I was born in Texas. I have a full-sized state flag on my wall. I’ve seen every single episode of King of the Hill (that’s about 95 hours of my life). I love this state and when I was recently planning a vacation I didn’t see any reason to leave it so I headed out West which is arguably the most beautiful portion of this grand land I call home.

The plan was to stay in Marfa, the small, “weird” town featuring more art galleries than stop lights (to be fair, there’s only one stop light) and a very friendly, eclectic population. I’d taken a trip out there a couple of years ago with several friends while I was in college and one of them moved to the town after he graduated so now I had a place to lay my head in between my day trips. The format of this trip was designed more for maximum exploration rather than relaxation which has its pros and cons but I sat around Marfa a lot on my last trip out there so I wanted to see more of the sights this time.

I made the drive in a a lot less time than the first trip and that was a nice surprise. I was expecting to arrive in the evening on Thursday but instead had the whole afternoon to relax and wait for my friend to get off work so we could catch up. He showed me around Marfa’s NPR station, KRTS, where he works and I had the chance to venture out around the town and see what had changed since my last visit. Someone told us about an art opening in what appeared to be some sort of old refrigerated building so we had a walk through the (seemingly) makeshift gallery. Later in the evening, we ate at one of the many great places to eat around town, Maiya’s, which turned out to be the most expensive meal I’d ever eaten but hey, I was on vacation! Afterwards, we walked a few blocks to the Lost Horse Saloon for a $1 beer and then Padre’s for some live music followed by some much needed rest.

There was one thing on Friday’s agenda: Big Bend National Park. I’ve wanted to visit the park for as long as I can remember and it’s a shame I didn’t spend more than an incomplete day there but my time in Big Bend’s “splendid isolation” was truly awe-inspiring and I know I will be back as soon as I can manage. The drive from Marfa to Big Bend included a stop in another “weird” West Texas town, Terlingua. They claim to be the birthplace of all chili cook-offs worldwide and it’s also (basically) a ghost town. The old cemetery and ghost town are both worth checking out and I’ve heard there’s good food and drink in a couple spots in the tiny town but I had to get moving on to Big Bend.

After crowd-sourcing ideas for my trip to Big Bend on my Facebook page, I decided to climb to the second highest peak in Texas, Emory Peak. I looked over a map at Panther Junction, one of the park’s information centers, and made the short drive down the road to Chisos Basin where I parked my car and headed to the trail. With excellent maintenance, the trail was easy to navigate for a novice hiker and it took about five and a half hours roundtrip with breaks for water, food, rest along the way and a moment at the top to take it all in. There were signs all along the trail warning hikers to look out for bears and mountain lions but the most ferocious beasts I saw were a couple of mule deer and the birds along the way, which are a birders dream and it’s a shame I didn’t know more about them. The trip up to the peak basically consisted of walking up stairs from switchback to switchback which was quite a workout. Once you get closer to Emory, the trail gives way to a rocky, steeper hike with plenty of “false summits” and getting to the peak wasn’t a piece of  cake but it was well worth the view. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky that day and I could see clear into Mexico from the very top. The trip back down took about half the time and I didn’t pass many people on the way up or down. It turns out, Big Bend is one of the least visited national parks which is even more of a reason to go. I should also mention that the weather was absolutely sublime. I barely broke a sweat on the way down and there was a nice breeze to keep me cool as a climbed to the peak.

After a much needed shower and a good night’s rest, it was off to Balmorhea State Park for their crystal-clear, San Solomon Springs-fed pool for some relaxation. Lots of fish, including Mexican tetra and channel catfish, swim alongside you in the pool and there were a good number of scuba divers enjoying the 25 foot depths as well. The pool wasn’t too crowded but is large enough to avoid being cramped during the less-visited months. There was a nice horned owl in the tree right near my chosen spot and a group of bird watchers came to admire it as I was leaving. From the springs, I made my way to Monahans Sandhills State Park for their rolling white sand dunes. You can’t see the extent of the dunes from the highway coming into the park but once you get over a hill past the entrance they come into view and they are gorgeous. I’ve never seen anything like them and I was glad I made the stop. There’s plenty to do there, from camping to horseback riding, but I was pretty tired by that point and stayed around long enough to take some photos and get buried in the sand. After heading back to Marfa, I went to see the Marfa Mystery Lights which I’d missed on my first trip. I’m not quite sure what to make of what I saw out there but others at the viewing area were convinced they were seeing something otherworldly and their excitement was certainly endearing. I’m all for the paranormal though, so keep the mystery alive, Marfa!

The next morning I sauntered around Marfa for a bit and then headed back to reality here in Austin. I can’t imagine the trip having gone much better and it certainly couldn’t have been much more beautiful. The big open skys of West Texas and the friendly people will call me back sooner rather than later. In the meantime, enjoy the photos while I enjoy daydreaming.

Stay tuned for another blog from me detailing some of the products I used on this trip including the Goal Zero Nomad 7 / Rock Out Speaker Combo, the NRS Dura Soft 6 Pack Cooler and the Molokai from CamelBak among others!

-Trent @ ACK