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  • Writer's picturevanlafaxine

week 5: san antonio, big bend

day 30: san antonio

bill: san antonio has a very weird vibe. the downtown city centre is empty, devoid of human life, with the exception of the odd tourist seeing the alamo, it is almost like no one lives or works here. the architecture is beautiful old colonial style, grand and exceptionally well preserved, but the absence of any patina or graffiti or wear or dirt gives the downtown a very sterile, contrived, disneyland type feel. the river walk is beautiful but again, aside from tourists, the odd runner, or tourist trap restaurants, empty. this is the only place we have been where there are absolutely no unhoused people. we found our way to a small dive bar with a few locals in it, asked the bartender where the cool parts of town were and he said "what do you mean? this is it."

Amy: After a busy afternoon sightseeing, eating and drinking, we arrived back to the van to find a bright yellow police report tucked in our windshield and a business card with a hastily scratched message: "plz call me about your van and the tow truck". Oh no. I spoke to staff at the neighbouring hotel, and Bill went to talk to some construction workers who had been nearby all day. Turns out that the lot is a towing scam, it seems even cars (like ours) that paid for parking get towed and impounded for a exorbitant fee regularly. About 15 minutes after we arrived, a tow truck rolled into the lot and cranked up our van. The motorcycle (which is hitched to the back) hit the ground and began dragging. Seeing the commotion, the nearby construction workers came over and pointed out that the tow truck was going to damage the motorcycle. They began taking photos and called the police, so the driver abandoned our van and towed another vehicle instead. Since we were concerned about damage to the van, we called the number on the police report. An officer came by right away but said there wasn't much the police could do. Since it was a private lot, the matter would be civil vs. criminal. Great. We both went to sleep uneasy, but thankful we had a place to lay our heads.

(photo courtesy of the construction workers)

while we were visiting the alamo some americans tried to take something that didn't belong to them but ultimately had to give it up, how's that for conceptual symmetry?

day 31: big bend

Towing debacle aside, we both felt ready to get back into nature after spending a few weeks in sprawling Texan cities. Thankfully, the van did not seem damaged (except maybe some alignment issues, or maybe it is just windy). It was a big day - about 7 hours to Big Bend National Park. As we drove, the landscape changed from strip malls and suburbs to flat barren deserts and rolling rocky foothills dotted with cacti. We pulled into camp under a fuchsia sunset and watched twilight settle over the desert. 

driving into big bend is a lot like driving into banff for the first time. that same awe that had become somewhat dulled with familiarity, reignited by a completely new but equally surreal landscape. we drove into stillwell as the sun was setting, there is a weird combination of big mountains and big sky here, the peaks are equally tall but more dispersed, which makes for fantastic sunsets. the desert landscape is completely foreign to me and i am endlessly fascinated by all of the cacti, shrubs, and rugged rocks. we realized we will likely not leave the desert landscape for another 4 months, only once we hit north california/oregon.

day 32: big bend

As we drove into the park the next morning, the rocky foothills we glimpsed last night gave way to towering mountains. The van chugged up the winding road into Chisos basin where we were camping the next two nights. On our way in, we stopped to hike the Lost Mine Trail - a delightful sunny trek up a medium-sized peak. From the top, you could see the Rio Grande slicing through the desert, and on the other side, Mexico! We settled into camp and ended the evening with a walk to the Window View Trail to watch the sunset.

the window

today we drove into the heart of big bend: the chisos mountain range, which is a small but tall circle of volcanic peaks sticking out of the desert. we are camping in the basin in the middle of the mountains, many switchbacks ensued - the highest elevation on the road was 1850m, which in a carbureted vehicle means significantly less power, but we did make it. we hiked the lost mine trail, a quick 7.7 km 350m introduction to the chisos range, very beautiful, vistas at every turn and an amazing view from the top. the mountain structures are different here - the iconic casa grande has these massive faces made of broad pillars surrounding the normal scree wash and shrubbery. if we had more time we would have climbed casa grande since it seems there is a pretty straightforward scree-bash to the top, but tomorrow we will do emory peak since it is taller. around sunset we took the bike out and drove the switchback road in and out of the basin, probably the most amazing motorcycle ride i have ever done.

casa grande/milky way

day 33: big bend

today we climbed emory peak, the highest mountain in big bend which comes in at 2360m, which for alberta or bc is average but for texas is extremely tall. the hike was about 17km and 750m. the last bit to the summit involved a very fun scramble, steep but solid rock and only a little exposure, this time amy was game and joined me. i am definitely not acclimated to the altitude yet, sitting eating lunch at the top my heart rate was 110. the van too is not acclimated, it stalled trying to climb the switchbacks to the trailhead, but we did get there (slowly) once we switched it to 1st gear.

The Emory peak trail started flat, but soon we were trudging up switchbacks, inching our way toward the summit. Eventually, the altitude became more noticeable and we had to stop for more frequent breaks. We emerged from the trees and had two summit options - one easier but shorter, one harder but the true summit, we opted for the latter. The view was spectacular - 360 degrees! We sat for ages admiring the mountains, plains and canyons and watched birds soar in the updrafts. The descent required more careful navigation, but we made it down in time for micheladas, dinner and sunset. Oh and small world - a woman from Ontario camped right next to us!

scrub jay

casa grande/prickly pear

day 34: big bend

After experiencing the central part of the park, we ventured to the east side of Big Bend. The mountains got smaller, and the vegetation more sparse. We hiked the Boquillas trail in the morning - a short walk at the bottom of a canyon (and we saw a donkey family!) In the afternoon, we hiked up a trail to get a view of the Rio Grande from above. I definitely prefer hikes with a bird’s eye view. On our drive out, we hit the hot spring. In the 1940s, folks would flock to this spot lured by the hot spring’s healing powers. A bathhouse was built to contain the geothermal water, and today, the water still collects in the remaining foundation and you can soak in about 2 feet of water. Very pleasant! We drove out of the park at golden hour and pulled into Terlingua ranch just after dark.

big bend is big. like a few hours to drive across. we wanted to see the whole park so we drove from the middle out to the eastern side to see the rio grande, the boquillas canyon, and throw rocks into mexico. big bend is also unique as far as national park go in that it has lots of backcountry camping, but instead of backpacking you get there by off-roading; unfortunately all of the backcountry sites were booked up. we drove the bike down a few trails, one to a hot spring - riding a dirt bike through the desert is extremely sweet.  i drove my bike back across the park on the way back, which was freezing - the desert is actually pretty cold in the winter, it has been below freezing most nights. we drove down a very long and bumpy road to terlingua ranch with a plan to explore the western part of the park tomorrow - the santa elena canyon and the ross maxwell scenic drive.

early morning from the van

east side of big bend

boquillas canyon

rio grande

Walk to the hot spring

day 35: big bend

bill: we set off in the late morning to drive the few hours to the santa elena canyon, and while navigating the extremely bumpy road out from the ranch, i went a little too fast over a dip in the road and the bike smashed into the back, shattering our back windshield. guess we aren’t going to see the rest of the park today. we cleaned up all the broken glass, called glass shops who are either all closed on the weekend or can’t find parts for a 1987. went back to camp and cardboarded over the window. we also had to clean the whole van top to bottom because the broken window let in an insane amount of desert dust on the way back. feeling overwhelmed and defeated at how we are possibly going to find another window, we went to the restaurant at the ranch and ate a chicken fried steak which was very good. tomorrow we will drive out of rural middle of nowhere texas in hopes of being closer to someone who can help us. it has been a week of real highs and lows, pardon the pun.

Amy: Today sucked. We had planned to explore the west side of Big Bend but our plans were kiboshed when the rear window of the van shattered. Sigh. We took time to sweep up the shards of glass, then made our way back to Teralingua Ranch to tape up the window, and figure out a plan for the next few days.

day 36: big bend to el paso

bill: drove to el paso today to try to be closer to any sort of glass shop or repair options, but being that the van is from the 80s, nobody seems to have the part available. we stopped at home dept and bought some plexiglass and cut it to shape to fit in the old frame and epoxied it in place, good enough for now. stayed at another harvest host at a brewery and watched the superbowl.

Amy: I'm proud of us for fixing our window so quickly! Things are looking up. We will keep calling scrapyards to find a better window, but in the meantime, we feel safe and secure with our new plexiglass.

plexi process

alright now that all of that is said, here is this week's video:


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