Big Thicket National Preserve: Turkey Creek Unit
Big Thicket National Preserve is a conglomerate of 15 areas. The preserve is pretty but not a hikers paradise. Oil prospectors, hunters, and water sport enthusiasts are more likely to find grand excitement here. However, the Sundew Trail offers the pitcher plant, an insect-eater. We were expecting these guys to be Super Mario Brothers style but, alas, they had no teeth.
The Turkey Creek Unit should be your day hiking destination. It has the most trail as well as a plethora of habitats. Lots to see and love.
If you are looking to camp, you should head to the US Army Corps Camp at Magnolia Ridge. It is $10 for a night and only 30 minutes from the Turkey Creek Unit.
After Big Thicket, put pedal to metal and high tail it to San Antonio. The Alamo closes at 5:30 pm but only takes about an hour to explore. The Alamo is free but be a good citizen and donate to the shrine. Also, be respectful; turn off phones and don’t touch the walls.
Hungry? Why wait? Head to Vegeria for some vegan tex-mex. They grow a good amount of their produce on-site which pays off in flavor. After dinner you will need beer so head to Big Hops Growler Station which is only a block away. This place has more than a few taps and the employees know their beer.
Now you’ll need coffee for your drive to Big Bend National Park so head to Revolucion Coffeehouse and Juice Bar. They make their own almond milk which is worth the extra 50 pennies.
Big Bend National Park: Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive & Grapevine Hills
There is a bend in the Rio Grande. This bend is surrounded by protected lands. On the American side, this land is known as Big Bend National Park.
Dark skies are the name of game at this isolated park. On a cloudless night you can see enough shooting stars to meet your 10-year quota. Or so we are told; clouds hung about our heads as we plodded through mountains and canyons.
The 30-mile Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive is the best place to start. There are a lot of hikes and road side exhibits along the way to keep you busy for a full day and beyond.
Santa Elena Canyon is a must, as any ranger will tell you. The easy trail climbs a bit and gives you a nice view down the canyon.
If you can, time your drive so that you end at Sotol Vista at sunset. Your eyes will be jumping from the sunset to the glowing mountains opposite.
You can camp at one of the 3 developed campsites for $15/night or head to the backcountry for $10, no matter how long the stay. Three of the backcountry sites are along Grapevine Hills. If you stay here, you will be set for a morning hike out to Balanced Rock. The trail begins at the end of the road and strolls through the canyon. You may need to grab onto a rock or 2 for support towards the end.
Another very easy but rewarding hike leads to the Chimneys. This 2-mile, flat trail enables you to get up close and personal with petroglyphs and Native American ruins. Surprisingly, the area has not been subject to graffiti.
After all these easy hikes, the question is, “Can Big Bend challenge me?”. Yes, yes it can.
We tried to reach the Window via a more complicated route than the usual guest. Across from Sam Niell Ranch is a dirt road, not advisable to 2 wheel drive vehicles. We drove down this road in the rain but were fairly scared of being trapped by the mud, not a great situation sans cell reception.
At the end of the road, the trail begins. Had it not be rain, cold, and foggy, we might have made it to The Window. However, our Window loss turned into an off-map hike to Cattail Falls. The trail may not be on any map but it is clearly maintained by NPS. The turnoff is marked by a large sign that says, “This trail is not on your map but is worth the hike.” More or less anyway.
Need more hikes? Pick a canyon, any canyon. Just carry a map and the other ten essentials. And as always, inquire at the Ranger Station if you need advice or someone to leave your trip itinerary with.
Everyone knows that you have to go to Guadalupe Mountains National Park and Carlsbad Caverns National Park after Big Bend. If you need to stretch your legs or pee on the way, stop at Fort Davis National Historic Site. The place isn’t much more than refurbished buildings in a pretty landscape but there are lessons to be had. The US used the post to “protect” citizens from Native Americans as they headed West.