I was lucky enough to have a big brother who wanted to tag along for the first couple weeks of my trip. After we finished moving my stuff into storage close to his home in San Antonio, we hit the road towing my Land Cruiser – first stop Big Bend.
The Drive to Big Bend
Leaving San Antonio at 6 a.m., we headed northwest on I-10 through Boerne and Kerrville, before I-10 shoots due west around Junction. By 10:30, we reached Fort Stockton and pulled off to refuel both car and bellies. Some quick Yelp research revealed Mi Casita as a local Tex-Mex favorite, and this close to the border we couldn’t resist. Murals depicting lush landscapes, florescent lights buzzing overhead, and spices wafting from the kitchen made this exactly the authentic Tex-Mex stop we were looking for, and we weren’t disappointed. This was our last chance to indulge ourselves before a week’s worth of camping food so we gorged. An enchilada plate, quesadillas, and a smothered burrito later, we were happy and back on the road.
When you get to Fort Stockton, you feel like you are just about to the park, but then you are still another hour and a half from the park entrance. This drive is down two-lane roads passing through expansive ranch land. As you continue, the mountains start looming larger and larger. We finally got to the park entrance at 2 p.m. and had to drive even further in to reach the main visitors station.
We spent the first two nights camped in the Airstream at the Chisos Basin Campground. There were no hookups available, so we didn’t get to test out the new bathroom facilities, but the campground did have toilets and running water. The first night, we grilled out and grabbed beer from the little tourist shop up the hill by the lodge. Always up for whatever is local, we found “The Beer from Out Here”, a beer from nearby Big Bend Brewing Company in Alpine, TX.
Our first full day in the park, we went and cached water for our backpacking journey the next day on the Outer Mountain Loop, dropping water at Juniper Canyon Road and Blue Creek Ranch. The park has a very unreliable water supply, especially during the warmer months, so it is advised that you either carry all of your water in, or cach it along your route. For the 3-day hike we were planning, carrying enough water with the rugged and steep terrain was nearly impossible, which is why we opted to store, as many hikers do, water along the way. That evening, we prepped our backpacks, drank more beers, and hit the sack early in anticipation of our early departure.
Hiking the Outer Mountain Loop
This hike is a strenuous 30-mile hike, and as the name suggests, loops in a circuit around the Chisos Mountains. We had obtained back country permits for 3 nights, but really wanted to cover it in just 2 nights.
- Day 1: We set off from the Basin hiking up the Pinnacles trail. Even with water cached, we still had to carry pretty heavy packs, and this first section was a doozy. In the first 3.5 miles, we ascended 1600 feet and had sweeping views of the the Basin below. Stashing our packs in the bear proof boxes, we slackpacked our way to the top of Emory Peak, the park’s highest peak and had a brief lunch of jerky, nuts, and lots of gatorade. The second half of the day, we hiked at a leisurely pace, descending 3000 feet over 6 plus miles into the desert below. We had cached water at both recommended locations, so we went and fetched our first supply at Juniper Canyon Road. With a backcountry permit, you can pick your campsite as long as it’s far enough off of the trail. The first night, we laid our packs out without a tent and saw the most spectacular stars I’ve ever seen in my life.
- Day 2: We woke up day 2, and brewed some coffee with our portable pour over (totally worth the extra weight). After a breakfast of granola with evaporated milk and dried fruit, we strapped the packs on and headed out on our ten-mile hike. By 11 a.m., we were pouring sweat – it was really hot and the trail was really rocky and exposed, with lots of elevation changes. We stopped to examine the ruins of Dodson Ranch and snacked on GORP while we took a breather. We made it to Homer Wilson Ranch and excitedly retrieved our 2nd stash of water for the cache bin. Some generous soul had left behind 2 beers labeled “free”, so we were treated to happy hour by an unknown but very loved friend as the sun started setting. A few rounds of cards, and some macaroni and cheese later, we settled into a deep sleep by 8:30, wiped out from the day.
- Day 3: The final day of our epic hike, we started with an arduous 2500 foot ascent. Panting our way up the 5.5 mile trail into the woodlands, we stopped frequently to hydrate and chow down on serious quantities of salty snacks. But the hike was worth it. From the switchbacks we saw increasingly stunning views and finally arrived on flat trails carving through the Laguna Meadow. The final three miles took us down into the Chisos Basin, where we could see our gleaming Airstream waiting for us at it’s parking spot near the Chisos Mountain Lodge. Completely drained but content and feeling accomplished, we guzzled beers and chowed down steaks at the lodge.
Big Bend was an epic start to my epic journey across the country.