Big Bend Chat
Big Bend or Bust! => Suggested Itineraries => Topic started by: Brent on June 29, 2015, 11:10:14 AM
Thank you in advance for any recommendations you can give. I have a family of 6, ages 50,48,23,22,19,&17. Everyone is in good physical shape and adventurous. We would like to go to Big Bend in the next week. We are also considering visiting the McDonald Observatory and seeing the Marfa Lights. Our dates are somewhat flexible. We have July 3 - July 10 available, but would like to be gone around 6 days total, including travel time. We are driving a Yukon XL from San Angelo, Texas, so we're looking at a 4+ hour drive. We are not bringing camping supplies so will need sleeping arrangements.
Should we leave on July 4 and visit the McDonald Observatory that day/evening? Is it crowded on July 4? Should we stay in Alpine or drive to a destination in Big Bend that evening?
I would like suggestions on what to do in Big Bend. I think my family would love a canoe/raft trip. Which one do you recommend and for how long? Do you recommend a guided or unguided trip? We also like to hike, so please suggest the trails we should take and a logistical order to hike them in.
I would also like a suggestion on where to stay - Lajitas, Terlinqua, BBNP? I also could use a recommendation on cabins or cottages. Chisos Mountain Lodge?
Should we bring our own food and cook where we're staying? Any suggestions on places to eat out will be appreciated too.
Should we try to see the Marfa lights on our way home? Is there a fun place to stay in Marfa or should we drive to Fort Davis?
Thank you very much for any recommendations you can give. I appreciate your time and experience!
July is not the most marvelous time to go to far-West Texas and The Bend, but there are things to do.
Any of the brief hikes in the major parks will probably have to be done early and with plenty of water. By noon, it can get pretty awful (but you are in San Angelo, so you know all about that). I'd stick with the hikes in/near the Chisos Basin (the Lost Mine trail is considered to be Texas' second best). The Santa Elana and Boquillas Canyon hikes, out of the Basin, are also nice early or late. Avoid the open desert hikes this time of year (period).
I have come to really enjoy the Hot Springs as a nice way to spend an evening - on the east side of the National Park are some old hot springs that are nice for just chilling out and star gazing. The views of the mountains in Mexico (the Del Carmens) to the east of there are simply breathtaking in the evening. It so dark out there that you can just about count on something interesting scooting across the night sky.
The #1 hike in Texas? That'd be Big Bend's South Rim hike. Opinions vary as the the suitability of such a hike in mid-summer. You are high (much of the hike is well above 5,000 ft.). Much of the trail is shaded. But it is a long, tough, hot haul for one mid-summer day. Splitting the hike into two days and spending the night on the Rim would be an option. Context: I'm 60 and I do a lot of backpacking - I'm sure that I wouldn't enjoy a one-day South-Rim hike in mid-summer. The pay-off view from the Rim is in the same conversation with the Grand Canyon (in my humble opinion).
Think about crossing the border/Rio Grande at Boquillas. You will not be crossing at a major international destination (at all!). Boquillas is a sleepy (maybe even catatonic) little border town, cute and quaint. Passports required.
Eating and sleeping arrangements near Big Bend National Park are very limited. In addition to the Chisos Basin (motel rooms; one restaurant) there are some additional rooms and restaurants at Study Butte/Terlingua. Some of the Study Butte/Terlingua amenities are not what you would call up-scale - taste differ, of course. There is also an up-scale resort area near Terlingua/Study Butte/Lajitas.
The Starlight Restaurant in Terlingua is really quite nice - especially if you factor in the local flavor - there are almost always some interesting characters soaking away their troubles at the bar. Be advised - the Starlight gets busy and stays busy when the park is busy (like on July 4).
You had better go with the guided canoe/raft trips. River tripping in the Bend is like most other enjoyable river tripping - it's the one or two tough moments that will make or break you. There are several guide operations in Terlingua. Compare the cost/trouble of hauling your own stuff out there with the convenience of an outfitter. The outfitters offer several different floats to fit your time and adventure quotient.
You might find that the Davis Mountains and Ft. Davis near McDonald Observatory are worth more of your time than a hit-n-run. I'm a sucker for Texas history and love old Ft. Davis.
The drive north from Terlingua/Lajitas to Presidio is considered to be THE drive in Texas.
The Marfa Lights have taken on an aura far beyond their actual dramatic impact. This is not to say that they are disappointing (if your expectations are not too overblown).
I am also a sucker for all things Big Bend and have always enjoyed the ranger programs offered in the basin in the evenings (my grown sons roll their eyes into a cramp at this suggestion).
Thinking about it, I wanta go with you!
Thank you very much for the detailed advice! I am working on an itinerary that takes into account your suggestions. I'll post when I get it finished.
If you want to go to the observatory, I highly recommend going to the star party at night. And if you do that, you don't want to stay too far away. Indian lodge at Davis mountains state park is a great place. And the park has some good little hikes. Plus the weather up in the "Texas alps" is quite nice. In fact, I'd say that fort Davis has the best weather in the entire state during the summer (because it is the biggest city). Ignore the Marfa lights, and focus on the fort Davis area.
In big bend, I wouldn't recommend doing anything much over a mile I the desert, and bring water. I've gone to Santa Elena canyon numerous times with my family in July, but plan on it being 110 degrees (yes, I've been there more than one when it was over 105).
For longer hikes, the lost mine trail is the best bang for your buck terms of view versus effort. 5.5 miles, and some decent elevation gain. Dprather is correct, the rim is "the hike ". But it's long, about 13 miles, and will take the whole day. Emory peak is a little shorter and gets you to the highest point in the park. The window trail is also good, and is best hiked in the morning.
+1 on the star parties at McDonald Observatory - call them for when they are scheduled.
I wanta go!
Stay in the Chisos Basin in the motel or cabins. With 6, the cabins might be more economical. As you hike up into the Chisos in July it typically gets significantly cooler. The sun however is still ferocious. I once spent a couple of nights camping in Laguna Meadow in late July. Hiked to the Rim. Pleasantly cool nights and mornings. Warm in afternoon. Century plants were blooming and most had a humming bird or two hanging around the bloom stalk. Birds, other fauna and the flora are a big part of the appeal for young folks. Take some good ID books so as figure out what you saw. Kids would love a hike to the Rim or up Emory Peak. Lost Mine Trail great too. Buy Natl. Geographic Trails Illustrated map of BBNP and study it before you go. If not available, root thoroughly through maps on BBNP web site.
Don't spread yourself too thin.
When your in Ft Davis check out CDRI http://www.bigbendchat.com/portal/forum/the-fort-davis-board/chihuahuan-desert-research-institute-cdri/
Your very close to Balmorhea SP, that water is said to have healing powers. The clarity is astounding, even where it's twenty feet deep. Well worth the stop.
In BBNP you could do Cattail falls in the morning, get an early start. Also Pine Canyon is a good summertime hike, again early start. They are both shady destinations, they require a full sun hike before you hit the shade.
Let me start by saying THANK YOU for all of your suggestions! Next, there is not enough time to do everything recommended, so please advise if you think I should change something. Also, if it looks like we can do more or should do less on a given day or rearrange a day let me know. We plan to bring sandwiches for lunch each day and cook dinner at our cabin. Here's the plan so far:
Drive to Big Bend and eat lunch on the way (6 hours)
Check into lodging in Terlingua (staying in cabin in Lajitas – not much available on my short notice)
Drive the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive then hike Santa Elena Canyon Trail (1.7 miles)
Eat at Starlight
Santa Elena Canyon river tour
Lost Mine Trail Hike (4.8 miles)
Boquillas Canyon Trail Hike (1.4 miles)
South Rim Trail Hike (14 miles)
BBSP Closed Canyon Hike (1.4 miles) – can we drive to this trailhead?
Check out of lodging
Drive to Fort Davis via Lajitas/Presidio (3 hours)
Attend Star Party at McDonald Observatory
Drive to Balmorhea for lodging
Hang out at Balmorhea SP
Drive Home (3.5 hours)
Home in time to attend a wedding!
I don't have time to order the National Geographic BBNP trail maps. Is it for sale in Terlingua?
Looks like a winner. Are you staying at the motel at the state park in balmoreah?
When I was a kid, we used to always go for a swim at bsp to finish off our bb trips.
You should be able to buy the maps at the panther junction ranger station, possibly also at the chisos ranger station or castalon store.
Have fun, should be a great trip!
Closed Canyon is right off the River Road (road between Lajitas and Presidio). Hike begins near the road.
Re: Natl. Geographic Trails Illustrated map of BBNP. Usually available at REI (maybe not one in San Angelo) or good outdoor equipment retailers. But, usually available at the visitor center at Panther Junction and possibly at the visitor center in the Basin. Worth going out of way to pick one up.
Could be dark by the time you leave Santa Elena Canyon Tr. Don't forget to take flashlights.
Your plan is aggressive. Wanta think about a rest day (day #5)?
When you eat at the Starlight, get ready to enjoy a super view of the Chisos Mtns from the Starlight's front porch - that porch is part of the Starlight experience
Your plan is aggressive. Wanta think about a rest day (day #5)?
I agree with DPrather here. Very aggressive schedule, especially on Day 1. The Ross Maxwell Highway is maybe the highlight of the park for me. You won't have time to explore it very much. The time to drive through the park is often underestimated.
I'd be tempted to do the Closed Canyon on Day 1 if you don't want to just chill and explore Terlingua (cemetery and the front porch). Do the Ross Maxwell drive on Day 5 and save the Presidio drive for your next trip.
Thank you again! This is probably going to be our last trip as a family. The two oldest kids (yes, they're really adults now but always kids to us parents) are in medical school and will no longer have time off in the summer. So maybe I do have too much planned and not enough time sitting around and chilling. Since the South Rim Hike takes an entire day, would you all consider cutting it out and possibly moving my Day 1 Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive and the Santa Elena Canyon hike to that day or is the South Rim worth spending the day together hiking? I really don't like the idea of giving up that hike though. If you had to cut something out of this trip, would it be the Lajitas/Presidio drive? I assumed that drive would be relaxing for all of us except the person driving. And regarding the Santa Elena Canyon river tour, what time does it usually return? What I'm wondering is if there is time to go check out Closed Canyon after we get back. That would free us up some on Day 5. Can you tell I just want to see as much as possible while we're there?
There is no REI in San Angelo. I had to Google the name to figure out what it is. But I just checked our San Angelo store's availability and their website says they have one available. Time to make a trip into town!
And yes, I'm trying to get lodging in Balmorhea park, but haven't managed to get through yet. Hoping that will work out for us.
Thank you all VERY much! I appreciate you sharing your advice with us.
And regarding the Santa Elena Canyon river tour, what time does it usually return? What I'm wondering is if there is time to go check out Closed Canyon after we get back. That would free us up some on Day 5. Can you tell I just want to see as much as possible while we're there?
The Santa Elena Canyon river tour is done as an overnight trip. Put in at Latijas and take out at Santa Elena. It is also dependent on water levels.
Another alternative is to do what is called the Santa Elena boomerang. Put in at Santa Elena and paddle up stream into the canyon and return the same day.
There are also other sections of the river that can be floated in a ˝ or full day. I would recommend contacting one or more of the river outfitters (http://www.nps.gov/bibe/planyourvisit/outfitters.htm) to see what they offer with the current river levels.
Above all, be flexible and adjust your schedule as you go, and yes there will be some things you just won’t have time to get to. That just means there will always be another trip to the Bend! :eusa_dance:
Just called all three river outfitters. None are currently offering the one-day river trip into Santa Elena canyon due to low water levels. Of course, they said to call them the day prior to check availability. If water rises, then they will offer the trip. They did mention the boomerang trip, but it is a short 3 mile paddle upstream then a trip back downstream. I'm wondering if that is worth the $150 per person. One of the outfitters mentioned that if the water levels stay low, then we could hike along the bank of the river. So maybe we'll do that instead. Thanks!
Head's up about the Hot Springs.
My wife's preferred star-gazing spot in on the porch of the old hotel.
When you drive into the Hot Springs parking lot, the old hotel is above the parking area and up to the right.
You'll have to scramble up to the old hotel's front porch - it's concrete and flat with plenty of room for your family. You might plan to take some folding chairs if you intend to stay a while and gaze.
A cooler with your preferred beverages would also be nice.
The Hot Springs themselves are to the left of the parking area (as you drive in). They are thermal springs.
Please note: there is to be nooooo drinking (alcohol) at the Springs. The last time we were there, the rangers busted an open container person.
Thanks again everyone! Appreciate you!
Hope you have a good trip! We'll be waiting for a report when you get back...