Texas is enormous. They're really not kidding.
And needing to be in Montana in a little under three weeks meant that we didn't have much time to explore it. So we drove. And drove. And drove.
From New Orleans to Dallas
We left New Orleans relatively early, knowing that we had a big day of driving ahead of us. With the miles flying under our wheels, we were a little frustrated to find that, after 8 hours of driving, we were trapped in terrible traffic coming into Dallas. The freeway had been closed due to an accident, so it took several detours and re-routes on the GPS before we finally pulled up to the Comfort Inn in Plano, on the outskirts of Dallas.
After quickly checking in and dropping our stuff off, we headed down to meet Zev's school friend, Willy - the real reason for our pit stop in Plano.
Catching up with Willy
Willy and Zev went to school together in Philadelphia, and since then, Willy has visited Zev in NZ a couple of times, and we even caught up with Willy in Japan in 2012. Willy lived in Japan for a number of years after college, where he got married and had a son (sadly his wife and son were back in Japan when we were visiting, so we didn't get to meet them). About three years ago, a job opportunity in Japan led to him and his family moving to Dallas to open a lacrosse store! And here we are...
Of course, Willy took us out for an incredible Japanese meal, and we spent time catching up on what we'd each been up to for the last 6 years. Again, it was really great to be reconnecting with people from Zev's past - and even though most of the people we've caught up with since arriving in the US don't know me from a bar of soap, everyone has been so welcoming, and this was no exception.
As a fun surprise when we got back to the hotel after dinner, I turned on the TV to see FRISBEE! One of the sport channels was screening a professional game, and it was super cool to be sitting in bed watching frisbee on TV!
Restocking for onward travel
The next morning, Willy had some chores to do in anticipation of his wife's return, so Zev and I spent the morning restocking for the next leg of our journey, where we'd be camping again.
Of course, this necessitated a trip to Walmart, where we passed an hour deciding which delicious treats to buy. Answer: all of them.
Dinner with Willy - round 2
That afternoon, with everyone's chores complete, we hung out with Willy again, this time at his apartment. He took us to a nearby fancy-schmancy supermarket, and we picked up some cheese, salami, wine and other tasty goodies, and headed back to Willy's apartment to pass the evening. As an added bonus, Willy's parents called while we were there, so Zev got a chance to catch up with them too.
At the end of the evening, we said our goodbyes, and headed home to prepare for an early start.
We headed out early the next morning, knowing that we had about 9.5 hours of driving ahead of us.
And drive we did. We had a brief stop at Dairy Queen for lunch (over the course of this trip, we've definitely become fast food critics, trying all the local delicacies), but otherwise it was just wheels on the road.
As we got closer to the park, and we left the more developed areas and main interstates, the landscape changed dramatically. The billboards and high rises were replaced with desert landscapes and a big open sky. It was stunning.
Arriving at Big Bend National Park
Bang on time, we arrived at the park entrance. Since we were arriving late, all the visitors' centres were closed, so we drove on in and headed for the campsite.
The speed limit in the park is 35mph, so we were making slow and steady progress when an Audi zoomed past us on the road. It was very satisfying when, 5 minutes later, we passed him pulled to the side of the road getting a ticket from a park ranger!
20 minutes later, we were at the campsite, and there were spots left - wooooo! The campsite was amazing! Each site had its own picnic table, shelter, bearproof food box, and tap with drinking water. We found a spot, set up the tent and settled in.
After dinner, the sounds of rumbling thunder filled the air. Soon enough, lightning was flashing and we could see a storm rolling in. We holed up in the tent, hoping that our $25 walmart tent wouldn't dissolve in the rain, and bunkered down for the weather to hit. Luckily, it seemed to pass quickly, and the tent held up overnight!
Lost Mine Trail
We were up early the next morning so that we could head back to the visitors' centre to pay our park entry fee. On its own, the entry to Big Bend would have been $30 (charged per vehicle), but since we knew we'd be checking off some other national parks on the trip, we decided to pick up an annual pass for $80. Using that, we're able to enter as many US national parks as we like for the next 12 months - score!
Our next stop was the Lost Mine Trail, a 4.8 mile return track uphill to a viewpoint. As we started walking, the weather was still relatively cool (by which I mean 'not boiling' - it was probably still in the low-mid 20sC). By the time we reached the top, it was scorching.
Despite the heat, the incredible view out over the desert made it all worthwhile. As despite it being one of the most popular trails in the park, we passed a few groups on the way up and the way down, but we had the peak to ourselves but for one guy, who left not long after we arrived.
The hike back down was a bit more arduous in the rising heat, and we were happy to be back at the car by 12.30pm, heading back to the campsite for lunch and some shade.
As the heat started to abate as the day wore on, we decided to head out for a second hike, a 3.8 mile return trail to 'the window', a viewpoint with a sheer drop through a rock window out over the plains.
The hike itself was fairly unremarkable for the most part, although at one point we did encounter two very cute deer on the trail, who looked a little startled to see us. As we wound further down the trail and into the valley, we were treated with some blissful shade.
The view from the end made it all worthwhile. Although we hadn't timed it perfectly for sunset, the evening light made the colours in the canyon and surrounding countryside pop. It was glorious.
After another stormy, blustery night spent fearing for our tent's survival, we headed out for another walk. We elected for a steeper path that offered more shade, and hit the trail.
The scenery surrounding this trail was markedly different from what we'd seen before - far more green, with huge peaks lining one side.
As we made our way up the stairs, I stood on the end of a stick, and the other end flicked up and hit my ankle. I looked down in time to see the stick slither away... ZOINKS. I panicked, then remembered that panicking is the worst thing you can do if you've been bitten by a venomous snake. I tried to remember all my snake first aid, then I remembered that I don't know any snake first aid because we don't have snakes in New Zealand. I asked Zev if he knew if the snake was venomous. He didn't know either. Then I realised that it didn't hurt.
I looked at the two tiny pinpricks on my ankle. They were barely bleeding, there was no swelling or discolouration, and I wasn't in any pain. It seemed like the odds were good that I was going to pull through. After some umming and ahhing (we didn't want to be the people that got bitten by a snake, kept hiking, then dropped dead, but we also didn't want to be the people that freaked out over nothing), we decided to keep going. I made Zev lead the way from then on...
We climbed our way up to the tops of the peaks, thankfully mostly in the shade, while keep an eye on me for signs of developing superpowers. Sadly, no signs appeared.
We reached the top of the trail, and were rewarded with more expansive views out over the national park. Since it was getting pretty late in the morning, we opted not to carry on to the true peak, since it would have meant hiking in the heat of the day, so we stopped for a snack and some photos before heading back down to the campsite.
We spent the rest of the day relaxing and recovering from my near death experience, knowing that tomorrow we'd be back in the car, on the road again.
Lots of love,
S & Z