My Solo Trip to Big Bend National Park

Published: 2021-09-15 18:50:09
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I have been visiting National Parks with friends and family members for many years. It was in 2016 that I traveled to Big Bend National Park solo and without a plan. Hiking or heading to the back country was not an option for me. I was struggling with Crohn’s disease hence suffered from extreme fatigue and needed basic comfort during my travels. Two days before I flew to Midland, Texas, I booked the lodge inside the Park at Chisos Mountain. I landed at Midland airport on July 23rd, 2016 mid-morning, took my rental and started my long drive taking US 385 S to Marathon, Texas. I was delving into photography those days and had recently took a basic photography course .My plan was to drive through the park, stop where I felt like, take photographs and write. In the night I wanted to watch the stars and gaze at the giant Milky Way. I had recently been divorced, diagnosed with an aggressive autoimmune disease and felt lost most of the time. Nature and books were my only source of sustenance. I learnt and rebooted from every trip I was taking in wilderness.
National Parks in our country are jewels, each and every one of us must take an effort to visit as many as possible and do our part to leave them the way we found them. Big Bend encompasses an area of 801,163 acres, located in Southwest Texas, bordering Mexico. It protects more than thousand species of plants and a huge number of species of birds, reptiles and mammals. The maximum average temperature during July is around 92 degrees F. The park don’t provide any drinking water , therefore I stopped for some Mexican food for lunch at a local Taqueria, filled up my gas tank , bought few gallons of water and started the last stretch of the drive to the Park. To be honest, the drive from Midland to Marathon is not at all interesting, it’s about 165 miles on US 385 S and there are transitional areas where stopping is not a good idea. But the moment you leave Marathon , the scenery starts changing and some how you feel so little amidst the vast area of arid land on both sides of the high way, not a single car ahead or behind me , sun scorching through the sun roof of my car , clear blue sky above . I didn’t feel lonely or lost anymore, I felt free, I felt I could do this all by myself and anticipated to have an excellent experience. It took about 45 mins to reach the park entrance from Marathon, approximately 42 miles drive. Make a note; this is just the beginning of another 26 miles to Panther Junction where I stopped for maps, some guidance and tips from the Rangers. I also paid $20 park entrance fee. The Chisos Basin is another 10 miles from there high up in the mountains, it has a 15% grade uphill. The drive was scary in the beginning, but after a little while I was so much at awe of my surroundings that it didn’t matter. For a moment I stopped and took some shots of the basin and then carried on. Finally I reached the Chisos Mountain Lodge, checked in at the reception and then went to my room which was a short drive downhill from the Office/Souvenir shop. In fact the restaurant is attached to it and has a beautiful view of Chisos Mountain. The room was comfy with basic amenities and a clean bed. After having a warm bath I went for dinner at the restaurant. They had a limited menu but the food was good. I was so tired that I wanted to go to bed to start early the next morning .But before that I did take some photographs and gaze at the stars after viewing a stunning sunset.Next morning after a sumptuous much needed breakfast at the restaurant I headed for the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. The thirty-mile Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive leads to the Castolon Historic District and Santa Elena Canyon. It is indeed a must see, especially if you are trying to drive and see most of the Park. I stopped at the Sotol Vista Overlook. From the viewpoint you could see the desert floor and the entire western side of Big Bend National Park, including magnificent Santa Elena Canyon in the distance. The next stop was Mule Ears Viewpoint and then finally reached Santa Elena Canyon. The Rio Grande River sliced a 1,500 ft. vertical chasm of pure limestone and formed breath taking canyons in the park. The left wall of the Canyon is in Mexico while the right wall is in Texas. I stopped to walk down to the river and spend some time taking photos and writing my journal to jot down my experience and feelings at that moment. On my way back I stopped at the Panther Junction and headed towards the other side of the park to Rio Grande Village, it was about 21 miles. The strange part was I was not even listening to the radio this whole time. I was content, I felt full, I felt free. Lot of memories came to my mind throughout the way, things that had happened, things that I could have avoided and things that I didn’t have control of. As tears rolled down my eyes, I thought to myself most of us have no idea what we are capable of until we experience hardships. I could never have imagined not being healthy , being alone and planning to coming to Big Bend for the first time in my life after living in Texas for 16 years . One thing I did realize was in nature you need no one, you can get lost in its beauty and grandeur. I felt I was sharing my life with everything around me, the cacti, the dessert flowers, the mountains. I was not alone, Universe had my back.
Since my flight was in the evening, I had to start my trip back to Midland airport from Panther Junction .I stopped for gas at the park gas station and then started my drive back. After I came back home, the next day I wanted to share my experience with my parents hence called home. My mother was talking to me and about 10 minutes into the conversation she started screaming helplessly and I couldn’t fathom what could have happened. Long story short, my father was making his morning tea and had fallen down in the kitchen floor. Shortly after that he was hospitalized and we found out his Cancer had come back after 7 years. I don’t want to end with a sad note because it was extremely inspiring in many ways for me. The next few months were hard for my family as we were almost living in the hospital, fighting to save my father’s life. Throughout that time, I went back to those beautiful photographs I had taken at Big Bend , shared it with my father, inspiring him to fight the disease and overcome it so that we can visit the park together. I lost my father last year, I guess it was his time to pass on, yet I know in my heart he viewed Big Bend through my experience and had a hope in life till the very end.
I encourage every single person to visit a National Park solo. It is a different experience that can’t be explained in words. It increases your confidence in yourself, nature inspires you and the entire time you get to practice introspection. You definitely have a quality time with yourself .Since then I have traveled solo to many state parks and national parks and I intend to start camping soon since I am much healthier these days.
P.S. THE BEST THING TO DO AT A NATIONAL PARK IS READ MARY OLIVER.

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