Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Big Bend National Park

This last weekend we took a four day trip to Big Bend. It was so fun and relaxing. The kids went hiking with us and had a great time, and we really enjoyed getting to know our friends better.

We had a group space in the Chisos Basin and that was definitely the way to go. They have a minimum requirement of 10 people per site, and we only had 8, but that was okay. The rangers are fairly flexible. There were 4 picnic tables on a covered concrete pavilion and 3 bear lockers for food.

The cost was $3 per person per night, and we had to pay by putting the money in an envelope and leaving it by the sign at the lower, regular campground. We were so near the bathroom it wasn't even funny, but it wasn't loud because the group area was just not overly full.

One of my friends reserved the sites online a few months earlier, and she reserved two sites. In retrospect we only needed one because it was such a long trip and the minimum is 10 people. I don't even know what the maximum is, but it must be high.

Definitely the best place to see, other than the Chisos Basin, was Santa Elena Canyon. It was beautiful and we got to hike into it. The hike was so easy a 2 year old could do it. Literally. But it was also enough of a challenge that I didn't feel silly doing it.

One interesting thing about Big Bend was that because it is basically a huge desert with a few interesting things in it, you have to do a lot of driving (or cycling I suppose) to get to the different attractions. Usually when we camp we unload the car and never get back in it the whole time. This time we were in and out of the car constantly, driving at least 20 miles at a stretch.

We also went to see the Hot Springs, which is worth the short dusty hike if you have a swimsuit and towel, and Boquillas Canyon, which is worth the trip not because of the canyon (it's not nearly as stunning as Santa Elena) but because of the Mexicans right on the other side of the Rio Grande.

You see, up until 9/11, when tourists went to Big Bend it was allowed and even encouraged to go visit the 5 small Mexican villages right on the border. In fact I would surmise that the only reason those villages are there is because of the tourists. There are no real roads to these villages from the rest of Mexico, and it's a desert. It's not like there is electricity or any real stuff to do. It was legal to go 10 miles into Mexico, or vice versa, without having a passport or visa or anything.

Anyway when 9/11 came along, the border was closed except at official crossing points. The closest ones to Big Bend are at least 50 miles away. So these 5 villages have suddenly seen their revenue dry up. It's illegal to buy a walking stick from a Mexican. It's illegal for you to even talk to them because they are on their side and we are on ours.

At the Boquillas Canyon overlook, then, some Mexicans have set their wares out. They sit under some trees on the other side of the Rio Grande, watching their wares, and wave at you. They have walking sticks for sale, along with some other little touristy things. You can buy those same items, officially, through the park, but they are incredibly marked up because of the distance they have to travel to be legal.

It was humbling and sad to realize how the world has changed.


Kim said...

Big Bend is definitely on our list of future places to visit! I'm glad you had a good time and it's good to know it's kid friendly too =)

The whole border thing is a tough issue. I definitely don't have the answers, but I'm sure it's hard to see how those towns have basically no income now.

Angela O. said...

We have yet to visit Big Bend State Park though we would love to go. The time just flies by lately. Thanks for the heads up on the sites to hit whenever we finally get out there.