Eric had heard really good things about the Big Bend State Park (as opposed to the National Park that people mean when they refer to Big Bend.) So, we took a day to visit it. We stopped at a ranger station as we did every time we saw one. Eric really likes talking to park rangers, and I really like to eavesdrop as he does it because it’s pretty endearing. I was teasing him about it a little in the car–about how that would be a great gig for him when he is an old man–and he quickly dropped some information that made me understand that he had done some research into the profession in his younger days.
The ranger pointed at a few places on the map and told us it would take about two hours to get to the first hike.
And that’s when I realized I didn’t know much about the state park. I immediately started asking where the nearest gas station was because I wasn’t prepared for a four hour, round trip journey.
I also hadn’t counted on there being no paved roads in the state park. The national park had smooth roads, and Eric and I joked that even when they posted signs saying “rough road” the terrain was smoother than a lot of roads in Austin. Here, after a beautiful, scenic drive (most of the drives in both parks could be considered scenic because they were pretty drives that you had time to appreciate as you could never drive more than 45 MPH). After turning off a lovely, but winding drive, we hit rough, sandy roads where no signs apologized that the trip might be “rough.” But it was.
The state park is a very specific thing, and if you are interested in remote camping or mountain biking, it has a lot to offer. However, I kept referring to it as “primitive,” which I think is a fair description, especially compared to the other park a few miles away.
The state part was also the place where we had our closest brush with danger. We were setting off on a trail that was only marked with little rock piles to indicate you were still going the right way. They weren’t always close together, and somehow we lost the trail. But because the land was flat and barren, everything looked like a potential trail, and it became tricky to figure out where we went wrong and get back on track.
The sun beat down on us the entire time. We once found the tiniest sliver of shade provided that we pressed up against a large rock situation. I have a greater appreciation for people who have managed to create a life in some pretty forbidding terrain. In the heat, I stumbled, reactivating an old ankle injury, and we pushed on because the original trail had been a loop, so maybe we would eventually circle back around to the car.
At one point, Eric left to go scout the area since we had a choice to either climb a hill or keep going around. He left me and scrambled up. Left alone for a while, I started exploring the surrounding area and realized there were signs that animals had been there. Specifically, there was poop, and by the size of the poop, I guessed it was left by something fairly sizable.
I didn’t want to be on my own any more, and I started calling up to Eric. I had to yell for a while before he appeared at the top of the hill he scampered up. When he finally did appear, he said, “Stay there! I’m coming down!”
I did not like the sound of that, and I liked the next thing he said even less. “We should go back the way we came.”
The way we came? All the way back there? It felt impossible and exhausting, and I did not want to do it.
He explained that we were lost enough that retracing our steps was the best way to make it back to the car, and I really wanted to be back at the car. He did not, however, explain that while he’d been scouting, he, too, had seen some animal scat. And also? Bleached, sun dried bones.
While heading back had seemed like a bad idea, I felt a lot better when we found our familiar sliver of shade and sat down to eat some oranges. Eric told me what he’d seen at the top of the hill, but instead of being scared, I was relieved that he felt like we were far enough away from the poop and the bones to tell me about them. He wouldn’t have done that unless he felt we were comparatively safer.
Slowly, things started to look familiar again, and finally we started seeing little rock piles that once again meant we were heading the right way. I realized I was beginning to feel less freaked out about the possibility of dying in the desert when I started making terrible jokes. “What if those rock piles aren’t trail markers?” I asked. “What if that’s a trick that bears have learned to lure hikers to their lair?”
Eric laughed, but he maintained with the confidence of an Eagle Scout that they were legit trail markers.
“I’m just saying the next time we come to a ranger station, ask them about the rock piles. Be vague, like, just mention that we notice them, and see if they take credit or if they say they are made by tricky bears!”
Eric laughed, and I felt sure we wouldn’t be eaten by wildlife. Not today.
We did go to a ranger station, but Eric didn’t ask about rock stacking bears. Instead we downed sodas and Snickers bars, and then we explored a little store that had books. We checked both a pamphlet of animal tracks and scat as well as a children’s book for sale called Who Pooped in the Woods? but nothing matched what we had seen. We will never know who or what pooped in the woods.
We had a good day in the park and there were some cool hikes, though we did also have a close encounter with a large number of bees. I think we would both go back, but we agreed that we should have done a little more research on the park before we went.