I don’t have any notes saved from this trip. I was only nine years old. I really fell in love with Big Bend during that trip; actually, with the whole idea of deserts and mountains. I’d been to Colorado on a family trip a few years earlier and recall being amazed at the mountains and the abandoned mines we saw high up on the slopes; and the scary drives over the unpaved roads along the mountainsides. But for some reason, on our trip to Big Bend something clicked.
I know this trip was around Easter Sunday, in 1968. Looking at a calendar I see that fell on April 14 that year; I’m guessing we were there for the week prior. I don’t think we got spring break in those days, either at my elementary school or for Dad’s job at UT.
I don’t remember the long drive out there on highway 290, although I can assume I was probably getting bored. But to this day I have a vivid recollection of the drive approaching the Chisos, as we began to ascend up The Basin road, past some drums full of water for overheated radiators. I kept staring at the rugged cliffs and thinking “Wow, I wonder what it’s like up there! Wandering around up there would be the greatest thing ever!”
I left austin a bit late Friday (November 7), right at 9. This put my ETA at big bend at 17:30 and that’s exactly when i got into Panther Junction. Got a bag of ice in Marathon. Turns out they’d had 4 inches of rain the day before. Several roads were closed, so there were backcountry sites available but none throughout the period. The lady at the counter was very helpful; she gave me Chilicotal first night, then Paint Gap Hills #2 the next 4 nights with the understanding i could come in an change at a later time. She said the wet conditions had driven a lot of campers to the closer in sites, but things should be drying out soon.
Chilitcotal was very nice. Near Rice Tank, new, on a ridge with fantastic views in all directions. (There used to be two campsites at Rice Tank; now only one. See why below.) Saw almost nobody; A motorcyclist coming in around sunset, and I think maybe a couple of folks going to/from the Pine Canyon sites, but didn’t come my way down Glenn Springs Rd.
Next night, Saturday, I broke camp and headed to Paint Gap Hills #2; a dissappointment. Someone had been camping there during the deluge and left huge 4-5 inch ruts in almost all of the available area. Although somewhat dry now, I was hard pressed to find a decent spot for my tent.
Tuesday morning (11/11) I happened upon a ranger at HQ. Said he’d been here 25 years. Said he’d picked the site for Chilicotal. I asked about the re-jiggering of the campsites; he said there were basically 3 reasons. 1) some were at traiheads, 2) double sites really didn’t work and 3) all the best sites were often Indian camp sites too and therefore archeological sites. Also overheard him talking about grasses here; said buffalo grass “invasive and we’re losing the battle.” Also said they’ve learned through trial and error how to reseed; said some sites you can see where they stack dead brush up to keep the soil cooler for seeds to germinate.