Whip up some ranch waters at home with the Capri’s easy-to-recreate recipe.
Big Bend National Park boasts several distinctive and must-visit geological features, and the Window in the Chisos Basin is among the most iconic. The natural break in the rim serves as a picturesque frame for the distant desert landscape below. The Window can be seen from various parts of the basin, including the Chisos Mountain Lodge’s restaurant patio. However, a moderately difficult descent of less than 1,000 feet over a couple of miles of Oak Creek Canyon along the Window Trail provides the most spectacular view.
You can belly up to any bar in West Texas, whether it’s a dark dive or a glamorous hotel, and, without even glancing at a menu, order a ranch water. Heck, these days, you can do that at pretty much any bar in Texas. The simple cocktail has developed quite the fan base, and it’s led to contested origin stories and bubbling debate about the proper ingredients.
On the banks of Terlingua Creek, a ramp leads down into La Kiva, one of the most famous bar/restaurants in the Big Bend area. In Hopi culture, a kiva is an underground chamber used for religious and political meetings. But this kiva is a meeting place for the dreamers, lost souls, river guides, and tourists who are drawn to the old mining town and surrounding desert.
A longside traditional barbecue sauces and fixins, an unusual accoutrement kicks things up a notch at Come and Take It BBQ in Alpine. A salsa with origins in Northern Mexico known as chile macho graces the eatery’s
tables, as it does many across West Texas. Owner Scott Turner uses a chile macho recipe he learned from his childhood best friend’s mother, Terlingua resident Dominga Acosta.
This salsa, which has four times as many peppers as it does tomatoes, adds an extra-spicy kick to any dish, and the simple recipe makes it easy to prepare any time.
Jaw-dropping hikes like the Window Trail and South Rim draw visitors back to Big Bend National Park year after year. But with 1,252 square miles to roam, the park also teems with trails less traveled. Many visitors stick to five or six popular trails, but for hikers who want to go farther, go wilder, and get off the beaten path, park officials recommend these four secluded options.
Rob Decker and his wife, marceia decker, arrived in Big Bend National Park in April 2017 with the goal to capture a single iconic photograph he could use as the centerpiece of a poster he was designing. Decker found plenty of options: He says he was taken aback by the craggy peaks of the Chisos Mountains and the remoteness of the desert. “While most national parks are somewhat out of the way, I was surprised at just how far Big Bend is from most anything, how vast it is, and the different opportunities for recreation it offers,” he says.
The couple explored Big Bend from Rio Grande Village and Panther Junction, to the Chisos Basin and Santa Elena Canyon, where Decker hiked to the banks of the Rio Grande. He then took off his shoes and waded into the river. “Even though it was spring, it was a hot day, and the cool water was a welcome relief,” he recalls. “As I sat on the rocks overlooking the Rio Grande, I thought about the Native Americans, ranchers, miners, and pioneers who at one time or another had called this place their home.”
Decker calls Longmont, Colorado, home. He was just 19 years old when he studied under legendary photographer Ansel Adams at Yosemite National Park, an experience that shapes his work to this day.
Decker is on a journey to visit, photograph, and create a poster for every national park in the United States. His endeavor, fittingly enough, is called The National Park Poster Project, with stylings that hark to the popular New Deal-era national park posters of the late 1930s and early 1940s. With each poster, he hopes to raise awareness of both the grandeur and the continued need to protect America’s natural treasures—and with 43 parks down, he only has 17 to go.
After four days in Big Bend, he left with a trove of images, including an epic shot of Santa Elena Canyon. It fit perfectly on his poster.
Deep in the heart of a ranch sprawling across the foothills of the Chinati Mountains, a stand of dark-green creosote bushes contrasts with the rocky landscape. The August weather is hot and dry, but these plants have some secret source of water. Candace Covington discovered them several years ago while helping with one of several archaeological digs on the ranch.
Plan to spend at least a few days in the park. You could visit for one day, but why do that when you’ve probably already driven at least a day to get there?
Big Bend National Park got a new superintendent last fall
with the arrival of Bob Krumenaker, a 36-year veteran of the National Park Service who spent the past 16 years as superintendent of Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin. A native of New York, Krumenaker has worked in 14 national parks, including two years in the early 1980s at Big Thicket National Preserve in East Texas. Krumenaker sat down with Texas Highways in November, seven weeks into the job.
After the federal shutdown ended Friday night with an agreement to reopen the government for three weeks, Big Bend started rolling out the reopening of its campgrounds, visitor centers, and other facilities on Sunday. The process was complete by Wednesday when public access to the international Boquillas Crossing Port of Entry was also restored.
“We’re overjoyed to be back,” said Tom VandenBerg, the park’s chief of interpretation. “It took a few days to get everybody’s mind back in the game. It’s been a little bit stressful and weird, but we’re easing into things, and visitors are showing up.”
Big Bend and other federal properties had been closed, or operating with significantly reduced services, for more than a month during the 35-day government shutdown. The majority of Big Bend’s staff furloughed during the shutdown, while the park’s law enforcement officers were kept on duty without pay throughout.
BIG BEND National Park can be intimidating. Countless photographs behold the region’s undeniable grandeur, its spectacular amalgam of desert, mountain, river, and sky. But the images also convey vast emptiness—16th-century Spanish explorers dubbed this territory el despoblado, “the uninhabited.” And those scenic photos often overlook the granular details, where scorpions, thorns, snakes, sunburns, and blisters reside. So it’s understandable when the uninitiated knit their brows at the thought of Big Bend, weighing a vacation experience against fears of a survival exercise in the Chihuahuan Desert borderlands.
I live 4,900 miles away from England, where I was born, on any day of the week. But on that day, home was getting farther away still. It’s not just the eight-hour drive with my family from Austin, where we now live, to Terlingua. It’s something else, something farther than the distance … everything is left behind en route.