Saturday, April 5, 2008

Best kept secret of Big Bend

Odyssey at Government Springs

We are at Government Springs, also known as Grapevine Hills #1, smack dab in the middle of Big Bend National Park (map).

It is stunningly beautiful here -- 360° of uninterrupted park scenery. The only signs of human presence here are Odyssey itself, a 1-yard "bear box," and the dirt road running past our site. We've seen perhaps a half dozen cars go by since we parked here yesterday afternoon.

This site, and perhaps three others like it, may be one of the best kept secrets of the park. It is considered a "back country" site, and, other than the aforementioned bear box (which, here, is not only for black bear, but also javelina, coyote, cougars, and the other wildlife that roam freely through the park) has no amenities whatsoever, not even a trash barrel. As with all 72 primitive roadside sites in the park, it is unreservable, and a permit must first be obtained at the visitor center, good for a specific site on specific nights.

We might easily have taken this space for our whole stay in the park -- a single $10 back country permit may be written for up to 14 nights, the best deal in the park. However, we will need to dump our tanks in the next couple of days, and, at some point, we will need to run the generator to charge our batteries, having done so only by driving since we left Sierra Vista. Generators are prohibited in the back country. So we had the ranger write us up for two nights, and tomorrow we will move uphill to the Chisos Basin campground, assuming our reconnaissance on the scooter later today reveals that Odyssey can make the drive without problems, as I surmised on our last visit three years ago (the road is posted as inadvisable for rigs over 24').

The vast majority of the primitive roadside sites are along what amount to jeep trails, accessible only to high clearance vehicles. This spot, however, is easily reached via a well-graded dirt road. There are three other such sites in the park, but this one is the easiest to get to, and also the only one of the four that was available last night when we arrived at the Panther Junction visitor center.

The site itself is enormous, a large clearing covered in pea gravel. One could easily park four rigs here, but we won't have company -- the site is exclusively ours for the duration of our permit. And the purpose of the lone fixture at the site was eminently clear, as a family of javelina began circling as I was gilling up short ribs for dinner. I shouted at them that roast pork was next, and they gave me a little distance -- but we were careful to keep the dog indoors, as the park newspaper relates the tale of a poodle tied to a picnic table that, ahem, became the picnic.

Yesterday's drive was pleasant and scenic, if a bit hilly and curvy. The raw beauty in the Big Bend region is something that can not be captured here in words. As before, driving past Lajitas was a bit emotional for me (as is visiting Castolon or Boquillas Crossing) -- looking across the river to the withering poblado of Paso Lajitas evokes both sadness and anger. And this time through, we opted to skip the tourist trap of Terlingua.

We're here in the park until at least Monday, as our mail is en route to the tiny post office at Panther Junction. Depending on when it arrives, and our whim at the time, we may leave the park a bit sooner than planned, as we are now contemplating attending a scooter rally that starts Thursday in Galveston.


  1. Love Big Bend. We got to return for Christmas last year. I can almost guarantee there is no way to get your RV into the Chisos. There are 2 very tight hairpin turns and the campground is very tight with tiny spaces.

  2. Sean,

    We envy you guys, however Tami and I have our MCI 9 trailer and Scion XB and are working on the road for the next few years. We are very much enjoying the road life, when we have to cover several thousand miles in one or two weeks we leave the bus and Hotel/Scion these trips. Eventually we hope to hang up the working part and just travel.
    I think your idea of no vehicle and just the scooters would be good but a little scary as we have had a few break downs in the past 25 years of busing ( 4104,s and now the MCI), what is your input re no vehicle.

    I always enjoy and look forward to your posts and comments.



  3. Get out of that corner as fast as you can! When it snows up there it really knows how to. I was there the week before Christmas in the mid '70's and saw feet of snow on the ground and falling inches /hour. Pretty postcard pics. but WAY cold.

  4. @John: Louise has suggested that this would be a good topic for an entire post, so stay tuned for something here "soon" (meaning: when I get around to it).

    In the meantime, let me just say that in over five years of full-timing, we have never, ever said "gee, we really wish we had a car," whereas there have been many, many times when we've said "boy, we're sure glad we don't tow anything."

    In all that time, we have rented cars twice, and borrowed cars three or four times. We have not come close to spending what it would cost just for the towing gear, let alone the cost of owning a car or the mileage penalty.

    @Anonymous: I'm guessing you're not talking about Big Bend, but instead this comment goes with our latest post:

    I'd move the comment if I could, but Blogger does not give me a way to do that. It makes more sense to readers coming along later if the comments relate to the correct post.



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