Big Texas by Amanda

It’s true. Texas is big! Like realy big! It’s something like 730 miles to cross it from end to end. We had about two weeks to devote to Texas so it was pretty hard to decide what we wanted to do exactly. We decided to spend a week in Austin and a week at Big Bend National Park. I know there was a ton we missed, but I did feel that we got a good taste of the real Texas.

Upon leaving Louisiana, we drove about five hours to Austin where we stayed at McKinney Falls State Park on the southeast side of the city. McKinney Falls is a beautiful state park with great hiking and biking trails and a really nice campground. It was about a twenty minute drive to downtown Austin too, making it super convienant. While in Austin we had to visit the State Capitol, which is very impressive and the dome is bigger than that of the U.S. Capitol building. We also visited The Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, which was very inspirational. So many people think of LBJ only in terms of VietNam but he was so much more than that. More new legislation was based during his five and a half years in office than all of FDRs sixteen years in office! Like most presidents of that time, LBJ had the majority of his phone calls recorded and you can listen to him speak to Martin Luther King, Jr., Jackie Kennedy, and Hubert Humphrey, among many others. I would recommend stopping here to anyone who is interseted in Presidential History.

We were able to spend time with two sets of friends while in Austin… the Baranski family from our AACA days and the Laarveld family from our home day care days at Ms. Lora’s house. It was great to catch up with old friends and eat really good food together too! I think the kids really enjoyed spending a few hours with other kids too as they were getting sick of only having Justin and I to play with!

We did take a day trip to San Antonio one day where we toured The Alamo and two other spanish missions. It was very interesting to learn about the history of Texas and the battle that made The Alamo famous. So many of us hear about the Alamo, but very few people really know what happened there. I found the story of Santa Ana and the battle very interesting and had no idea Texas had such a rich history. We also walked along San Antonio’s famous river walk which is really well done.

The real highlight of our time in Texas as the week we spent at Big Bend National Park. Big Bendn is one of the most remote of all National Parks, sitting right on the border with Mexico. It’s called Big Bend because the Rio Grande river makes its dramatic 90 degree bend within the park boarders. It took about 8 hours to drive from Austin to Big Bend and another hour to get from the Northern park boundary to our campsite on the southeastern part of the park. Big Bend is massive, taking almost two hours to cross it from east to west. It is surrounded by mountians on almost all sides and the views of the mountainsides into Mexico are spectacular. It was so nice to be camping again within a National Park, as we hadn’t experienced that since the Grand Tetons back in September. The government shutdown ended just a week before we got to Big Bend and we were so excited to be back into the wonderful beauty of a National Park.

We were able to take some really cool hikes during our week in Big Bend. The first hike we tackled was a three mile hike up and over a large mesa taking us to the banks of the Rio Grande and a beautiful river side hot spring. We would relax in the warm waters of the hot spring and then jump into the cool waters of the rushing Rio Grande. Justin swam over to touch Mexico! We were really proud of the kids, that after not hiking for over three months that they were able to handle a six mile hike on our first day.

We spent another day exploring Santa Elena canyon on the western edge of the park. This one and a half mile hike takes you on the rim of the canyon where you can gaze up the fifty store high canyon walls. We loved this hike because there was a ton of huge rocks that we could climb and explore.

The two animals that are the most plentiful at Big Bend are the roadrunner and the javelina. A javelina is a small pig like animal that eats almost everything and smells a lot like skunk. Roadrunners proved to be much cooler and a lot more plentiful than javelinas, thank goodness. Every day we would see the roadrunners race across the street or the trail and they were super fast and pretty cute, for a bird. Thankfully we only glimpsed a javelina at night where we heard it’s high pitched squeal but we could smell it. Ugh.

After four days at Big Bend, Ron, our old neighbor from the condo across the hall, joined us for a few days at Big Bend. It just happened to be kismet that we overlapped for a few days at Big Bend and we had a great time hiking, exploring and paddling with Ron. For the first two nights, Ron’s campsite was right next to hours, which is CRAZY when you think there are probably over 500 campsites at this N.P. and we did not discuss previously where we had booked! Per usual, Ron had the kids in stitches, Tabatha especially, while sharing his silly stories.

On our last day with Ron we rented canoes and we paddled a three mile stretch of the Rio Grande with two guides. Justin, Ron and Micah were in one canoe and Tabatha and I were in another. The wind was so fierce on the Rio Grande that Tabatha and I were not able to get in front of it. After fifteen minutes of trying to get ahead of the wind and continueing doing circles, we finally had to tie our canoe to the guide and spend the rest of the trip canoeing down the river together. It was a gorgeous trip though and the Rio Grande was serene in most spots. We did have to navigate three pretty tricky rapids though, which was really exciting and our guides were wonderful!

Texas did surprise us in many ways. We were surprised by the beauty of the mountains and hill country. We were surprised at how diverse a landscape the state really has, which isn’t surprising given its size, but unexpected none-the-less. We will definately be coming back to explore more of Texas in the years to come, but this was a great first taste of a really fun state!

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