Story by Haley Robison and photos by Greg Balkin and Taylor Burk
After many Texas trips out west, including a surprise camping trip for my Mom’s 60th, I can assure you the road to Big Bend promises adventures as endlessly satiating as its miles long. So we, the Kammok team, are now inviting YOU to join us on our next trip out West - to experience the mysterious and magical deserts, mountains and waterways of Big Bend National Park.
Pledge The Best of West Texas Adventure Trip on our Kickstarter campaign (ending Thursday!), learn more about the adventure here, and keep reading for a small taste of my experience on a similar adventure to the very best of West Texas.
Santa Elena Canyon in Costume
Last October, my friend Andy of Oru Kayak and I corralled five friends, new and old, and set-out to paddle Big Bend's infamous Santa Elena Canyon over Halloween weekend. We laughed constantly, spotted wild horses, and drank boxed wine. Below are three of my most savored memories from this particular trip to Big Bend.
I hope you’ll join us on our upcoming Santa Elena Canyon trip and create memories of your own.
I’m convinced the road south from Marathon to Big Bend is a wide open spanse of the world’s largest above-water aquarium. Plants that resemble dancing seaweed spring from a sand covered floor: sotol cacti, ocotillo flowers, agave and mountain sage.
For 40 miles, our eyes strained to see the big blue ocean beyond the biggest blue sky we'd ever seen. As we drew closer to the park’s entrance, mountainous forms rose to meet and greet wispy, sparse blue clouds.
Windows down, I listened to the deep quiet. Before we knew it - we were dancing with the desert seaweed to the sound of good music.
Adventure awaited, and we felt its pull.
We then drove through the park to our drop-in point, south of Terlingua. Our van kicked up dust and we popped our heads out the windows. Scrub brushes parted, and the Rio Grande, in its historic glory, said hello, inviting us for a dip. Costume-clad and with plenty of tortillas, we accepted its invitation.
This was only the beginning of grand entrances. Every day on this trip, one grand entrance after another welcomed us: the Chihuahuan desert, the Chisos mountains, the Santa Elena canyon, mysterious slot canyons, each revealing a irresistible invitation.
The Blue Heron.
I’d just gone for an unintentional swim* and was taking a quiet moment to compose myself, walking along the south shoreline, ten miles downstream of our put-in, and just west of Santa Elena's dramatic opening.
I bathed in the warm light and thick air, acutely aware of each step across the barren, beautiful desert. Minutes passed, each one feeling immeasurably full, and I, for a moment, felt the incredible power of time standing still, and myself standing, two muddy feet-planted, senses heightened, alert, alive.
Suddenly, a blue heron snapped my mind to an even stronger present focus. Her long and striking span came within reach of my right arm and moments later, disappeared a thousand feet high and into the canyon I’d soon enter. I was speechless. The heron’s brief encounter captivated me. She was grand, beautiful, and somehow familiar company. I was strangely home, and alive, on this Mexican border.
Some Moonlit Grass.
On our last night, a few miles from take out, we camped ashore a grassy knoll. Mexico and Texas were a stone’s throw apart, and we put on costumes once more to explore a nearby slot canyon. Giddy, we climbed up the canyon, splashing in rock-soothed pools. Back at camp, we ran barefoot through the grass, chopped vegetables for a pasta dinner, and watched the moon rise to light the canyon walls. Stars densely populated a thin streak of sky - and I spotted the milky way. The air, still warm, an idyllic blanket for star gazing. We all lay down in the tall, green blades, looked up, and soaked in the majestic. In the presence of a new, beautiful community of friends and adventurers, my heart was full.
*Note: Yes, I did manage to flip my kayak, and I was just fine! Safety is a priority and the run is well-suited for beginner paddlers. The Rio Grande was unusually high during our late October trip from recent rains and I not-so-gracefully paddled into some bushes near fast moving water. Each rapid is assessed thoughtfully and carefully. You choose to run rapids you can afford to swim in and you always have the option to portage down river; “swimming" is not to be expected. But if you do swim, enjoy it! You might just see my friend, the blue heron.