In Texas you have to reserve national and state park campgrounds wayyyyyy in advance. We have an annual Texas state park pass, so our goal is to seek out all of the ones in Texas first. In February, after I was newly situated in the San Antonio, TX area, I reserved a primitive tent site at Terlingua Ranch for Mar 13 thru 19. I made the reservation too close to our arrival to get a site in the state or national park areas down there. Terlingua Ranch is near enough to the Big Bend National Park action and sights (30 minutes), so it is an excellent alternative to being right in the thick of it. In our short time span of hiking and kayaking there, we have the following observations:
Gas stations are few and far between out in that desert wonderland. We rolled in from San Antonio after 6.5 hours on the highway, and too far since our last fill up. We had very little gas, rolling on fumes, and just barely made it to Panther Junction where folks were lined up to get into the pumps. We were warned ahead of time to fill up at someplace that we missed because GPS took us a different way (into the park instead of around it) upon our arrival. We had been told that there was no gas to be had inside of the park, but that was incorrect. Panther Junction saved our bacon.
Christmas Mountain Pass behind the Terlingua Ranch is a fun uphill mountain goat 4×4 gravel road. It’s way bumpy and twisty turny, with many many switchbacks and some really steep portions where the edge of the road eroded a tad and the down would be wicked fast and impossible to survive. Points up and beyond the end of that pass intrigued me, so upward I climbed. Way up, where there were some quite precarious perches in verryyyyyy high wind. I think it is always windy up there, it was even windy everywhere else around the camp at that time. That wind nearly blew me off the mountain, which would have destroyed the thrill of the fabulous view for me, to say the least, so take it slow and ensure solid footing.
Powdery sand that doesn’t seem to even have grains will get into your everythings. It’s hard to even describe it as either a powder or a dust, it’s sooooo fine like a white, dry film.
The Rio Grande is nothing but a trickle, so prepare for a lot of portaging. We didn’t heed the warning about staying out of Mexico while doing the “river”, so we stepped in and out of Mexico all day long. That was cool for me, because I’d never been to Mexico until then!
The waterfall at “The Window” would be better with water. Yeah, none there either. This is a Texas theme by the way, in fact it’s a trend throughout the USA everywhere west of Louisiana, and southwest of Oklahoma. When places say they have water, they’re likely lying. It was fun hopping, jumping, bouncing, leaping around the dried up river bed rocks, and slithering out on the smooth rock funnel to the edge of the drop off that was once a waterfall, but there was zero water.
The trail to The Window can surprise you because it is so interesting on the way down, and seems a lot farther on the way back up.
Spring nights are wicked cold down at the Mexican border in that elevation, and days are scorching after 10am. Expect to wake up to low 30’s, and break a sweat doing dishes at 10:30am.
Terlingua has a ghost town with a grave yard full of dead miners of mercury (quicksilver). Who knew mercury was poison?
There is no running water in or around Terlingua. Everyone buys and trucks in their water to be stored in cisterns. Use sparingly!
Plan your hiking in the morning and get out there and back before 2pm when the land becomes a microwave oven. You’ll need to bring a LOT of water with you.
Sometimes you find better stuff to see and do off the beaten path. (Don’t tell the park warden I wrote that.) Several times we followed trails and then curiosity would get the best of me and I’d lead Carol astray. This sometimes leads to treacherous passes, but AMAZING scenery. Our trip up to Balanced Rock found the equally fun stuff was behind the rock, although it involved some climbing.