Day #4 of the West Trip: Big Bend National Park is unbelievably beautiful!

After three solid days of driving, we let ourselves sleep in. My weather app was giving me alerts about nasty weather, so we decided to take it slow and see what happened before we went into Big Bend. Little did we know what it was predicting …

We got to experience our first shower since we set off, and it was magical. Paisano Village has a public shower that would seem more appropriate in a five-star hotel, and we loved it! We seriously can’t say enough nice things about this RV park. It was absolutely silent last night, and it was one of the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had.

At noon, after we’d eaten, showered, and organized some supplies, we decided that it appeared to be a mild day, and we headed out for the park. We decided our first stop would be Santa Elena Canyon. We took the Ross Maxwell Scenic Road to get there, and let me tell you, that drive will not let you down! We started jumping out of the RV and taking pictures as soon as we turned onto the road. As soon as the first mountain jumped into view, I thought that was it, and I was seeing the full beauty of Big Bend National Park in all of its majestic glory.

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That was absolutely not the case. I’ll admit that I was a little bit skeptical about this park versus all of the others. I considered scratching this one off the list as I was planning and giving its days to other parks. I’m so glad I didn’t. Big Bend has such diverse, gorgeous scenery. Every mountain range was a little bit different, ranging from red rock to black stone or mountains with layers of colors. Some mountains were almost square in appearance, others looked like they had bubbled up from the Earth, and others were sharp like crashing waves. The main mountain range here is the Chisos Mountains, and you also have the Rio Grande at the southernmost end of the park. Once you get there, you can look out and see Mexico. If we had wanted, we could have crossed the border, but we decided we were having enough of an adventure for today. It’s spring here, so all of the wildflowers have started blooming. The bluebonnets were our favorite, and because of them, I finally understand the line “For purple mountain majesties” in “America the Beautiful.” There were so many bluebonnets that the mountains literally looked purple, and it absolutely took our breath away!

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The scenery wasn’t the only excitement, though. We had to survive getting to it, first!

After nearly thirty hours of driving to get to Big Bend, we were feeling fairly confident in our driving skills. Big Bend certainly tested them. We’ve realized that things like speed limit signs, “Bump in Road,” “Curve Ahead,” etc. are not meant for regular cars. They are meant for us. You guys do what you want in your zippy little cars, but to us, road signs might as well be scripture, and we dare not go against what they say. Big Bend has a lot of curves as well as elevation changes. The scariest thing for us was a double hairpin curve at a 10% downhill grade. We and a bunch of other RVs did it with no mishaps, but I promise, you are clenching everything while you do it.

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Between driving like senior citizens and stopping to photograph everything, it took us hours to drive the approximately forty miles to the canyon. We got there only to realize that we weren’t the only ones who wanted to see it. Sadly, it’s Spring Break here, and the parking areas around Santa Elena were full. We got to see it from a distance and take some breathtaking photos, but we never got the opportunity to get out and hike it.

Santa Elena

We decided we’d get up early and be the first ones to the canyon tomorrow, so our next target was to backtrack and see the heart of the Chisos Mountains. Unfortunately, that’s when the weather got REALLY exciting. That wind storm they predicted came out of nowhere, and the first gust as we were climbing a steep hill felt almost like the gods had drop kicked us from the sky. We both glanced at each other, shook our heads, and turned to go home. Thank goodness we did! We parked in our overflow site and hooked up (with the neighbors visibly sighing in relief that we were back. They knew better than we did!), and as soon as we got inside, the RV really got to rocking. When it got dark, the wind got more violent. The best I can compare it to is when my partner, dad, and I went fishing off the coast of Florida a few moths ago. The ocean was really choppy, and the boat bucked underneath us for four hours, making it almost impossible to stay upright. It was like the wind was attacking the RV, and it finally got to the point that I started Googling at what m.p.h. we could expect to tip over.

At 10:00 p.m., our saviors came for us. Paisano Village RV park is incredible. They knew we were first time RVers, and they were very protective of us. In the middle of the night, they moved us to another site. They came out in the pitch-black darkness, with the wind kicking dirt into our eyes and pelting exposed flesh so strongly that it stung, and they helped us unhook our utilities, back into our new spot, and hook back up. Thank goodness they did! As soon as we were nestled in with the other RVs – most of them much bigger than us—the RV stopped bucking and swaying for the most part. I doubt we would have been able to sleep where we were, though we didn’t do much better after we moved. I had read that winds above 30 m.p.h. can damage slide-outs, and since our bed doesn’t come out unless we slide it out, we opted to pull out the couch and sleep on that instead. Not at all comfortable, but we were safe.

That was our first day in a national park. We went looking for adventure at the edge of the country, but I think the adventure found us! They are predicting even worse winds tomorrow, so I guess we’ll see what happens in the morning!

Published by Alyse N. Steves, Ph.D.

Alyse N. Steves received her Ph.D. in Genetics and Molecular Biology from Emory University. She is also graduate of Kennesaw State University, where she received a B.S. in Biotechnology. Alyse is a published author, with her first book making its debut in August 2016 ( Outside of science and writing, Alyse is an avid traveler who also enjoys the company of her family, friends, and pets.

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