Big Bend: A much needed dose of desert solitude

It's an easy walk to the Balanced Rock at Big Bend National Park. Pam LeBlanc

It’s an easy walk to the Balanced Rock at Big Bend National Park. Pam LeBlanc

 

Thank you desert, for the solitude. I needed that.

I just wrapped up a West Texas road trip that included solo tent camping, a look at the new dinosaur exhibit at Big Bend National Park, mountain bike riding through the desert, hiking in the Davis Mountains and more.

I’ve visited the Big Bend area at least 20 times over the years. It grows on you. At first, it looks barren and lifeless. Every time I return, I see more beauty.

At Big Bend National Park, I pitched a tent and camped by myself. I’ve slept in a tent hundreds of times in my life, but I’ve never done it completely alone. I’m telling you, it’s bliss. I vow to do more of this in 2017. (Next up, Devil’s River.)

The West Texas skies sizzle with color at sunset. Pam LeBlanc

The West Texas skies sizzle with color at sunset. Pam LeBlanc

I’ve hit all the popular spots at the park multiple times, so I skipped the South Rim Trail, Window Trail, Lost Mines Trail, Cattail Falls, Santa Elena Canyon, the hot springs and Boquillas Canyon and headed out to explore some places I hadn’t seen. I scampered through crazy rock formations to Balanced Rock, which I’d never seen, and ventured down the Mule Ears Spring trail for some broad desert vistas.

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Visitors explore the new Fossil Discovery Exhibit at Big Bend National Park. Pam LeBlanc

I also attended the grand opening for the park’s new Fossil Discovery Exhibit, located on the main road between Persimmon Gap and Panther Junction. The open-air exhibit, packed with signage explaining the geologic history of the park and replicas of all kinds of dinosaur bones, helps visitors imagine what the area looked like eons ago. If you’ve got kids, take them – and snap a picture when they shove their head into the toothy, gaping jaws of a bronze cast of a T-Rex skull.

The new Fossil Discovery Exhibit opened last week at Big Bend National Park. Pam LeBlanc

The new Fossil Discovery Exhibit opened last week at Big Bend National Park. Pam LeBlanc

I headed to Terlingua for a few days next, to visit long-time friends who live there and ride my mountain bike on the trails at Big Bend Ranch State Park. My trip coincided with the Big Bend Ultra race, which I usually run but couldn’t this time because of foot issues.

A runner makes her way through Big Bend Ranch State Park during the Big Bend Ultra race. Pam LeBlanc

A runner makes her way through Big Bend Ranch State Park during the Big Bend Ultra race. Pam LeBlanc

Instead I pedaled through the prickly wilderness as the sun rose. The desert’s a big, beautiful place full of scratchy cactus and sleepy lizards and pink and purple skies. I didn’t even mind the bloodshed that resulted from a close encounter with a few cat’s claw cacti.

Who minds a little blood when you're biking through the desert? Not me! Pam LeBlanc

Who minds a little blood when you’re biking through the desert? Not me! Pam LeBlanc

The trails are rugged at Big Bend Ranch State Park.

The trails are rugged at Big Bend Ranch State Park.

 

I zipped to Marfa for dinner with other friends at the Hotel Saint George, which opened last year. The hotel, which hosts weekly pingpong tournaments (they’re serious, folks – one of my friends threw out her shoulder playing!) bustled with hipsters.

Last on my agenda? A few days in the Davis Mountains. I stayed in a cabin at the Davis Mountains Preserve, a beautiful 44,000-acre property owned and managed by the Nature Conservancy. A winter storm foiled a trip to the top of Mount Livermore, the fifth highest point in Texas, but I explored lower parts of the preserve, populated by towering Ponderosa pines and alligator juniper.

Deirdre Hisler and Mike Sweeney pause to admire the scenery while hiking at the Davis Mountains Preserve. Pam LeBlanc

Deirdre Hisler and Mike Sweeney pause to admire the scenery while hiking at the Davis Mountains Preserve. Pam LeBlanc

I’m back, but I left part of my soul out there. No worries, I’ll head back soon to collect them.

Stories coming soon …

I stayed in this cabin at the Davis Mountains Preserve. Pam LeBlanc

I stayed in this cabin at the Davis Mountains Preserve. Pam LeBlanc

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