Big Bend National Park is a vast area of desert on the American side of the Mexican border—demarcated by the Rio Grande river—and named for the turn that the river takes through it. I’d first found out about it because one of my favourite films, Paris, Texas, was shot there. While still in Texas it’s an eight hour drive from Austin and so we set off early one Thursday morning, the trunk full of standard issue leisure camping equipment and the back seats well-furnished with snacks and red wine. The landscape along the way was featureless, but not featureless enough to be remarkable. After changing heading from west to south for the final miles the mountains folded the desert, enveloped us and we pulled into the campground with time to set up and watch the sun go down on the first day of our adventure.
I was still in New Zealand mountain climbing mode so the next day we hiked up the highest peak in the park. I fully underestimated how difficult—ever so difficult—Sarah would find it. She did better than I think she realised, completing the round trip in the suggested 7 hours but “hating every minute” of them. I felt proud of her in a way she couldn’t understand and an unfamiliar responsibility for someone other than myself. More than anything I wanted to find things that she would enjoy doing—at some level out of neediness, to be also the person that she wanted—but more because the good times were doubly so for having shared them.
In the evenings the sun, still wintering, would set early and we’d sit out against the cold for as long as we could until the stars were showing full against the blackness above and we retired to the tent. I don’t remember now what we talked about on those nights but they were the closest I’d felt to anyone in a long time. The mornings, consequently, remained a struggle for me, much as I tried for Sarah’s sake not to let it show. There was a solace in the passing of the days though, full as they became with beauty, in their own way as wild and majestic as the best days in New Zealand.
After Big Bend we stopped in a place called Terlingua for a short while. It was a former mining town which had been abandoned and was just now being recolonised as a “ghost town”. We both loved it and should have taken the local advice to stick around for our last night of the trip. Instead we went to Marfa which was the sole disappointment out of everywhere we’d visited. I likened it to Texas curated by New York Times readers, preternaturally desperate for culture and unwilling to eat anywhere without an hour-long waiting list.
Going to Big Bend fulfilled the promise I’d made Sarah to take her there and the promise that it had made me from the background of a few movie scenes. More than anything it had confirmed to me—however and as whoever I had ended up there—how great these wild places can be and that they are never so far from any situation.
These natural hot springs on the banks of the Rio Grande were developed in the 1930s and left to crumble in the intervening decades. The ruins made for the ideal spot to jump in the river, being careful not to simultaneously jump the border and end up in Mexico illegally.