In mid-December, I traveled to Big Bend National Park to get away from the cold and wet East coast weather with my business Treks West Tours. With temps in the 60’s, it was a much nicer place to be than my home in Maryland. We flew into El Paso and made the 300 mile drive down to Terlingua Ghostown, which was our base for the trip. I think part of Big Bend’s allure is that it’s so remote and to get to it you really have to want to!
The first hike was the Hot Springs Trail, a six mile round trip hike that meanders along and above the Rio Grande. The prime destination for most people on this trail is Langford Hot Springs, which had about six people soaking in the 100 plus degree waters. Our goal was to keep on trekking and complete the trail. It’s a moderate hike with great views of the river and old Mexico. We came across several spots where Mexican craftsmen had crossed the river and left some of their creations out for sale (completely illegal). We passed on the trinkets but got a feel for what it means to be on the border with just a narrow river separating us from Mexico.
The Window Trail was next, combined with Oak Spring trail, about 9.5 miles total. This is one of the most popular trails in the park. It takes you to the Window, a pour-off which offers expansive views of the area. We met about a dozen other people along the way (mainly Texans) and engaged in pleasant conversation with them. We decided to combine the Oak Spring trail onto the Window trail which adds about 4 miles to the hike. If you like steep sided, narrow trails (I do!) then Oak Spring is one you’ll enjoy immensely. These trails start in the Basin, a depression in the very heart of the Chisos Mountains, the only mountain range entirely encompassed within a national park. Another great thing about hiking in the Basin is the probability of seeing wildlife. On our way back up to the trailhead, we saw high above on a hillside a large Black Bear, which was really cool! It was nearly perfect, the Bear was far enough away not to pose any danger, but close enough to really observe his or her movements!
Another trail we did was the Chimneys trail, a 5 mile desert hike. The hike wonders through the Chihuahuan desert to the Chimneys, a series of rock formations about 60-70 feet above the desert floor. If you explore around the Chimneys you’ll also find some ancient Indian petroglyphs and pictographs adding yet another layer to this amazing area. We also did the obligatory Santa Elena Canyon trail, 1.7 miles total right into the mouth of the Canyon looking up at 1,500 foot high shear walls on either side of you. Big Bend National Park is a fabulous place to explore!
The other aspect of this area that makes it so special is Terlingua Ghostown. No trip to the region is complete without spending at least a few nights in this former cinnabar mining town. Amidst the adobe and rock ruins you’ll find unique lodging, great places to eat, excellent music and the friendliest people you’d ever want to meet. The first couple of nights we stayed at Upstairs at the Mansion, which for the most part is a ruin and was once the mansion of the owner of the Chisos Mining Company. The Proprietress, Kaci Fullwood, has created a one-of-kind lodging experience for adventurous minded people undaunted by the word ruin. The wing that you stay in is not a ruin, but has been restored to its original early 1900’s condition. This place has awesome views over the Ghostown and of the Chisos Mountains. We had an impromptu songfest on the Mansion porch when a couple of talented musicians happened to stop by with their guitars and harmonicas.
Another Terlingua tradition is hanging out with the local folks on the porch of the Terlingua Trading Company and having a beer or glass of wine. This is just such a cool place! The other nights we spent down the hill at the El Dorado Hotel, which has within it the High Sierra Bar & Grill. The owners Herman and Deanna are super friendly and welcome you like you were old friends. They offer you comfortable rooms and the High Sierra has great food and really cold beer! If you’re lucky you’ll get to meet Dr. Doug, one of the nicest guys I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. Dr. Doug is Terlingua’s greatest ambassador and promoter. He’s a fountain of wisdom on how to simplify and enjoy life. It’s a must when visiting Terlingua to stop in and meet the Dr. and have a drink with him, he’ll make you laugh. Needless to say I’ve fallen in love with this region and have made it the feature destination of Treks West Tours. It just encompasses so much of what the West represents that you’ve got to come experience it!
About the Author:
Brian Wrabley is the owner of Treks West Tours. Treks West Tours provides a total vacation experience to some of the most mesmerizing national parks, monuments and wilderness areas in the nation!