Amusement Parks
National Parks
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There & Back

Big Bend

Big Bend
Hot Springs
Lost Mine
Chisos Mountain
Rio Grande
Longhorn Ranch
San Antonio
The Big Bend Adventure begins long before the park. The drive out, especially for anyone who has never been to Arkansas or Texas, is a fascinating introduction to what was The Old West before anyone made it up to Wyoming or Montana. From Lexington, we head down to Nashville and pick up I-40. We follow it to Memphis, where the road runs right past The Pyramid (right), over Mud Island and across the Mississippi. How wide the Mississippi is at this point depends on how much rain has fallen recently between here and Montana. But you'll head West through the Arkansas Flats, a two hour stretch of lowland famous for its cotton, soybeans and rice, and if the Mississippi is running full, it will expand out across those flats. You may see water laying in fields for miles and miles. Brace yourself for a rough ride through Arkansas. They have the worst maintained interstates in the nation, and there will be enough trucks on the road to prevent you from moving over to avoid potholes or rough patches. As you're coming through Little Rock, pick up 630, then I-30 Southwest. About an hour south of the city we come to Hot Springs, where we like to stop on the way down and back. We like to stop for one night in one direction and two nights in the other. See the Hot Springs section.

On the second day you need an early start because you have a long drive. You're going to take I-30 down to Dallas and I-20 west. This part of Arkansas is flat and wooded all the way to Texarkana, and once you enter Texas the trees gradually thin out until they disappear entirely. Driving through Dallas is your worst nightmare, but once you get past it and adjacent Fort Worth civilization falls away and the oil derricks begin. First time visitors to the West will have their minds blown by the wide open spaces, the distant horizons and the emptiness. You might want to keep your eyes open to the left (South), where you'll pass one of the nation's largest wind farms, a series of huge propellor blades silhoutted against the sky for several miles.

We recommend you do this trip as a large loop. On the way down, you go West from Dallas Fort Worth and come South into Big Bend. On the way back, we suggest you go East out of the park, spend at least two nights in San Antonio, then head North back to Dallas and home.

If anyone in your group is a football fan, you should stop off the interstate for a minute in Odessa. For this is the home of Ratliff Stadium, America's greatest high school football facility. Shown in an aerial view at left, Ratliff is the home of Odessa Permean High School, arguably the nation's winningest high school football team. It has more state championships than any other school in Texas, where they take their football very seriously. Ratliff seats 20,000, is sold out in season tickets, and has parking for five thousand cars. Odessa was the subject of the famous book and film "Friday Night Lights." The movie was filmed here. A tv series based on it had opening scenes and certain other key scenes at the stadium and the high school filmed here but most of the scenes were filmed on stage sets in Hollywood.

The Monahan Sand Dunes are just 20 miles west of Odessa, where we suggest you stop for the night. See the Dunes section for details. .

You don't have near as far to drive the third day. You're done with interstates. From Monahan, head south across state highway 18 to Fort Stockton and pick up 385 to Marathon, then on into Big Bend National Park. Stop in Fort Stockton. It has the last grocery store and drug store you'll see for over a week. Any fruit, vegetables or other fresh items you want must be bought here, as must be shampoo, toothpaste and other hygiene supplies. You should also stop at the Roadrunner statue (left). You've seen quite a few of these funny birds, with their beep-beep cry, racing your vehicle, long legs spinning so fast they look like a fanblade. You'll see quite a few more on the way to and across the park. You should also gas up in Fort Stockton, since the next pumps are at Panther Junction inside the park. As you head South out of Fort Stockton, mountains begin appearing in the distance on three sides. These are the Santiago, Sierra Del Carmen, Sierra Del Caballo Muerto, Rossilos, Christmas,.White and Black mountain ranges. The Chisos mountains begin showing up in the distance south of Persimmon Gap, where you enter the park.

Turn right at Panther Junction, drive about a mile on 118, then turn left on Chisos Basin Road. This switchbacks up and over the volcanic rim, dropping down into the crater to the lodge and campground. The road down to the campground turns right just before the lodge. The tent sites are a mile down the hill below the lodge, store, and visitor center. You have some choices. There is a separate loop for groups, but we don't like their sites as well as the regular ones. If you don't have more than a vanful, we recommend just reserving two or three adjacent regular sites. Within the regular loop, there is a lower section reserved for tents only, right at the Windows trailhead. There is privacy down there, but we don't like the sites as well. Switchbacks prevent most RVs from getting into the crater, so the whole campground is pretty much tents. We highly recommend sites #1 and #3, just to your left coming in. Above them is half a mile of trees and brush. You're secluded, but close to the rest rooms and there is plenty of level ground. You're in the desert where water is scarce, so you have no showers. What you will have are mule deer and Javelinas, right in your campsite, grazing alongside your tent completely without fear.

There are various large rocks to climb right in the campground. Expect 100 degree days but cool nights. A fleece bag will do.We recommend camping here three nights. You need two day hikes (Window and Lost Mine) to acclimate to this high desert. On the third day you can begin your backpacking loop (see Chisos Mountain page), and when you come down from that you'll be ready for two nights at the Longhorn Ranch and one at the Chisos Mountain Lodge.

Of course, if you're not into camping, there are cabins and a lodge just up the hill. They have the advantage of showers. There's also a great restaurant in the lodge and a store across the parking lot. We like to camp the first part of the trip and stay at the lodge or cabins toward the end, but you could always stay up there the whole week. We also like to drive over and stay at Lone Star Ranch two nights, but it's right on the edge of the national park, so you could stay in the lodge or a cabin all week and drive back and forth to the attractions we recommend on the western side. However, keep in mind that camping out here in the desert is a special experience, one to be treasured.

Heading home, pick up Texas 90 at Marathon and follow it east to San Antonio. It more or less parallels the Rio Grande, which will wind in and out of sight. You'll see the small town football stadium boasting of its Fighting Cacti ("We're Gonna Stick You - Good"). But you absolutely must stop at Langtry, where a mile into town you find the original saloon of Judge Roy Bean. Appointed by Texas to eradicate outlaws so the railroad and miners could operate, Bean proclaimed himself The Law West of the Pecos and maintained order for 30 years. He conducted trials in his saloon. He spent his whole life in love with the actress Lilly Langtry, for whom he named the town, the saloon and his famous hotel, which was unfortunately destroyed by fire. He travelled long distances to watch Langtry sing and dance, and often invited her to visit him. She finally did --- but he died just before she arrived. Adjacent to the wonderfully preserved saloon is a great visitor center and the finest cactus garden in Texas. You'll probably eat lunch in Laredo, and reach San Antonio for dinner.
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