I’m as city-boy as they come. Raised in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, I was familiar with little else aside from urban living, and that was fine by me. Massive buildings, restaurants, amusement parks; you name it, New Jersey has it, probably close-by. Here in Dallas, the city life rivals that of Philadelphia (I know, er’body is about to get on my case), with convenience being the norm. Having anything I need within a 5-mile radius from my home is sublime. I have Lebanese cuisine right next door to a Korean restaurant, which is right next door to the Vietnamese donut shop (that’s a thing down here, and it’s awesome). Generally, I would be hard pressed to trade the ease of city life for anything.
That is, until I visited Big Bend National Park.
In the days leading up to Labor Day weekend, I decided it was time for an excursion. Where, I wasn’t sure. Sure, I could have remained in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and checked some things off my list, but instead, I wanted to immerse myself in something so vast, so great, that everything around you pointed to something greater. I had heard reports that western Texas was chalk full of scenic areas, and so after a couple days of debating whether I wanted to drive 8 hours to the Texas-Mexico border, I texted my cousin – who was then in Lebanon. “Friendo, we finna drive to Big Bend after I pick you up from the airport. Yes?” And that was that. Two pairs of boxers, a couple sweats, some water, and I was off. In hindsight, some deet and a protein bar would have been a good idea.
Texas is big. I mean, really, really big. And it’s basically empty. After you leave Fort Worth in the rear view mirror, the westward trek is the textbook definition of bleak, with nothing to illuminate the road but the headlights on your car. This makes for a fairly cautious drive. The stars, however, make it all worth it. With significantly less light pollution, they decorate the large Texas sky, dazzling the viewers from below. Finally, at 3:00 a.m., we found ourselves at our hotel in the little town of Alpine, Texas, quite ready to call it a night.
The plan was to catch the sunrise from a viewpoint in the park itself, and we nailed it. I’ve seen a pretty sunrise in my day, but this particular one was majestically luminescent. The camera on my poor little iPhone 6 didn’t have a chance. I will gladly accept camera donations.
As the sun rose further into the sky, the magnitude of the mountains became increasingly profound. Surprisingly, even more remarkable than the view was the silence that surrounded us. Not a plane, car or train for a hundred miles. Even phone reception was absent. No texts, phone calls, Facebook notifications, or any other routine disturbance. The phrase “you could hear a pin drop” suddenly gained credibility. You literally could hear a pin drop, in every sense of the phrase.
And that’s when it hit me. All this time, I placed an undue emphasis on convenience and ease – on having things. But here I was, with nothing but the clothes on my back (really shoulda brought a protein bar…), and yet, these “things” were, quite really, the furthest thing from my mind.
As we concluded our first hike of the day on a trail aptly called The Window Trail, we found ourselves overlooking hundreds of miles of the Big Bend basin. I skipped leg day 3 consecutive weeks in preparation for this hike. Big shoutout to the Indian fella who brought his curry-scented snacks to the peak: you da real MVP, bro.
I even decided to eat a snack on the way up the mountain. That little sucker was full of seeds, let me tell ya. No personal harm resulted in the eating of this fruit.
The pinnacle of the trip, however, came the next morning, when we explored the western side of Big Bend. An easy 20-mile drive across winding roads, steep inclines, and breathtaking descents lead us through the Santa Elena Canyon. The views were remarkable. I question if there is a camera in the world that could adequately capture what we saw that day. Just for kicks and giggles, I attempted a number of photographs with my little iPhone 6, an obvious master and supreme authority in the photography world.
As we passed through the canyon and approached the Rio Grande, we were greeted by an imposing wall of rock. If you’ve ever watched Game of Thrones (if not, shame upon you and your house), you will obviously recall The Wall. I’m pretty certain I now know what it felt like to be a Wildling. You know nothing, Jon Snow.
And finally, as many before us have done, we waded across the Rio Grande. As you can see in the pictures below, no illegal immigration could have taken place, due to a natural barrier commonly known as a cliff. Mexico lies to the right, the Santa Elena Canyon directly to the front. Apparently, it is not uncommon for Mexican locals to paddle down the Rio and sell small trinkets to Big Bend visitors. Sadly, no such encounters were made on this day. Nevertheless, the beauty more than sufficed.
The intimidating greatness of the mountains, cliffs, and canyons before me kindled an incredible realization of the awesomeness of this national park. Us city-dwellers do not see these things living in our urban areas. Take a weekend and go experience the beauty of creation sometime.
It just might change you.