Big Bend National Park

Since we are returning residents to the state of Texas, we planned to go to Big Bend National Park over my Spring Break. With some reports of the Covid-19 contagion coming in, we decided to pack our own food for the trip and to camp, so as to be able to isolate ourselves as much as possible. We left the Austin area and drove across the beautiful central hill country, where the sides of the highways and byways are carpeted with bluebonnets during the month of March.

Ever since Lady Bird Johnson was First Lady, the Texas Department of Transportation has sown more than 30,000 pounds of bluebonnet seeds around the state annually.

Before entering Big Bend, we took a spin around the town of Marfa, a place I had heard of (due to the mysterious “Marfa lights” and also from their reputation as a Bohemian artists’ colony). I wish we could have stayed in town and eaten there, but we were already heeding warnings to not bring any outside germs into small rural communities so we just did a pass through.

With a population of only 1800, you stand a good chance of exploring all of Marfa in a long weekend. Keep an eye out for celebs like Matthew McConaughey

We spent the first day at Big Bend driving the scenic Maxwell Drive, which is essentially the west half of the park. We headed all the way to the Mexican border, where we hiked into the Santa Elena Canyon, fording an off-shoot of the Rio Grande River. The area was busy with hikers and kayakers, but people were staying a fair distance apart. The amazing effects of the eroding power of water were on full display in the canyon, with 1500 foot towering cliffs on either side of us.

Santa Elena Canyon
Chris hiking up the Santa Elena Canyon
Deah fording an offshoot of the Rio Grande to get to the Santa Elena Canyon viewpoint

Later, we drove the Chisos Basin drive. It was approaching sunset and there were some beautiful views. On the way out of that area, we spotted a coyote and were able to snap a pic. We also spotted some golden eagles flying around and Chris got a nice shot of those.

Spotting the wildlife around the park
A Golden Eagle

We camped near the ghost town of Terlingua. There are a number of cabin rentals, small hotels, bars, and restaurants there. Of course, they are most famous for their annual chili cook off in November. We had our own dinner to cook at our campsite so we just took a drive through town to see the dusty sights.

Terlingua: population 2,000 but this small town swells to over 10,000 annually with the chili cookoff
High on a hill overlooking the road into Terlingua

The next day we explored the eastern half of Big Bend. We made up a breakfast at the picnic tables at Dugout Wells. There we encountered a woman waiting for a scheduled ranger talk, but soon found out that the visitor’s center had been closed and all ranger talks and guided walks were canceled for the time being (campgrounds still open for the week). We continued our drive all the way to the eastern end of the park, to the Rio Grande Village, and hiked a bit into the Boquillas Canyon. Along the way, we saw small homemade souvenir “caches” of trinkets made by residents of the village of Boquilla, Mexico (you can leave the money in a jar and they come collect it later). We were serenaded across the border river by a man with a wonderful singing voice, his song echoing across the canyon. In normal operating times, if you bring your passport (kids just need a birth certificate or proof of citizenship) you can cross the river at Boquillas Crossing ($5 rowboat round trip) and have lunch and explore the small Mexican village. However, the crossing was closed this week.

A small souvenir stand
Recent rains had the cacti in full bloom while we were there

Along the southeastern edge of the park, we were able to hike to and enjoy a hot springs. Many years ago there were actually cotton plantations in this area, with dozens of workers and a somewhat-thriving industry. In fact, in the 1860s they even imported 30 camels and their handlers from North Africa to use to explore and patrol the area!

A hot springs built on the sides of the Rio Grande River

With more and more dire news coming in every time we stopped to check messages, we decided to cut our trip short and head home. We made one final stop on our way out of the park at the Fossil Discovery Exhibit (built in 2017), where some of the largest fossil finds in the US have occurred. Over 1200 fossils spanning 130 million years of geohistory have been found there. You can see a replica of some of the largest dinosaurs that ever existed, such as the Tyrannosaurus Rex, the Deinosuchus (an alligatoroid bigger than a school bus!), and the Quetzalcoatlus northropi (the largest flying creature). Fossil finds from all three giants have been found in the park’s perimeter.

Xiphactinus, a giant spiny fish from the Late Cretaceous Era

We exited the park via the Persimmon Gap entrance, and spent one more night in the area, and drove home the next day. The bluebonnets, Indian paintbrushes, and other wildflowers were a welcome sight to us as we headed home to make a decision about Chris’s Pacific Crest Trail hike plans.

A butterfly does his thing

Road Trip: Utah, Idaho, Yellowstone, Colorado, New Mexico

bison in front of steam geysers Yellowstone national park Wyoming

After a couple of days in Reno getting all the playa dust off of ourselves and our stuff, and generally recovering from Burning Man (does anyone ever really recover from Burning Man?), we headed to Utah. We went to Salt Lake City and their awesome Visitor Center (seriously, they gave us espressos, biscotti, popcorn, and great brochures), visited Temple Square, and also spent some time out at Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake, where you can float in the salty water, drive amongst bison and sheep, and hike.

Salt Lake City Temple

Chris Floating in Salt Lake

Antelope Island Bison

Heading into Idaho, we decided to stop and see Shoshone Falls, and were glad we did. It’s a beautiful park and not to be missed if you have the time for a quick stop.

Shoshone Falls

Driving east, we stopped next at Craters of the Moon National Park. We camped for a night there, and visited each of the stopping points on the seven mile park loop. What a strange and fantastic landscape! The 750,000 acres of volcanic debris are the perfect setting for NASA’s Mars experiments, and gives the visitor a glimpse into what our world looked like in the time of the volcanoes.

Craters Of The Moon National Park

Craters of the Moon National Park

And then we were in Yellowstone National Park! We were able to get three nights’ at a campground, and we spent the first day going to see Old Faithful and the lower geyser basin.  On our second day, we drove to Lake Yellowstsone (it’s huge!) and also checked out the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. On the third day, we went to Mammoth Falls and some of the other mudpots, geysers, and hot springs. And everywhere we went we saw animals, from pronghorn deer, to elk, to bison. Even though it was after Labor Day, the park was still really crowded- and the nights got down to 34 degrees! After three nights I had had enough and was ready to head south.

Chris Capturing the Beauty of Yellowstone

An Elk at Yellowstone

Mammoth Falls

We drove south through Grand Teton National Park, where we saw a huge grizzly bear! Seriously huge, probably 600 pounds. That, coupled with the extreme beauty of the Tetons, made it an awesome day. A park not to be missed.

The Tetons

Wildlife at Grand Teton National Park

A grizzly bear!

We drove through Cheyenne, WY next, and stopped for some excellent barbecue at Tasty Bones, and visited a really great- and free!- museum on Wyoming’s history.  Some surprisingly interesting stuff in there!

Cheyenne, Wyoming

Instead of taking the boring ol’ highway south, we drove through Rocky Mountain National Park on the way from Cheyenne to Colorado Springs. We timed our drive around sunset, and saw tons of elk and deer, as well as some beautiful fall colors. We spent the night in Winter Park, a very cute ski town.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Next we spent a couple of days at Colorado Springs, home of the Air Force Academy. Mike took each of us up flying in a Cessna, so we got to see Colorado Springs from above. We also visited Garden of the Gods and drove to the top of Pike’s Peak.

Garden of the Gods, seen from above

Chris and Deah at Pike’s Peak

Leaving Colorado Springs, we headed west a little bit and passed through Great Sand Dunes National Park. Huuuuge sand dunes! There was no way I was making it even to the top of the first one. Check out how tiny the people look in this photo below:

Chris at Great Sand Dunes National Park

We arrived in Durango and spent two nights with two old friends of mine, Paul and Julie. We got to catch up with everything that’s happening in their lives, and we also got to drive out to see Mesa Verde National Park. These mesa-top alcove pueblos date back to the 13th century and give tons of clues about life in those times, while still leaving us with basic questions about the cliff dwellers.

Mesa Verde National Park

A Kiva at Mesa Verde

From Durango we headed to New Mexico, where my friend Karen had invited us for an evening with her family. We spent the day wandering around Manhattan Project National Historic Park, which I really enjoyed. I had no idea there was a boys’ Ranch School on the site previously, and that it was appropriated by the War Department. We got to wander through some homes on Bathtub Row, and then we visited the Bradbury Science Museum– a super hands-on and informative museum about the Los Alamos Research Laboratory.

Los Alamos Ranch School

Oppenheimer’s house at Los Alamos

Between Los Alamos and Santa Fe, we had time to make a very quick stop in at Bandelier National Park- home to multi-storied alcove cliff homes dating back to the 1400s, as well as the remnants of a larger circular village named Tyuonyi, with over 500 rooms.

Deah at Bandelier National Park

Tyuioni village

We walked around historic Santa Fe, including their beautiful church dating back to 1610, and of course ate tons of New Mexican food. On the way out of town, we spent the afternoon at Meow Wolf, a very interesting and strange immersive art experience. At $25, it’s pretty expensive, but it is such a unique experience that I’d recommend checking it out- there’s one coming to Denver and to Las Vegas soon. It’s too hard to describe in words so here’s a few pictures.

Santa Fe Cathedral

Red or Green?

Meow Wolf

We took the Turquoise Trail from Santa Fe to Albuquerque, and then stayed with two of our friends from Burning Man, Alex and Debbie, at their home near Sandia Peak. A rainstorm rolled in and we watched it through the massive windows of their house, overlooking the city. We had a great evening with them as we talked about our Burning Man experiences and thoughts on the festival and travel in general.

Watching the rain pass over Albuquerque

In Albuquerque the next day, we strolled through historic old town. Our favorite part was the Albuquerque Museum, which has seven galleries, of which the New Mexico Jewelry exhibit was our favorite. Amazing craftsmanship of both old and new jewelry, ranging from silver and turquoise to feathers and other found materials. Worth going to, and a very inexpensive museum at $6.

Albuquerque Museum

That was our furthest point west for this leg of the trip- we turned east and passed into Texas (my home state). We stayed the night in Amarillo, where we visited Carhenge (also known as Cadillac Ranch), a series of 10 Cadillacs that were buried in a farm field back in the 60’s. From there we went through Lubbock, keeping an eye out for fun street murals and Buddy Holly memorabilia (he was from there). And then finally we arrived in Arlington, Texas, my hometown, where some catching up with family and friends will now occur!


We fly to Nepal on October 15, so click the “Follow” button down below to get a post about our trekking there!

Have you been to any of these states? What was your favorite things to see there? What part of vacations do you like best- wild animals, beautiful scenery, or catching up with friends and family?