I’ve kept the tradition of being in a new place to ring in the new year for the past two years now, and the beginning of 2017 wasn’t any different. The tradition began with a new country of Vietnam in 2015, and in 2016 celebrated in a new state of California…well 2017 was spent in a new region of my home state. I figured since I’d been away from Texas for over half a year, why not start the new year in an unfamiliar part of the Lone Star State. Texas is HUGE, after all.
I’ve stretched thousands of miles in this dear state of mine, but never so far as the Southwest bend of the Rio Grande, where Mexico and Texas meet. I have also never visited a national park before, marking off another first before the year of 2016 came to an end.
Day 1: Marathon >> Big Bend National Park >> Hot Springs
My “adventure buddy” Bethany and I, arrived in the desolate region of Southwest Texas, and pit stopped on our first night in Marathon, Texas. Don’t worry, you’ve probably never heard of it, it’s just about as small town Texas as you can get. But I’m glad, because you can view the beauty of the land for miles beyond and to the mountains in the distance. We hammock camped at Marathon Motel, cozy quarters with a hot shower, the last one we would have for a few days.
The following morning before dawn we awoke from our cozy hammock set up, and packed up without haste to make our way to Big Bend National Park, about an hour and a half South of Marathon. It was worth getting up and going before the sun, because it greeted us with the best view you could ask for upon driving into such breathtaking scenery.
We made it to the headquarters of the park to scope out the possibility of getting a camping spot inside the park, although all the signs said the campgrounds were FULL. The nice ranger informed us that if you go to a camp site and drive around and find one open, you could claim it. Check out is at noon everyday, so there is a chance you could come across people leaving.
That’s what we did, we drove another hour inside the park to Rio Grande Village, staying hopeful and determined to find an open campsite. We drove around the grounds, and saw a family packing up their belongings. We asked if we could take their spot once they leave, and they kindly assured us that we could. We waited for them to finish packing and drive off, and within the next hour Bethany and I had our home base for the next couple of days. We didn’t waste a minute of daylight, after staking down our tent, we got ready to do our first hike to the Hot Springs. It was a 3-mile hike one way with resplendent desert views, following the stretch of the Rio Grande.
Day 2: BBNP Lost Mine Trail >> The Balanced Rock
This was our only full day within the park, so we made the most of it by going on two day-hikes. The Lost Mine Trail was on the docket first. Nestled in the Chisos Mountain Range, it is one of the most popular day hikes in the park. Legend has it the trail got its name from gold discovered by Spanish settlers there, who were then killed by Indians, and to this day the mine was never found. The views were nothing short of spectacular the entire 4.8 miles up. Bethany and I witnessed the evolution of the scenery as we reached its peak, and rested at the top in awe of the surrounding Texas mountains views.
The second half of the day was spent making our way to The Balanced Rock. It’s an easy walk into 360-views of rocks piled high. Bethany and I both agreed we felt like we were in a sci-fi movie, the layers of rocks lay atop one another in a pattern foreign to us. It’s a flat walk until you get to a steep incline of rocks, in which you have to climb to reach THE rock all others strive to be. We spent a good amount of time sitting on a boulder that overlooked The Balanced Rock on one side, and scenic sky views and land that stretches for miles on the other.
Day 3: Santa Elena Canyon >> Terlingua…
Bethany and I had a full schedule for the last day of 2016. First stop, we visited Santa Elena Canyon on our way out of the park. It’s not so much a hike, more like a stroll up a few levels of concrete switchbacks and into the canyon. The canyon towers over you like skyscrapers, standing at 1,500 feet. I was so overwhelmed with the majestic natural beauty, I spun around with my hands in the air!
The weather was on our side this day, a comfortable 70-degrees, sunny skies in late December, so we picnicked on a table near the canyon’s trailhead. We were wavering the decision of leaving the park, but knew there was more Southwest Texas had to offer, so we pressed onward to Terlingua.
The only time we heard about this small western town before was from a local in Marathon, coaxing us to stop by there. But because we didn’t have a plan, other than making it to Marfa for the new year’s celebration, we decided to make it part of our itinerary. And more than glad we did so.
Top of my hit list next time I’m in this region is to stay in Terlingua. For just an afternoon, we didn’t have many minutes to explore all of its quirky enthrallments. All we had time for is a browse through the gift shop on The Porch where the historical Starlight Theatre is located. While meandering through the overpriced, although enticing, memorabilia, I happened to run into a friend from Houston! Adam and his friends were heading over to eat lunch at a local barbecue joint, DB’s Rustic Iron Barbecue, out of a trailer on the side of the road (sure sign that it’s legit) so we joined them.
Toward late afternoon, with still 2 hours of driving to Marfa ahead of us, we departed from our unexpected encounter, and finished the day of pit stops at our night’s stay at El Cosmico in Marfa. The town of Marfa gives off an evidently unique vibe more than most small towns in Southwest Texas. It’s known for the art culture, which attracts the demographic of campy stilted hipsters, where the guys have long hair, the girls have no hair, if your arms don’t comprise of a sleeve of tattoos you’re an outcast, and plaid is considered a favorite color. We checked into our campground for $16.20 a pop (are we camping in the heart of Manhattan?!) got settled, and since it was our one night in Marfa, Bethany and I decided to take a stroll in downtown.
We had just come out of camping in the desert for 2 nights, and amongst the people walking around dressed like Urban Outfitters models, we felt as if we might as well had slept in a dumpster. We quickly realized the downtown streets were a bit ritzy for our ‘roughing it’ persona at the moment, so we went back to El Cosmico for their New Year’s Eve party.
The party was fun, people of all ages and places, oldies dance party music everyone could sing along to, and a champagne toast to ring in 2017. Although the most fun part was remembering that exactly one year ago to the minute, Bethany and I were doing the exact same thing, except in SF.
By midnight, it was freezing temperature outside, so after downing the glass of champagne, we snuggled into our cozy sleeping bags, unexpectedly getting some shut-eye before a long-day’s drive back to our side of Texas.
I am now living in Austin and working as a proofreader for the Texas Senate. I don’t know where I’ll adventure to next, but am confident there will be plenty of opportunities living in what I like to think of as the adventure capitol of Texas.
Where will I be to ring in 2018? Who knows! That’s the most exciting thing about life. 🙂