Texas Travel: Big Bend Day 1

I interrupt your regularly scheduled Graves Academy COVID-19 Home School Schedule to bring you something a little more positive.

This past week, during our regularly scheduled Spring Break (and before everything blew up with COVID-19 affecting almost every part of our world), Garen and I took a trip to Big Bend.  It was actually my Christmas gift.  He gave me a great new camera backpack that had a map of Texas and a great book about Big Bend in it.  He also gave me books about Mesa Verde and Carsbad Caverns/Guadalupe Mountains but we elected to take this trip to Big Bend as our Texas Road-trip get away.  The timing worked out great since the bigs were with their Joe Daddy and the littles spent Spring Break with Mammy and their cousin, Harper, in Hamilton.  We felt almost guilty doing a kid-free Spring Break….. but obviously not guilty enough to hold us back.

We took upwards of 1,300 photos between the two of us, so although this looks like a lot for Day 1, it’s just a fraction of it.  We left on Monday and made it all the way to Alpine, where we stayed the night in preparation for Day 1.  Monday also happened to be my birthday and I was lucky enough to get to eat at the original Reata, which happened to be right next to our hotel in Alpine.  The one in Fort Worth is where Garen and I spend many of our birthdays and every anniversary.

Big Bend Road-trip Day 1 schedule:

  • We woke up early in Alpine and went to get coffee at Cedar Coffee Supply
    • They don’t open until 7 and isn’t the best option if you’re wanting to leave early for Big Bend but it worked for us this first day of the trip since that’s about as early as we felt like getting moving after the long drive in.
    • They serve very small servings but the coffee is fantastic- just know you’re not going to be able to get Venti size without ordering x2, which I did my second and third rounds.
    • My new favorite coffee is from there- latte with almond milk and honey lavendar.  Weird but fantastic.
  • We drove from Alpine to Big Bend and got there around 8:15ish.
    • People were really just starting to show up at this point and we didn’t have trouble getting into the park.
    • We bought a National Parks pass, which gets us in for an entire year- we see it as either an incentive to go to more National parks or as a donation to the park system if we don’t, which is a win either way.
    • We saw this guy after we got into the park.  We were surprised that we really didn’t see as much wildlife as we expected but the beauty of the park outweighed not seeing wildlife by far!  I call him the Lone Coyote (you know, instead of Lone Wolf- ok, I’ll stop the cheese!)

    • This was our view on the way in as well.  So beautiful (and maybe a little unsettling) the way the clouds came in over the mountains.

    • We tried to hike the Lost Pines trail but were unable to find parking so we went for our backup hike- the Window Trail, which was not really a backup so much as the next hike on our list. 
    • It’s a pretty good hike but totally worth it.  5.6 miles total in and out.  

    • It starts and finishes back at the Chisos Basin Trailhead.
    • There were also a lot of people parked here by the time we got there- it’s one of the biggest campsites in the park and where the lodge is.
    • Don’t let the fear of too many people deter you.  The view and hike is worth it.
    • There’s a lot of sun on the first part of the trip, so make sure you slather up with some good SPF or wear long sleeves and maybe plan on re-applying half-way through (we did at the window, which was the turnaround).

    • Look how happy this guy is to be out in the wilderness!

    • Beware of the stairs.  There’s a few sets of stairs (thanks to the good ol’ CCC, I think) to help make the last stretch to the Window a little less guesswork through the rocks/canyon.

    • As I said, the views on this trail are fantastic.  We just loved the agave plants too.  These are called the Harvard Agave (I think- please horticulture friends correct me if I’m wrong).  Lots of cool ones on this trail.  The sad thing is that they’re all dying.  They die after they bloom.  I guess beauty really is pain.

    • As I said, the hike wasn’t the easiest- moderate I think is what they label it on the NPS website for Big Bend mountain hikes.  I would agree.  Totally worth it.  I mean we look happy, right? Thanks to the awesome couple who took our photo for us.

  • Our next hike was over on the Grapevine Hills Trail to see the Balanced Rock.
    • This is considered a desert hike- see more desert hikes from Big Bend NPS page.
    • It is a good 7+ mile drive on a VERY bumpy dirt road to get back there, so don’t be surprised by that.  We were in Garen’s truck and it was no issue.  There were also people in mini-vans and sedans so I guess it was ok.  I think we’d be fine in the Expedition if we go back but we’d need to slow it down a lot.
    • I definitely recommend a big hat and some sun-proof clothing or lots of SPF.  Make it a morning hike if it’s hot.  It was still pleasant when we went in the early afternoon because of a nice breeze but it could’ve easily been sweltering during Spring Break.

    • Even though it’s a desert hike, there’s some climb to it.
    • And some great views.

    • We took our time on this one, knowing we were going to stay in the park until around sunset to make sure we caught that.  This was a good one for us to check out the desert plant life (and bees and flies).
    • This is one that we think we can do with the kid fairly easily being only 2.2 miles round-trip since there’s plenty of things to check out as we go.  As I said, it would definitely be a morning hike for us should we do it that way.

    • No, this isn’t the balanced rock, but the pose seemed appropriate.  Some kids gave me the idea.  There were quite a few families on this trail, making us miss ours but also knowing they’ll love it when we come back with them along.

    • Throughout the park, they actually had pretty great signage.  I loved the rusted signs.  This one was a warning almost- steep climb ahead.  There were a few moms that decided they weren’t going to do it.  I personally didn’t think it was that bad but I can see how someone with some knee problems would have a hard time with the hike to the top.
  • From there we headed over to the Santa Elena Canyon Overlook.
    • It took a good 30-45 minutes to get there from Grapevine Hills.  This park is HUGE and you’re not going to be going 70 on all of the roads like you do on the highways so be prepared for that.
    • We hiked Santa Elena Canyon Trail, which is only 1.7 miles in and back
    • You start out at the basin of the river though and down there you’ll find that there are a lot of people- even people swimming in the Rio Grande.  Looked a little dirtier here that I would’ve liked to swim in but whatever floats your boat I guess.

  • Although it’s not a long hike, there’s a pretty big climb up as your going through the canyon, with a nice set of stone stairs.  After hiking the other two hikes on the same day, our legs were talking to us by the time we came down (and they weren’t using very kid-appropriate language either).
  • But the views were all worth it.  It wasn’t the sunset with colors that we were hoping for but the light did come in very pretty still.
  • Big Bend NPS considers this one of their River Hikes and there are a few others we did that you can find on their list that are worth your time.

  • The rest of our day was uncharted territory- we headed to Terlingua, where we *thought* we had a room but didn’t.  It was my fault- not the hotel’s.  Although, we had a VERY tasty hamburger there and a much-needed beer before we headed back to Alpine for the night.
  • Lemons to lemonade- the hotel we were supposed to stay in had a water-heater you had to turn on and wait 30 minutes for and also had terrible beds (as we found out from some friends we made while on the trails a few days later).  We enjoyed our stay at The Biker Hotel/Old Gringo in Alpine, TX and it worked out great for the remainder of the trip (since we decided only 2 weeks before we went that we were going)!

Stay tuned for more from our Texas Road-trip to Big Bend!  May you all be safe and healthy.



Published by Liz

Crazy busy wife, mother of four kids and a cat, employee, friend, amateur chef, and wanna-be crafty person who often times is running around like a chicken with his head cut off.

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