#1 Big Bend: Big Doubts
United at the parking area with our male ego's falsely boosted and our limbs still intact, we drove back to our camping site...
Senior year of college, I developed a travel itch. I convinced six others to take a trip to Big Bend National Park in the very south of Texas, bordering Mexico. I ensured them of grand beauty. I had based my reasoning off Google Images afterall.
I had seen several pictures of this very famous "bend." The immediate search results suggested the bend was associated with Big Bend National Park. Made sense, right? The famous bend must be in a national park called "Big Bend."
We rented a Ford Explorer and squeezed seven of us in. Here was the magnificent plan: We drive non-stop..for 10 hours...through the night into Big Bend, spend the day exploring, and return the following night. You would think a total of 20 hours of driving would be more than manageable with seven people. Well, only two of us had driving licenses. I had a learner's permit but no one else was above 21 to allow me to drive legally. At least keeping the chatter level up in the cabin to keep the driver awake would not be a problem. 4 hours in, it was the engine's drone who found companions in the asynchronized snoring inside.
Still, we made it into Big Bend National Park. Some of us had pseudo-hangovers. The flat landscape accentuated the sparse mountains. We grabbed a park map but had no idea where to go. You see, this was at the very genesis of my travel passion. In other words, I had not done an iota of planning compared to what I would do today. The trip was based off Google Images (that too only the first three rows).
Nevertheless, I kept everyone's spirits high. We drove toward a point which we thought resembled a bend. On foot, we walked closer to our perceived viewpoint, expecting a grand vista. False alarm. We walked further up and were certain that was it. Nope. We all look around hopelessly. Where IS this bend??
I tried convincing myself (before convincing others) that we were at the right place. I lead a walk to the top of a hill that overlooked the Rio Grande. I reasoned that what we had seen in Google Images was probably taken from a helicopter, at a particular time of the year. Because we were at ground level, we must have been standing on the bend itself and hence, missing the "Big Bend" view. I received enough "aah's" to put the graph of this trip on a positive tend.
Internally, I was disappointed.
But in all fairness, Big Bend National Park is beautiful. It was poor planning and lack of time that deprived us of the true experience. We drove to the Chisos mountains area and walked around. Not all of us were keen hikers (I would contest hikers were at a minority). Hence, we did not hike much...rather walked. Still, it was beautiful as the sun set between the mountains, despite the heavy cloud cover.
That evening, one of us boys suggested we take a walk on a trail that lead through mountain lion country - despite clear warnings advising exactly against that. I can guarantee none of us actually wanted to go through with it because we were all mature enough to understand that it was a bad idea. But, we were not mature enough as a group of boys to keep our male egos in check and refuse audibly. In short, everyone agreed it was a great and fun idea. Except the two girls, who refused bluntly. Smart.
We, bravehearts, set forth on our mountain-lion-challenging expedition in the cover of night. We thought it would be wise to remain quiet to avoid drawing wildlife attention. In hindsight, that only compounded our bad-decision making. When hiking through wildlife active areas, you are supposed to make your presence heard because lions and bears avoid humans in general. The last thing you would want to do is to startle them. Oh and yes, black bears were active in Big Bend too.
Finally, one-by-one, we all came to our senses and suggested we should head back. However, no one stated the actual reason frankly. "Dude, I don't think there's anything there...yeah, let's just head back. Those girls might be getting scared too. Yeah, you're right."
United at the parking area with our male ego's falsely boosted and our limbs still intact, we drove back to our camping site. We set up camp and realized we were short on blankets. Comfort would elude us. The sky turned really dark...with storm clouds. There went our hopes of witnessing the famous Big Bend night sky!
One of us abandoned the tent and decided to sleep in the car. He happened to be a proud Boy Scout, by the way. Anyway, we all tried getting some sleep as we had planned to drive back in the morning. The great decision-making was a constant feature of our trip.
Suddenly, I was woken up by a thunderous sound. The tent swayed violently in the wind. Another clap of thunder. It was getting rather periodic. Some intense storm, I thought. It was only when I turned to my left I realized the "thunder" was in reality obnoxious snoring.
Soon, no one could sleep. The thunder was too loud. Everyone was outside the tent. We then, made the next intellectually-motivated decision. Let's just drive back to Dallas now. Why wait? Around 3 am, we packed our tent and made the 11 hour drive back home. We tried to justify the success of the trip. We must have seen the bend we set out to seek. If not, then it was probably located on the Mexican border along the river which had several "bends."
Fast forward to present, we all have a laugh when we think of our Big Bend tip. But, despite the disappointment, I unknowingly started my quest to explore all 59 national parks of the United States. I do intend to go back to Big Bend...properly. But, do you know what's the best bit about this tale? The "bend" that we saw in Google images, that inspired us to take the road to Big Bend, is not in Big Bend National Park. In fact, it is not in Texas at all. What we were looking for...was Horseshoe bend, located in northern Arizona. Here is a picture of Horseshoe Bend that I took 2 years later: