"I have seen personally what is the only beneficial and appropriate course of action for people: to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in all their hard work on earth during the few days of their life which God has given them, for this is their reward." (Ecclesiastes 5:18, NET)

August 23, 2016

Splendid isolation

According to the National Park Service, Big Bend offers "splendid isolation." Indeed it does.

I went camping with my brother Rex at the park, which encompasses 800,000 acres and the Chisos Mountains. For 3 full days and 4 nights, we were completely off the grid. No electronics. No internet. No clocks. We heard no news. And the only music we heard was what the birds and crickets were making.

It was lovely ... peaceful ... still. Just what I needed.

Even the 13-hour road trip from Houston was pleasant. We drove the back way through little towns so we could stop by if we saw something interesting. In Castroville, it was Haby's Alsatian Bakery, where we each got a ham and cheese croissant, a hearty sausage wrapped in a freshly made tortilla, and their best-selling apple fritter. Because how could we possibly choose just one thing at a place like that?

Then it was an antiques store in Uvalde, where I bought a few books, mostly for decor. My favorite content is a 1942 volume of "The New Human Interest Library," subtitled "Gems of Literature." It contains the US Constitution, Declaration of Independence, famous speeches, fairy tales, and poems. How cool is that? And Rex bought two wine goblets because that's what he does.

Another stop was Langtry to visit Judge Roy Bean's historic saloon, the Jersey Lilly.

Rex bellying up to the bar

Let it rain

As we were entering Big Bend territory, the windshield wipers were working overtime. Several campers passed us going in the opposite direction. Yay! Fewer people at the campground.

I love rain, and it's a good thing because it rained every night we were there. The best rain was on Wednesday. After a day of fun meandering and for at least an hour before the rain began, we were relaxing in our camp chairs, sipping red wine, and enjoying the magnificent thunder roll across the mountains as the cool breeze swirled around us. It was a glorious time for a thunder lover like me.

When the rainstorm hit, it came fast and hard. Rex looked up to see it right on the edge of camp, so he grabbed the food containers and ran for the tent, hollering, "Get in here now! Leave the wine if you have to!"

Whut? I don't think so.

Under my arms I tucked my paper and pen, hat, shirt, and water bottle. I grabbed the wine bottle, then realized I couldn't carry two goblets in the other hand without spilling them. (Rex has metal wine goblets for camping. We like to rough it, but we're not animals.) Since mine had less vino, I chugged it down so I could hold it at an angle. Then I ran to the tent and dove in, spilling nary a drop.

Camping necessities:
Screw-cap wine, water, shop towels
I had teased Rex about having a fold-out nightstand for his tent. But now, it made perfect sense. Where else would there have been a level surface for setting the bottle and goblets?

While the rain and thunder continued, we foraged in the food supplies for dinner. What pairs well with sweet red wine? Vienna sausage, of course, served with mustard and saltines. It was quite delightful. And it was a nice follow-up to our tasty meal the first night of beef jerky, hard lemonade, and the apple fritters from Haby's.

What is it about camping that makes any food taste fabulous!

Our prime spot in the Chisos Basin Campground

Rex's trusty tent kept us dry all week. And although we had a little mud, we never had a puddle since we were camped on a hill. The desert air would dry our canvas chairs in no time at all, and it wasn't even humid after the rain would stop. So no complaints from me about the rain. Well, except for one ...

Star light, star bright

The cloudy night skies were pitch-black, shrouding the stars from sight. And stargazing topped the list of things I wanted to do! I hardly ever see a star in the city, so I was really looking forward to that. There was also an unseen meteor shower the last two nights we were there, and the opportunity to see it was one of the reasons I was okay with going in the August heat.

Every night I prayed that the sky would clear long enough for me to see the stars at least once. As I retired on Thursday after another dark, rainy evening, I was beginning to lose hope.

It must have been well after midnight when my eyes suddenly popped open. I was wide awake. My first thought was how I had been sleeping much deeper than the previous nights. Then I looked out the tent window, and what to my wondering eyes should appear but ... stars!

Rushing outside before my legs were steady, I threw my head back to survey the wondrous sight and almost fell down. So I leaned back against the car and slowly rolled my head from side to side, marveling at the illuminated expanse above.

A little while later, I made my usual predawn trek up to the restroom—sans my umbrella, flashlight, and staring down at the path in front of me. Instead, I fox-trotted up the hill and kept my eyes on the sky. There wasn't a single sound nor a single light in the entire campground. It was just me and the stars.

Then I sat in my chair for a bit, reveling in the splendor of God's light show. (No, I wasn't being selfish by not waking Rex. Unlike me, he camps often and sees plenty of stars.)

Although I was wide awake, when I lay down again I instantly fell back into a deep sleep. The next morning, I reflected on what a beautiful, unexpected way God answered my prayer. It was as if the Almighty had tapped me on the shoulder and whispered, "Come and see."

Praise Him, sun and moon; praise Him, all stars of light! (Ps. 148:3)


I've been to Mexico border towns before, but nothing like Boquillas. Even getting there was different. After passing through customs on the US side, Pedro took us across the Rio Grande in his rowboat, gallantly helping me in and out of it.

Then we had the choice of getting to the village by walking or by truck, horse, or burrow. If not for the triple-digit heat, we would have preferred the slow burrow experience, but opted for Felipe's truck instead.

After the sweltering trailer where we went through customs on the Mexico side, we strolled through the poor little village, first passing the two restaurants, then a house where a man sells his wares from the porch. He called out to us, but we wanted to see what else was there first, so we waved and said we'd be back.

Just one little girl approached us selling bracelets, and the only other people we saw were huddled under canopies at the end of a road. It looked like a personal gathering, so we turned and went back to the vendor we saw earlier.

Ranger Mark and Pablo
Pablo seemed to understand what we were saying, even though he spoke no English. As I selected a couple of walking sticks, an amiable park ranger, Mark, came up and introduced himself. He told us about the village and why it was so quiet that day. Victor the Singing Mexican, their premier resident, died the day before of a sudden heart attack at the age of 65.

So instead of the street being lined with canopies under which vendors sold their wares, the village was in mourning. As Pablo talked about it, the only words I understood were "Victor" and "corazón," but his sadness translated clearly. I told him how sorry I was for his loss.

We then went to the Boquillas Restaurant for an authentic Mexican meal, made from scratch by Mena in her clean little kitchen. Every bite was truly delectable.

The owner and waiter, Ventura, told us more about Boquillas and Victor's funeral procession that would go through the village to the little cemetery on the lower level. They were just waiting for Victor's son to return from helping fight a wildfire in Colorado. I really wish we could have stayed for it.

Ranger Mark stopped by the restaurant for a cold cervesas and sat with a couple from the Czech Republic, whom we also met. And all the visitors met Joaquin, an 86-year-old resident. He spoke of living on a ranch for over 70 years, and proudly showed off a rock with his face drawn on it, which sat on the table near him. Later, Joaquin carefully wrapped his rock in a cloth, tucked it away, and ambled down the street using a rickety old wheelchair for a walker.

That was a special day.

Pine Canyon

Our one big hike was the Pine Canyon trail. Off the beaten path, it isn't even in the park brochures. The "road" to the trail is so rough and rocky that we could barely drive 5 mph, so it took 50 minutes to go about 4 miles.

The first part of the trail was a slight incline on a mountain in 103° heat, with only an occasional tree to duck under for quick relief. Rex assured me that there was plenty of shade in the canyon.

Now to me, a canyon trail would be on somewhat level ground. But oh no. Even after we got in that shady, breeze-less canyon, it was uphill most of the way with the trail winding along the mountainside.

The last part of the trail was much steeper and rockier than this,
but I was too weak by then to take a picture.

So how long do you think it took me to walk 2 miles uphill on a rocky, uneven path in stifling heat? ... No, longer than that ... longer ... try a whopping 3 hours! I thought about quitting a few times, but I'm so glad I didn't.

At the end of the trail, we stepped into a waterfall oasis—a beautiful, refreshing place to rest, cool off, enjoy our surroundings, and have a little picnic lunch. I knew then I would live.

Turn your sound up to hear the gentle waterfall (01:08)

Two good things about me taking numerous and lengthy rest stops to get there were: 1) The only other hikers, who arrived shortly before us, were able to enjoy the waterfall by themselves as we did later; 2) Rex didn't have to hoist my limp, unresponsive body across his shoulders and carry me back to the car.

You're welcome, folks.

Actually, Rex said he would not have carried me—deeming it more prudent to make sure he was able to get himself back safely so he could tell my story.

What played a big part in helping me soldier on was knowing that the 2 miles back would be mostly downhill, which I covered in a mere hour and 15 minutes. Then after another 50 minutes of 5 mph driving, we were back on the paved road. When we passed the crowded parking at one of the touristy trails, I was feeling even better about the experience.

It left us with a hefty appetite, so on our last night we actually cooked dinner (that is, we heated canned chili) and feasted on Frito pie.

Oh, I would be remiss not to mention the exquisite pleasure of pour-over coffee every morning. Utterly sublime.

Homeward bound

Dividing the drive home over two days, we stopped at brother Mike and sister-in-law Toni's charming little ranch in the hill country of Camp Verde, where there were long showers, soft beds, good food, and sweet fellowship. What a lovely way to assimilate back into society.

I limited this post to just a few highlights of the trip for your sake. But if you're not tired yet, take a gander at more pictures below.

And until next time ... via con Dios, mi amigos!

One of the two Boquillas shopping outlets we visited on the US side
(Money goes under the rock that's inside the can)
Rio Grande view from the shopping outlet above
Our ferry captain (and the glow of Rex's finger)
Scene in downtown Boquillas
Our muy bien lunch and Joaquin's rock (circled in the background)
View from our camping chairs
View slightly to the left
View from the early stage of Pine Canyon trail
View from a drive
Entrance sign (taken on the way out since it was raining on the way in)


  1. What an adventure, Paula! Thanks for sharing. Ellen

  2. Paula didn't tell you about the adorable bunny that would visit our campsite daily.

  3. Love your story. So glad you shared. Big Bend is on my bucket list. I will get there one day