the morning with Kili’s poop again in at least 20 spots by the front door. This is not my favorite way to start the day – but I am sure anyone could guess that. So I pick my way around it to get them out to the pet area (which of course we did not make it too again), come back and clean up the room and finally my coffee! My intent was to drive across route 20 from Ft. Walton but I got detoured up to I-10 (find this hard to believe) because route 20 was blocked for the Ironman Florida bike course north of Panama City that day. It was a 40 mile detour but I could hardly be annoyed as I did Ironman Florida twice and was grateful it was blocked off for my ride. I finally got off I-10 past Tallahassee and wound my way down 19/27 until past Homosassa Springs and then took familiar highways to Bradenton. I was 35 miles from home and Simba starting crying. So I figured I had better stop to see about that. Guess he needed to go but what made me grateful was that I had been observing a low air symbol for the last day and when I checked the tire then, it was so low that it would have probably shredded at any point. So I had a new skill to learn. Using one of those air machines to fill it. That done, I finally made it home after 14,684 miles on the road.