Holidays on the road require special planning to abate homesickness.
For Christmas 2016, after a 4 month commitment to living on the road, we decided we needed a quiet week where we could set up our trailer and make it feel like home. We had been moving spots every 3 or 4 days then driving 5 to 8 hours to our next location. This meant tearing down and rebuilding our home a few times a week. Exciting as it is to have an ever changing view out our trailer windows, it can be tiring and lonely.
We decided our Christmas home had to meet some pretty hefty requirements. We wanted access to hiking to keep us busy, relatively warm weather so we could set up an outdoor living space and a nearby restaurant/bar for some distraction. The answer simply was Big Bend National Park. Located in southwestern Texas in the Chihuahuan Desert, it borders Mexico by the division of the Rio Grande.
This was one of the few times that having a small trailer was an advantage. We were small enough to reach a camping spot in the heart of the park in the Chisos Basin which also happened to be a short mile walk from one of the homiest restaurants (and bar) we have found to date at a National Park. Here we would spend 6 days and nights, without electricity, with kettle heated water for showers and with endless hiking and board games.
After hiking, most days we would head up to the restaurant, which was the only spot we could get service, have a beer on their sunny patio and facetime our family’s. It was simple but we were grateful and happy. There was a kind of magic to our daily routine that filled our cups which had previously seemed nearly empty.
Since living in a trailer, our need and desire for material things had subsided. Thus we decided to exchange acts of service such as doing dishes for a week, breakfast in bed and offering the choice of which country we travel to next. We threw our ideas in a stocking we bought from the dollar store and picked one each morning before we headed out for the day. We also bartered them as part of our nightly card games. Though we were missing the customs and traditions our families had built over the course of our lives, we were creating new ones for our own family.
In terms of the offerings of Big Bend we hiked as much as our legs could handle. Our campsite was situated next to a short 3-mile hike to scenic outlook called The Window which we tackled on the first day. The following day we summited the highest point in the park, Emory Peak, which took us on an 11 mile hike to an elevation of 7,832 ft with an elevation gain of 2,400 ft. From this point, you can view the expanse of the park and even peek into Mexico. After a day break we hiked the 5-mile Lost Mine Trail for more breathtaking views of the park.
As previously mentioned, we felt fortunate to have a restaurant so close which happened to open 365 days a year. In our experience the visitor services at national parks can sometime feel obtrusive distract from getting into nature. In this case, it felt needed due to the parks remoteness. Given the season it offered us a chance to make Christmas Eve special, get dressed up, and have cocktails and dinner. Up to this point, the park had felt quiet and uncrowded, but it seemed everyone was like minded about celebrating which made for a full and festive atmosphere.
The following day, Christmas, though we didn’t have electricity or television (which we never have), Matthew was committed to watch the Broncos game and went again to the restaurant which had TV’s. Since it is just a short hike we never minded the stroll back and forth except perhaps on this night. The park is safely marked throughout with warnings about wildlife, particularly mountain lions. We had also been warned by the park ranger that a healthy population exists in the park and sightings are not uncommon.
On this night, Matt chose to stay well into the night to finish watching the game and would be taking the hike back solo. All the talk and my incessant need to discuss the plan if we did encounter a mountain lion had turned an easy breezy walk home into the longest and scariest 1 mile he had ever walked. Thank goodness for the superbright iPhone flashlight, right! Thankfully no wild beast found him to make him their happy Christmas dinner.
On our final day, we took a short road trip down to the southern portion of the park to the shores of the Rio Grande at the Santa Elena Canyon Overlook. This puts you right at the border of Mexico where you encounter a natural wall of sorts in the form of a vertical cliff. Mr. Trump could probably save some money here, though let’s not fuel his fire.
The weather was noticeably warmer and helped us take in the diversity of the park. It is part mountainous with coniferous trees and part desert with endless sand swales and cacti. Previously during our hikes we noted that we could be doing a summer hike in our own Rocky Mountains which was sharply juxtaposed to our time in the lowlands and desert of Big Bend.
Our Christmas in Big Bend National Park was unlike any other. There have been so many rewards of living on the road that will forever change us, but sometimes the hardships are equally as life changing. We were grateful though, that fast paced journey made it possible for us to stay in Big Bend. It’s hard to say if we would have been happier in any place other than home, but I like to think it was nonetheless a blessing.