Big Bend Adventure Vacation
Nothing beats a vacation and adventure in the Big Bend area of West Texas. Big Bend and the surrounding area is a perefect place for a family vacation, a long weekend getaway, or a few days enjoying some adventures. When I refer to Big Bend I'm referring to an area encompassing Big Bend National Park, Lajitas, Terlingua, Study Butte, and Big Bend State Park which occupy well over 2 million acres of rugged desert terrain, some of the highest mountain peaks in Texas, and the Rio Grande River valley. There is no place in Texas that comes close to matching the diversity and vastness that you'll find in the Big Bend National Park, Big Bend Ranch State Park, and the surrounding area. You'll get see or experience:
If you have been to Big Bend National Park and the surrounding area you'll know what I'm talking about when I say words can't describe Big Bend's vastness, diversity, uniqueness, and enchantment! Big Bend National Park is the largest National Park in the United States with over 800,000 acres, it has miles of paved roads that offer scenic views, plus 150 miles of dirt back roads, and 200 miles hiking and biking trails. The National Park also has 118 miles of property along the Rio Grande River giving river runners the option of floating canyons with sheer walls 1500' tall, or open water by raft, canoe, or kayak. Here is a link to some of the Big Bend Hiking Trails. Within Big Bend National Park you can experience three distinct eco systems - the lush mountains with peaks of up to 7832 feet, the harsh desert landscape, and the Rio Grande River Valley. From some of the vistas you can see miles and miles of desert, mountain ranges of all shapes, sizes, and colors; the Rio Grande River; and deep into Mexico and it's mountain ranges. Native American Legend states that "after creating the Earth, placing the birds in the air, the fish in the sea and the stars in the sky, the great Creator gathered all of the leftover rocks and placed them in the Big Bend." What a diverse, immense, and scenic part of Texas.
Not far from the entrance to the Big Bend National Park is the rugged and rural Big Bend Ranch State Park, which is the largest State Park in Texas with 300,000 acres of Chihuahuan Desert wilderness in a remarkably rugged, remote and unpopulated setting. The Park encompasses two mountain ranges containing ancient extinct volcanoes, precipitous canyons, and waterfalls. You can hike, ride, or bike on 66 miles of trails with many more in development plus there are primitive roadside and back country campsites, lots of wildlife, and twenty-three miles of Rio Grande/Rio Bravo frontage for floating, fishing, bird watching, and camping. Horseback and bike rentals as well as a couple options on lodging are available in Sauceda.
Sandwiched between the State Park and National park are the funky towns of Lajitas, Terlingua, and Study Butte, each of which has it's own unique personality and characteristics. Lajitas is home to the fantastic and upscale Lajitas Resort (read our review) and all it has to offer. Terlingua is best known for the Terlingua Chili Cookoff but it also has a ghost town, a couple good restaurants and bars, and is home to some rugged and interesting residents. Study Butte is the gateway to Big Bend National park and home to some rafting outfitters, Big Bend Stables for horseback riding, a couple good restaurants, and Big Bend Adventures Resort which has a motel, restaurant, RV park, and a 9 hole desert course which some claim is the "hardest mile of golf in Texas." Check out our Terlingua, Big Bend, Lajitas Map to find some places to stay, eat, and have fun.
And whatever you do, don't plan to just pass through and think you've experienced Big Bend - plan on spending a minimum of three days, which isn't near enough time, but will give you a good feel for the area and make you want to come back again. Here is just a sampling of some of the fun things you can see and do in the area:
- play 27 holes of golf - one course is rated by Texas Outside in the top 5 Best Courses in Texas
- take a scenic drive through Big Bend National Park or on a route along the Rio Grande River that is in National Geographic's Top Ten Scenic Drives in the US
- go on a fun, scenic, and informative ATV or 4x4 off road tour
- tent camp in remote areas or park the RV in a luxury RV Park or stay in nice campsite in the Big Bend National Park
- hike any of several scenic trails or ride your mountain bike on flat and easy to very demanding trails or roads
- raft, kayak, or canoe through some stunning scenery including the sheer 1500 foot cliffs of Santa Elena canyon
- go hunting for exotics to jack rabbits
- stay in a western town B&B or an old motel or an upscale resort loaded with amenities
- enjoy some good food in a one small room Mexican restaurant or a cave or a historic old theater or feast on a gourmet meal or eat on the patio at an elevation of 5500' in the Chisos Mountains with a stunning view for miles and miles
- go horseback riding
- visit a historic ghost town
- go bar hopping and get to know some of the eccentric and interesting locals
We've visited Big Bend three times over the past 20 years and when we heard that Jimmy LaFave, one of our favorite Texas singers, and 8 of his fellow singer songwriters was having a two day music festival in Lajitas and that Black Jack's Crossing Golf Course was having it's grand opening, it didn't take long for us to make some reservations, throw the bikes on the Jeep's bike rack (where they remained for the entire trip!), and the golf clubs in the motor home (they got some good use), packed some clothes (most of which I never wore), added a bottle of Advil (thank God for Advil), loaded the groceries and beer (it also got used), and started the long drive to Big Bend.
Since it's over an 11 hour drive through Texas (662 miles which is about the same number of miles from Washington, DC to Bangor, Maine and through 7 different States!), we decided to golf our way to Big Bend and take three days doing it. The first stop was for a round of golf at Chester W. Ditto in Fort Worth. After I destroyed that course (which doesn't mean a good score), we drove to a small RV park in Clyde which was right next to the freeway where we listened to 18 wheelers buzzing by all night which resulted in little to no sleep and didn't help my game early the next morning at Shady Oaks Golf Club in Baird. A fun course but it was hard to play with my eyes half open and occasionally I think I nodded off studying the breaks in the green. A bad round with several lost balls and the wife constantly yelling "wake up and hit the ball" was followed by a short drive to a nice RV park in Big Spring and golf the next morning at Hogan Park's Roadrunner Course in Midland. A barking dog and a couple trains passing through didn't result in a much better night's sleep. That was followed by a cold morning for golf which meant my eyes were half closed and I could hardly get my fingers to wrap around the club, my nose kept dripping, and I had forgotten socks for my golf sandals so my toes were freezing! The good news is the water in my cup froze, but the bad news is I had to dry swallow my Advil. Not a fun day on the course! Oh well, I knew the music would be good if we ever got to Big Bend, if the music wasn't that great I could catch up on some sleep.
Next stop was the funky town of Marfa where we linked up with my brother-in-law and his wife (Doug & Reine) who had flown from San Francisco to El Paso and driven in - they looked refreshed and ready to go. Marfa is a very unique Texas town in the middle of nowhere - but it's home to:
- an outstanding hotel (Hotel Paisano) where the stars and cast from the filming of Giant stayed - Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean, Rock Hudson
- several very good restaurants from a small Swiss breakfast place to gourmet Italian and several other unique restaurants
- a couple very interesting campgrounds - we were the only RV in the Tumble In RV park which is flat desert with 8 sites and an old trailer as an office with no attendee and we checked out El Cosmico which "is part vintage trailer, yurt and teepee hotel and campground, part creative lab, greenhouse and amphitheatre - a community space that fosters and agitates artistic and intellectual exchange."
- several art galleries of very well known artists
- a viewing area for the unique and mysterious Marfa Lights
We visited a couple art galleries, spent some money shopping, had a drink and couple games of dominos at the Hotel Paisano, enjoyed a good breakfast at Squeeze and an excellent Italian dinner at Maiya's, and checked out the eclectic El Cosmico for a place to stay on the next trip. After lunch, we took the shorter route to Lajitas while Doug and Reine took and really enjoyed the more scenic Route 67 to Presidio and 170 to Lajitas - National Geographic lists this route as one of the Top Ten Most Scenic in the US. Highway 170 goes through the mountains, along the Rio Grande, and past Big Bend State Park and has several scenic overlooks and historical markers along the way. It took several hours for them because Reine made Doug stop at every historic marker as well as several stops for Reine to sketch some of the stunning scenery. Check out our Marfa map to find the above and learn more about Marfa.
We linked up with Doug and Reine at Lajitas Resort, parked the motor home in Maverick Ranch RV Park (adjacent to and part of Lajitas Resort), checked into our rooms, and headed to the Thirsty Goat for a drink, appetizer, and round of dominos. Lajitas Resort is one of our favorite resorts thanks to it's unique accommodations, resort amenities, good food, spa, RV park, and fantastic golf course. Read our review of Lajitas Resort to learn more. Over the next three days the four of us enjoyed:
- a fantastic round of golf on Black Jack's Crossing - ranked as one of the best in our Top Texas Golf Courses list - the course is very demanding with unique and fun holes and extremely scenic as it plays up into the mountains and offers majestic views of Big Bend, the desert, the Rio Grande, and deep into Mexico - it also raised my handicap, devoured six of my new golf balls, and required four Advil to get through a round, and cost me two rounds of drinks to pay off my golfing bets
- took an ATV tour that was very informative, scenic, and fun as we traversed up and down the hills, through arroyos and washes, and across the open desert filling my nostral with sand
- explored Terlingua and had a good dinner at the Starlight Theater
- ate and drank more than we should have
- lost, thanks to my poor play, several games of dominos to the ladies, which cost me a shopping spree plus two more rounds of drinks
- enjoyed two days of fantastic music
One of the reasons for our visit to Lajitas was because Jimmy LaFave was having his first, and we hope it becomes an annual, Singer Songwriter Rendezvous. He had gathered an incredible collection of 8 very talented singer songwriters, loaded them on a bus, and delivered them to Lajitas for two days of some of the best music we've heard. You can read our review of Jimmy LaFave's Singer Songwriter Rendezvous to learn more. Can't wait to do it again next year.
We had planned a canoe trip with Big Bend River Tours for an afternoon trip down the Rio Grande, but thanks to the severe drought and no rain and the Mexicans not releasing much water from the dam upstream, the water was very low and slow moving and required some walking and towing the canoe - we decided we would rather drink beer, munch on some appetizers, and explore Terlingua! Maybe next time. On a previous trip we had an outstanding raft trip though the sheer cliffs of Santa Elena Canyon.
We reluctantly packed the bags and checked out of Lajitas Resort, tucked the motorhome into a campsite at Big Bend Resort in Study Butte, and headed north a few miles to spend some time at Ten Bits Ranch B&B. Wow, what a unique setting and fantastic place to spend a couple nights. Ten Bits Ranch has four themed guest rooms that are part of the recreated western town of Chimney Rock. Read about our stay in this Ten Bits Ranch Weekend Article. In addition to offering guests some great lodging, good hospitality, scenic views, and a tasty breakfast, Ten Bits Ranch has a variety of 4x4 off road tours as well as guided hiking tours for guests to enjoy.
One morning the four of us piled into two 4x4s and headed off road for a fantastic tour through the foothills and Chiluahuan Desert. Over the three hours we learned a lot about the geology, history of the area, plants, and wildlife; saw some stunning scenery; and learned a little gossip about some of the local characters. A fun, scenic, interesting, and informative trip. Check out our article on the Big Bend Off Road Tour.
During our stay with Ten Bits Ranch, we took day trips to spend time in Big Bend National Park hiking on two different trails and looking for bear, taking the jeep on an off road trail (it had been whining to get off the pavement for several days!), enjoying a great lunch and scenic panoramic view at the Chisos Mountain Lodge, and saying "Wow, isn't that beautiful, majestic, stunning" and several similar words to describe the scenery.
We were sad to leave such a beautiful area after having so much fun, so we tried to make the trip home more enjoyable by golfing at Quicksand Golf Club and Riverside Hills Golf Course in San Angelo plus The Retreat in Cleburne - but losing another couple sleeves of balls plus some very high scores didn't do much to improve my attitude.
Can't wait to get back again.
Here is a quick summary of some fun things to see and do, places to eat or party, and where to sleep it off that we've enjoyed:
- Run the Rio Grande - Big Bend River Tours offers several different river trips on canoes or rafts from half day to multiple day overnight trips in all different sections of the Rio Grande - we really enjoyed our half day raft trip through the majestic Santa Elena Canyon with it's sheer 1200' to 1500' walls - click on this Rafting The Rio Grande River to learn more
- Hike in Big Bend National Park - consult with the Park Rangers to get some good ideas for hikes that suit your interest (easy 1 mile hikes to strenuous multi day hikes on the South Rim) - some easy ones that we really enjoyed include: the hike into the mouth of the Santa Elena Canyon and another into Boquillas Canyon; the 5 mile moderate hike on the Window Trail to where the trail ends with a sheer drop of over 2000' to the desert floor and magnificent vistas of the desert, the mountains, and miles into Mexico; the Lost Mine Trail which traverses up the mountain slide with unbelievable views all the way - this website has a good list of Big Bend Hiking Trails
- Take a Desert Tour - Lajitas Resort offers a fun guided ATV tour with an informative guide up and down the hills with stops to enjoy the views, learn about the terrain and desert plants and history and Big Bend Expeditions offers a variety of guided hikes and 4x4 off road tours and we thoroughly enjoyed a three hour trip through some very unique and interesting terrain you won't believe - our Big Bend Off Road Tour article will tell you more
- Break Out The Sticks - you won't believe the golf course at Lajitas Resort (review of Black Jack's Crossing Golf Course - rated 9.7 stars out of 10) with it's dramatic elevation changes, fantastic vistas, challenging greens, unique, demanding, and fantastic layout that plays from along the Rio Grande River and up into the hills (just riding the cart is a blast) and you probably won't believe the Big Bend Resort & Adventures 9 hole course in Study Butte which the locals have named the hardest mile of golf in Texas and the golf is free, you just pay for the cart ride - here's a link to our review of Big Bend Resort Golf Course
- Fill Up with Calories - after all that activity you're going to need to load up on the carbs and you've got several choices:
- In Big Bend National Park the Chisos Mountain Lodge serves a good and reasonably priced breakfast, lunch, and dinner and the majestic view from over 5500 feet is unequaled and included with the meals
- In Study Butte India's serves great burgers and sandwiches - everyone wants India to be their aunt or grandmother (what a great lady), Big Bend Resort & Adventures Restaurant offers good breakfast, lunch, and dinner items; and Chili Pepper Cafe is where to go for Mexican (good but not great)
- In Terlingua you've got to go to La Kiva (outstanding ham soup, very good BBQ, a good pizza, and I enjoyed the Ribeye) - all in a unique and unusual cave setting; and the Starlight Theater is also a must with very good food (my pork with a spicy raspberry sauce and garlic mashers was fantastic, the pasta was tasty, and the steak was tender and tasty and a country singer sang his heart out as we dined and drank
- In Lajitas the Lajitas Resort has a good restaurant with some great fish dishes plus fajitas, local game, steaks, and more and their local bakery has some to-die-for cinnamon rolls
- Party and Sing the Night Away - La Kiva seems to always be alive with some fun locals and a variety of music; the Thirsty Goat is more upscale and typically has some good music from Trevor; and High Sierra has a lively bar; as does Starlight Theater and some evenings they show movies
- Sleep the Night Away - after a fun day full of activities, some good food, and a lively evening you're going to need a good nights sleep to be rested to do it all again the next day
- Pitch a Tent or Plug in the RV - if you've got an RV and looking for some resort style amenities (golf, restaurant, pool, horseback riding, ATV tours, and more then stay at Maverick RV Park in Lajitas; if you plan to explore Big Bend National Park, enjoy the Trelingual life style, ride the Rio Grande, play golf, and explore Big Bend State Park over two or three days, stay in Study Butte at Big Bend Adventures RV Park; if you want to spend several days exploring the National Park then stay in any of the several campgrounds that range from backpack-in sites to water and electric sites - here is a Big Bend Area Campground and RV Park Map to help you find a place to camp
- Stay in a Resort - Lajitas Resort has a variety of unique lodging options (see our review of Lajitas Resort) plus lots of great amenities like the spa, golf course, pool, and more
- Enjoy a fantastic B&B - Ten Bits Ranch has created some very unique and fantastic rooms in a recreated old time western town - we stayed in the General Store, a very well appointed room with a fireplace, two queens, overhead fan, and a fantastic porch with rocking chairs and a stunning majestic view and unbelievable sunset - here is a link to our Ten Bits Ranch Weekend Article
- Explore Marfa or Marathon - take a side trip or overnighter to Marfa which is home to the historic Hotel Paisano (best known for unique themed rooms where Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean stayed during the filming of Giant), several well known art galleries, some great restaurants, and the Marfa lights. Marathon has the historic Gage Hotel, some galleries, and a couple restaurants