As he wrapped up his journey through southwestern Texas, national parks traveler Mikah Meyer admits he didn’t allocate enough days for his visit to the huge -- and hugely popular -- Big Bend National Park and Rio Grande Wild & Scenic River.
“Big Bend is so huge that to go from the western edge of the park to the eastern edge is about 50 miles (80 kilometers)," he said. “I planned three days for Big Bend and one day for the Rio Grande and I really should have had more days."
But he still managed to squeeze in an impressive number of adventures in that relatively short amount of time.
Driving through a mountainous region of the park, he was immediately struck by its beauty. “It was just stunning,” he recalled. “It looks like something out of a painting or a movie or a postcard.”
That rugged terrain was just one of the features of the park’s diverse landscape, which spreads across 324,000 hectares. The rest is made up of hot, dry desert, and part of the Rio Grande, which forms the natural 1600 kilometer long border between Texas and Mexico.
“It's like something straight out of a wild, wild west movie,” Mikah remarked as he stood on a hill overlooking the river that separates the two countries. “It's kind of dry and flat desert and then suddenly these gorgeous mountains just appear, scattered everywhere like little sprinkles on ice cream.”
A lick of ice cream would have been a refreshing welcome from the searing 37 degree Celsius heat as Mikah navigated his way along the Rio Grande Village Nature Trail on the banks of the river. During his hike, he got to observe some of the park’s many plant and animal species. He marveled at the variety of cactuses, many blooming with colorful flowers, and peered into a shallow pool of water that was so clear, he could see the scales on the fish swimming around in it.
Nature’s hot tub
Hot and dusty after that, Mikah immersed himself in the park’s ancient hot springs – which are believed to have healing powers. He described it as “a hot tub basically made out of local rocks."
"They used to be part of a Hot Springs resort, but now they are free and open to the public.” He relaxed in the calming waters as the river around him rushed by. He called it a “pretty cool experience,” to be able to enjoy the waters “out in the wild, out in the open, at a national park.”
Day 2 – Cool peaks
On day two of his trip, Mikah waded across the Rio Grande into Mexico, rode a kilometer or so into the border town of Boquillas for a tasty lunch, then headed back to the U.S. just in time to start a climb up to the Chisos Mountains. The entire range, including a large swath of the Chihuahuan Desert, is contained in Big Bend National Park.
The tough workout put Mikah’s fitness to the test. “I worked so hard to get to the top of this mountain,” he recounted. “It was dry and my glasses were fogging up and I had sunscreen in my eyes and I was sweating and my nose was running because it was cold up there… I felt so miserable but it was so gorgeous that I couldn't help but keep a pep in my step and keep going.”
He made it all the way to Emory Peak, which - at 2385 meters - is the highest point in Big Bend National Park.
“The view at the top was just so gorgeous that it was worth it,” Mikah said. “The whole latter half of the hike, you’re high enough that you can look down at the Chisos Mountains Lodge,” a rustic refuge nestled in the basin of the mountain range where he had stayed the night before.
Day 3 - Ancient lands
By day three of his trip, Mikah was ready for some canoeing with the Far-flung Outdoor Center. He grabbed an oar and headed out onto the Rio Grande.
Starting at the mouth of the Santa Elena Canyon, a popular destination in and of itself, he had a spectacular view of the majestic canyon from the base of its 450 meter high cliffs while he enjoyed a guided, multi-hour float down the river… at least until the the water got too shallow to float the canoes.
"One of the guides is pulling two canoes at the same time to help get people over these really shallow parts,” Mikah said. “So it was not like the wild rafting excursion you might imagine, it was more like a very shallow canoe float.”
“As I was looking up at these massive canyon walls, I realized that if you were a Native American or somebody from hundreds of years ago, this was probably the biggest, highest thing you've ever seen. And I understand now why people saw these massive rocks and mountains and thought they were gods,” he said.
Day 4 – Bumpy ride
On his fourth and final day in the park, Big Bend Overland Tours took Mikah was taken on a long and bumpy tour through some of the park's most remote areas – a day-long adventure most visitors don’t get to experience.
“What made this so special is that there's a lot of roads in the park that you really can't get to unless you have a four wheel drive or a high-clearance Jeep, and so this company, Big Bend Overland Tours, takes people on these back roads that you can't access without a vehicle.”
Mikah said that despite being exhausted and “disgustingly dirty and dusty” by the end of the day, he also felt “fulfilled that I had really fully experienced this park and got to see portions of it that I never imagined I would get to see.”
In fact, after his time in Big Bend National Park, Mikah says it's now one of his favorites.
Looking back... and ahead
Mikah wrapped up his adventures in Texas with a visit to Guadalupe Mountains National Park in West Texas, which stretches into the state of New Mexico.
Just as he did in the Chisos Mountains, Mikah hiked to Guadalupe Peak, at 2666 meters, the highest point in Texas .
“The coolest part was getting to the top and getting to look across Texas and seeing both the diversity of land in Texas, everywhere I'd just come from, then also look to the north to New Mexico,” Mikah said. “Everywhere I was about to go.”
Mikah, who plans to visit all 400 plus sites within the U.S. National Park Service, invites you to learn more about his ongoing journey across the American southwest by visiting him on his website, Facebook and Instagram.