Big Bend: 2017 Edition, Part One–Yellow Jackets, Javelinas, and Beer-drinking Goats

Big Bend is an area and National Park in West Texas that is home to many desert plants and wildlife, the Chisos Mountains, and the Rio Grande (the river that divides the United States and Mexico). My granddad bought land near the national park in the 1970s and he and my uncle built the house that’s on our property today. My family and I visit the house periodically, and this year we spent a few days in Big Bend for my birthday. This is a two-part post, so check out “Big Bend: 2017 Edition, Part Two–The Time I Saw A Meteor” after you finish Part One. Here are the stories of Big Bend: 2017 Edition.

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This was my first time to Big Bend in almost two years and the second time for my birthday (celebrated my fourth birthday out there many years ago)! Once we arrived, we had a few surprises. Thankfully, no black widows or palm-sized scorpions this year, however, we did have a large family of yellow jackets living outside the side door. My step-dad, sprayed the nest (due to peer pressure–sorry, Dad!!) with the only insect spray we had: spider spray. First lesson of the trip: always use the correct insect spray. My poor step-dad got stung on his finger. It did swell, but did not fall off, contrary to my worry it would. My step-dad had a fun time pretending his finger did in fact fall off–one of the many reasons we keep him around *wink wink.* For that first night the yellow jackets still ruled the side of the house…Yellow Jackets 1: Humans 0.

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We also found that our toilet bob…thing…broke off AND the toilet seat molded so bad that I’m pretty sure it was harvesting an alien species that it would have come to life and taken over the world had we not intervened. I’ll spare you the pictures. We went to town and bought a few inner toilet replacement parts to get it working (my brother is now a boss plumber–one of the many traits you learn whilst taking care of an old house), but we still had to resort to sitting on the bleach-cleaned-but-stained toilet seat #wheninbigbend. This life ain’t for the weak.

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After the sunset, we spent a few hours sitting on the porch staring at the stars. Big Bend is the best place for stargazing. The closest “city” from the National Park is at least 80 miles away in every direction. We saw three satellites, the Big Dipper, the Little Dipper, Orion’s Belt, and an arm of the Milky Way among the many stars. I had fun playing with long exposure shots with my camera and my brother shared the science around satellites and astronomy. We went inside around 11:30pm and stayed up until midnight to greet my 27th birthday.

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The morning of my birthday, my mom and I did our favorite thing: sit on the porch in our old, reclining Mexican straw chairs and drink coffee. My mom and I are really our own little retired couple: I sat down and wrote my first blog post; she sat down and read her book. We watched the sun rise over the mountains and listened to doves and other little chirps. There were a few butterflies and a light breeze–all signs of a beautiful day.

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Somehow, my mom snuck in brownies and she and the rest of my family surprised me with a “brownie” cake for breakfast with a candle in the middle and a “Happy Birthday” banner tapped to the kitchen cabinets. We ate too many brownies, and then got ready for our first hike of the trip.

There is a small mountain near our house that we like to hike. Once we got to the “top,” my brother and I showed off our “Rock House” (a rock structure formed by flowing water over thousands of years) to my brother’s girlfriend. He and I “founded” Rock House when we were kids and have been visiting it almost every year since. In the picture, my brother and his girlfriend are sitting in the “living room,” while my mom and I are sitting in the “bedroom.”

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We then went to our other secret place: where indigenous people once prepared their food, in what is now known as bedrock mortars. The bedrock mortars are pretty spectacular to see; as kids, we threw rocks in them and pretended to grind food, but now we just look on with appreciation and admiration. Can you imagine living on the top of a mountain in the desert?

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That afternoon, we drove to Terlingua to visit the Trading Company (my favorite store in Big Bend). The Trading Company has everything from “Viva la Terlingua” bumper stickers to handcrafted products from Oaxaca, Mexico. As tempting as it was to buy a handcrafted wooden cat, I settled on Oaxaca tin art to hang on my travel wall, and a meditation stone (handpainted by a local artist). While the “kids” shopped, the parents sat on the famous Trading Post Porch to listen to the locals tell stories and drink beer. The view from the porch is one of the best in Big Bend so it’s the perfect place to take a seat for a few hours and have a drink…or two…or three.

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As evening approached, my aunt and uncle finally joined us on vacation! We went to La Kiva, or “the cave,” in Terlingua for my birthday dinner, ordered margaritas and steaks, and spent the evening catching up and sharing stories about our recent travels. My family is one of the best!

The next day, we ventured to Big Bend National Park. For this trip, we only spent one day in the park, however, you could easily spend a week there. This day was one of my favorite days out in Big Bend by far! The morning started with a visitor. A lone javelina strolled up to check out the birdseed we had thrown out in our “front yard!” He was fairly docile and let us take pictures from a distance (you never want to approach a javelina because they are quick to charge!). Before he walked off into the ravine, he turned and sniffed up at us a few times. I like to think that he was sending a friendly farewell to his newfound humans, but in all reality, he was probably judging how edible we were. #stillbffs.

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Also, we killed the yellow jackets. There’s not really much to say, just wanted to update you that in the end, the Hoomans won.

After defeating the yellow jackets, we did a dance and drank champagne. Just kidding (though I may have done that in my mind), we actually ventured to Big Bend National Park, one of my favorite places on earth. We began the day at Santa Elena Canyon, visited Mule Ears Overlook, Sotol Vista, the Basin, and ended the day doing the first half of the Lost Mine Trail up to Juniper Ridge. The relationship I have with this park is hard to describe. I have spent almost every year here and simply, it was nice to be home. Note: eventually, I plan to have more posts on the actual park itself. Until then, hang tight and check out my photos from this day here, “Big Bend in Photographs.

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After a day of hiking, all we really wanted was a beer. We headed to the Starlight Theatre in Terlingua–the place to be on a Friday night. We were lucky enough to be sat at a table near the now-stuffed Clay Henry, the beer-drinking goat! For those who have not kept up-to-date with the intrinsic offerings of Big Bend over the last 10, 20, or 30 years, Clay Henry is the famous beer-drinking goat from Lajitas, Texas. Well, Clay Henry was actually three goats from the years 1986–2002: Clay Henry Sr., Clay Henry Jr., and Clay Henry III, all three of whom could consume upwards to 40 beers a day. The story of the now deceased three Clay Henry’s is fascinating, including how Clay Henry Sr. became mayor, how Clay Henry Jr. KILLED Clay Henry Sr., and how Clay Henry III got castrated in the middle of the night by a crazy beer-jealous hillbilly. Read about it all here. Who knew goat lives could be so dramatic (cue the creation of a goat-version Telenovela). Anywho, dinner was wonderful and again, celebratory: it was my aunt and uncle’s wedding anniversary! From BBQ to fish tacos, our dinner was enjoyable and we were in great company *pats Clay Henry on his famous goat head.*

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We ended the evening with more stargazing (little did I know I would be seeing a meteor fall from the sky the next night!) and playing our favorite family game, 42 (a dominos game). This was our last night at the house and a perfect way to say, “Goodbye until next time!”

For Big Bend: 2017 Edition, Part Two–The Time I Saw A Meteor, click here!
Have you been to Big Bend National Park? What was your favorite park about it?

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