(This is a continuation of what I learned in our travels to West Texas. You can read part 1 here.)
Wildlife abounds. Deer, javelinas, birds, butterflies, lizards. But nothing prepares you for coming around a bend and stopping two feet short of a rattlesnake sunning himself directly in the path of your four year old’s foot (don’t bother scrolling quickly…there is no picture of the rattlesnake…in my concern to get us all safely around the dangerous critter, I failed to snap a photo). Tread lightly. Humans are the minority here.
There is beauty here. Lots of lots of amazing, beautiful spots. Hidden off the beaten path. Just be prepared to travel many miles of cactus as far as the eye can see to find those amazing, beautiful spots (refer to my first point if you’ve forgotten about the many miles you will travel).
I really wish just one of the travel books had given this piece of advice: Pick a section of the park (west, east or central) and stick to it. Settle in that area and spend all your time there exploring that area. It’s just too much to try to do a little of this end and a little of this end. Take it from someone who made the mistake…we spent more time in the car traveling from one trail to the next than we did actually hiking trails. I’m not kidding.
When the national park tells you their campsites are full, don’t believe them. Camping at a national park doesn’t compare to camping at a Texas state park. I had no idea how spoiled I was from camping at state parks until this experience. You call a Texas state park and they know exactly who is in which spot and when they plan to leave. You call the national park and they don’t have a clue although they’re quick to say they’re full. We spent our first night at Stillwell Ranch which is just north of the entrance to Big Bend. Somewhat primitive camping with lots of cactus (I think I heard “Mom, there’s a cactus in my shoe every few minutes” that night), no water and no restrooms, but beautiful, dark skies and no neighbors to bother with our music plus campfires were allowed (which turned out to be a huge deal as the rest of our camping spots would turn out to be fire ban zones).
It takes a special person to settle the west. I’m still in search of a first hand account of an early settler to the area. I want to know what in the world possessed them to stop their horse and buggy and say, “Yes! This is it!” My guess is that maybe that far into the desert they were just too worn out to keep going and too worn out to turn back. Or, more likely, they were in love with the idea of their own land. I can imagine Native Americans out there (it helps that I just read Empire of the Summer Moon) but I have a hard time imagining myself leaving the comfort of civilization to settle an unknown territory. Of course, that’s what makes humankind so interesting…we are all so different and where I would be hesitant to give up the security of townsfolk and access to food and water, some folks would be willing to sacrifice it all for solitude and land.
I was impressed with the story of Sam Nail and his brother. Somehow they created a beautiful oasis smack dab in the middle of flat, cactus laden land. Literally an oasis. They settled, dug a well, planted fruit trees and a garden and built themselves a house made of adobe. And I can imagine waking up and seeing the mountains on the horizon and feeling like it was just the most beautiful spot until the summer sun hit 115 degrees and I remembered that the nearest town didn’t exist and there was no convenience store to run and get water from. You see what I mean? This is taking some serious stretching for my imagination to travel out here and say to myself, this is it! But some people did and there are still plenty of people out there.
I did strike up a conversation with the postman at Big Bend and I was interested to learn that he’s originally from Washington state. My face rarely hides my emotion and clearly he read what I was thinking as he responded, “I know, I know. I left behind those beautiful mountains and rivers and forests and came here. But here, almost every day of the year, I look out my window and see the sun shining and there’s nothing that lifts the spirit like sunshine. So I wouldn’t trade that beautiful scenery I left behind for all these sunny days.” (Just for the record, we visited in late October and every day was beautiful and sunny until we got to the Davis Mountains, then it was cold and sunny thanks to a cold front that blew in.)
To be continued…