Big Bend Roadtrip
Our seminary students let us know about a three day weekend just the week before. I suppose we could be better at checking the schedule ourselves but where is the fun in that? Jacob suggested a road trip to enjoy the extra day and we booked a hotel in Alpine, a small town in West Texas for three nights. I call it a small town but it was kind of the biggest one around with a total of two chain hotels, two fast food joints, and a whole university. We were confused at first that everything said Big Bend but that we were over one hundred miles from the national park. But Big Bend refers to the region of Texas not just the specific curve in the Rio Grande (although that is where the name comes from). At the university in Alpine we visited a museum about the local history. On a mountain top a cache of around 2,000 arrow points were found near some intricate cave paintings. There was also a nice display of aerial photography of the region.
We stopped on the way at South Llano River State Park for a hike. We hiked up such a steep road that bikes weren’t even allowed. But Anna did great and the view at the top was lovely of the valley. We saw a pack of wild turkeys and Anna found a variety of animal tracks. She and Jacob practiced taking photos at the top. Anna loved getting to use the tripod. She took a few photos of us, including one where she wanted me to pose with my arm above my head. We were so grateful for a chance to stretch our legs on our 6 hour trip. Anna and I were even lucky enough to see an armadillo! She told me that we have a book about them and went on to wonder where the babies were, probably back home with their dad. Our storybook is about a momma armadillo and her three busy baby boys.
We drove on from Junction to Fort Stockton. We rolled in around 4 and the visitor center ladies were so happy to see the kids that we got a handful of town pins and a teddy bear for each child. Nearby we found some metal cut outs of pioneers and native Americans, an 11-foot roadrunner statue, and some sweet preserved railcars.
The railroad was definitely a defining part of this region. All the towns that exist in the sparsely populated Big Bend region have a rail presence, including an Amtrak station in Alpine. We couldn’t escape it. On our drive to Marfa we saw a train pulling over 75 military vehicles. And when we were out light-watching a short Amtrak train passed by with pretty sweet night lights. Most of the main highways paralleled the rails.
Our first day in the Big Bend area. As we drove east of Marfa we saw a blimp like thing just floating. We argued for a few miles whether it was tethered or not. But soon came upon the Tethered Aerostat Radar System, a border protection unit. A bit farther we found Prada Marfa, an art installation literally in the middle of no where. It wasn’t even near Marfa.
Our trip then turned north to Fort Davis where we found a sweet soda shop for lunch and a park to play at. The drive had taken us through a few ranches, over cattle guard and through the hills. It was wonderfully beautiful. I sometimes had a hard time being the driver since I just wanted to stare at the rock formations and beautifully desolate fields that surrounded our drives.
We went for a hike in the Davis Mountains State Park along the ridgeline for the best view. Anna creatively came up with stories as we hiked and collected quite a row of rocks while we waited for Jacob to fetch the car. I struggled carrying Isaac on a hike two days in a row. Jacob kept him entertained by letting him touch all the safe (not pokey) plants.
We had a wonderful surprise blessing with our hotel: there was an indoor pool! However, Jacob had failed to notice this during booking so we hadn’t packed our suits. We are pretty sure there isn’t any water in that part of Texas outside of the wells. But the town, with only one small grocery store and one Dollar General happened to have a discount everything store going out of business. I know for a fact we couldn’t find bathing suits at Target in January but at the discount store? We found one for everyone in our family, and in the right sizes! A travel miracle. We all went swimming that night in the pool. Isaac loved splashing and sitting on the steps. Anna worked her arms by swimming around the edge of the pool and Jacob enjoyed the hot tub. It was a perfect relaxing end to our second adventurous day.
Sunday we actually kept it low key by attending church and chilling at the hotel. The branch was excited to get to know us and tell us all about the area. There were members who drove from over an hour all around Alpine to attend church there, northwest past Fort Davis and all the way south to the Mexican border. The people at the local playground were just as kind and welcoming to us tourists. But everyone was very curious as to why we were visiting if we weren’t here to see the national park. Jacob and I were a pinch embarrassed to tell them we came to see a statue of a roadrunner and a fake store on the side of the road. But like I said I really fell in love with the landscape. Without knowing much about it I expected a desert/Arizona landscape but it was instead all ranch, rocks, and tumbleweeds. I felt like I was experiencing it wrong since I wasn’t on a horse!
The brightness though was unrelenting. I couldn’t believe I forgot my sunglasses. Anna packed hers but one afternoon she instead depended on my sweater to keep the brightness out so she could take a nap. We, as responsible parents, did take it off her face so she could breathe once we noticed she was asleep. But we took a picture first because, well, it is 2015.
Anna enjoyed the pool a whole lot more on Sunday and I watched some of the football games which at first interested Isaac but then put him right to sleep. I felt the same way after watching the one NFL conference championship go into overtime and the second was a blowout, yawn.
Monday was our last day of freedom and we made sure to stop for bottled water and picnic supplies before heading back on the road. Instead of the highway we took the southern route back. We were so close to Mexico that we could see across the river at times and we even were stopped at a Border Patrol inspection station. We saw so much beautiful water. We picnicked at Seminole Canyon State Park. Although we weren’t able to tour their cool cave art we got a taste of it in the museum.
Jacob stopped us at the Amistad International Reservoir, a beautiful body of water we can’t wait to go visit again in the summer. Anna talked us into stopping for milkshakes a couple hours from home and our restaurant choice just happened to be right next to the local city park. Anna quickly got to climbing and making friends while Isaac stayed busying climbing the stairs, his new favorite activity.
We were sure in the car a lot for the four days we were on vacation, but oh was it worth it. We love taking in new places and spending so much time together. Texas has introduced quite a bit of excitement and uncertainty to our normal vaguely planned roadtrips. There weren’t infinite stops to make like on the East Coast. But that is the real point of these adventures, to see and grow. New England was the training wheels to our family trips. Here in Texas we are learning to balance on two wheels, and with two babies in tow no less! (The kids actually make it easy. Isaac is a religious car sleeper and Anna can make a game out of whatever she can reach: my little ponies, newspapers, sweaters, a mitten…) Life is so good.