Driving through the brown and barren land of West Texas, it’s hard to imagine that much more than an oil rig or cattle ranch could exist out there. Even when you begin to see signs for Big Bend National Park, there is still no indication of the beauty that lies ahead.
As you pull up to the ranger station to pay the entrance fee, you may ask yourself, “Are we really here?” In a world where national parks have their own Instagram and Facebook accounts, it’s not uncommon to see a line of cars waiting to get in. I once waited over an hour to get into Utah’s Zion Park, slouched over my steering wheel and inching forward at a snail’s pace, with a mile-long string of brake lights in front of me. It felt like I was at an amusement park, not a place people go to celebrate the outdoors.
Luckily, Big Bend is different than most parks. The closest major cities are eight hours away, it encompasses more than 800,000 acres, and once you enter, it’s at least an hour’s drive before you get to the visitors’ center. Even during its busy season, you might only see a handful of people over an entire weekend.
Many times I’ll explore a park for a single geographic feature—maybe it’s a mountain, a canyon, or a body of water. Big Bend has them all. You can spend the morning walking through the arid Chihuahuan Desert trying to find tarantulas, hike all afternoon to the top of Emory Peak and dangle your feet high above the Chisos Mountains below, and watch the sun set over Mexico while taking a relaxing soak in the hot springs along the Rio Grande. Never before have I seen so many ecosystems come together in such perfect symbiosis. And once the sun goes down, another part of the park quite literally shines: the night sky. With no cities or towns nearby, there is near-zero light pollution, and I often sleep without the fly on my tent so I can marvel at the Milky Way and stars shooting overhead.
They say everything is bigger in Texas, and as you drive down the miles and miles of dirt roads that run through the park, it’s easy to see that Big Bend is no exception. Come here to get away, come here to sightsee, come here to hike—and most importantly, come here to feel dwarfed by the earth that surrounds us.