Naas Energy

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Pictures are not worth taking at Big Bend National Park.

This post was originally published on on datedatedatedatedate.

An alternate, less click-baity title might be “Spring Break Hiking Trip: Big Bend 2018,” but that’s boring. Despite the title, I highly recommend taking pictures at any National Park, but pictures just cannot get across how enormous Big Bend is. 800,000 acres, and it can take over an hour just to drive though the paved roads to get from one side to the other, or from the top to the bottom. It’s only once you’re there that you can really take in how much seemingly empty space is there. You can see the Chisos from a majority of the park, and even watch yourself drive past them on Park Route 12 or the River Road, but they’re so far away despite being to close. It’s breathtaking.

This uber-long post is split up into four sections: The Journal, The Pictures, The Data, and The Money. I’ve done a little editing to the journal, but I left the rest of it as-written on the trail, so please forgive any errors in the writing.

The Journal

Saturday, March 10

Saturday’s drive was pretty uneventful. I stayed up all night with a friend Friday night, and so I slept pretty soundly for a decent amount of the trip. About halfway through I accidentally reset my ham radio, which preceded an amount of swearing that I regret saying.

We arrived at the Sandhills state park at around 3pm. There was a lot of sand, which should not have been surprising. I walked around for a bit to take pictures and then laid down to take another nap. Woke up, ate dinner, and went to bed under the stars and above the sand by around 8:30.

Sunday, March 11

Woke up naturally at around 4:30 (felt like 3:30 because of daylight savings). We were packed up by 5:10 and on the road in the next twenty minutes.

While we’re coming to Big Bend with a plan of what we want to do, we won’t know for sure what we’re doing over the next four days until we get to Panther Junction. I think this is what makes this trip so fun. We can schedule the to and from, but the during is left up to the gods until we get there and then work out what’s available with the Park Service.

Just as we entered Panther Junction I found that my headphones had fallen out of my pocket at the park entrance sign, 20 miles north. Since we got to the park early, JP and I drove back out to get them, since music is essential to my well being and sanity. Good news was that they were still there. Bad news was they got run over. Oops. Fortunately, JP brought a pair and let me borrow them since he didn’t plan on using them.

At Panther Junction, we got our permits and were able to match our original plan almost exactly. The off-road roads have gotten worse since last year (“no Subarus” they say as we have a Forester), so we won’t be able to drive across most of the River Road. We will camp off the Canyon Crossing trail on Monday night, and then at a backcountry site at Solis 2 Tuesday night, Wednesday night will be up at Emory peak, and tonight we’ll hike out to a place by the river on the Marufo Vega trail.

Well, we’re here. Four-and-a-half hours, 7 and-a-half miles, and two thousand feet of elevation and drop and we’re here. I think that was the most arduous hike I’ve done yet, but judging by the looks of these stars, it was definitely worth it. I wish I could take pictures of the sky, but alas, my phone does not take pictures in the dark. We’ll try to beat the sun tomorrow when we hike out. We’re going to try and stop at Dugout Wells for lunch before driving out on the River Road to our off-trail site off of Canyon Crossing trail.

It’s really easy to take pictures at Big Bend, but it’s really hard to look at them. No picture does the size of this park justice. You have to be here to get its full beauty and scale. I’m from the Ozarks, where you can’t see more than a few miles before the next hill. Just driving down from the park entrance to Panther Junction and being able to see the Chisos Mountains the entire way is breathtaking.

Monday, March 12

Nothing could have made that hike back easier. Not more water, Not more food, not better shoes. The last/first mile feels like it’s straight up the 800 feet from the river to the top of the trail. Marufo Vega was /arduous/. And yet I’m glad we went there. It’s one of the few places that you can be south of Mexico yet still in the United States.

We stopped at the Rio Grande Village campground and store to buy some goodies after the 14-mile round trip and to have lunch. Our next stop is off of Canyon Crossing trail past Solis 3&4. We only have to hike a half mile in and 100 yards out, so that will be a much more relaxing trip. Tomorrow night we’ll be at a proper backcountry campsite where we can carcamp before making the journey to Emory Peak and our campsite up in the mountains on Wednesday. The plan for tomorrow is to spend a lot of time at the hot springs and then at the Dugout Wells oasis before coming back to our Solis campsite.

We drove down the East River Road to the Solis campsites. It was fun, but not as fun as last year (probably because I’m not spending it standing out of Andrew’s sunroof with a cute girl Lol!). When we got to the trailhead for Canyon Crossing trail we walked exactly a half mile in and found a great campsite up and over a medium ravine. We’re gonna see if we can change our plans with the rangers tomorrow and camp at this site again tomorrow instead of at the Solis campsite. Tomorrow is relaxing and resting in preparation for our hike to Emory Peak. Our Chisos campsite is actually past the Emory Peak trailhead on the Chisos trails, so I think we’re going to leave our packs at the split instead of taking them all the way up to the peak and back.

Hiking is a lesson in delayed gratification. The hike may suck, and even the views at the time you see them may not feel worth it, but when it’s the end of the day, the food’s cooking, and you’re sitting with ten other people that you don’t dislike; that’s when all of the pain and suffering you endured earlier in the day becomes worth it. The hike out of Marufo Vega definitely sucked (we named the initial hike out of that area “Heart Attack Hill” because of its sheer ascent), but I made sure to tell Liz (who made our plans) afterward that no matter how much I may bitch about that hike in the future, I very much appreciate her taking us there, and I absolutely do not regret a minute of it. Not at all.

Someday, I want to hike all the way from the desert floor to the top of Emory peak. Whether that will come before or after the Appalachian Trail I cannot say, but I will declare it here: Chisos, I will defeat you.

The stars at big bend are incomparable.

Tuesday, March 13

I had a weird dream last night in which I killed a man. Not sure if I’m secretly homicidal or just listen to Queen one too many times.

There is still sand in my sleeping bag from Saturday night. I guess I didn’t shake it out enough because every time I scratch my head I feel like Allison Reynolds from The Breakfast Club. The sun is finally out this morning, which is nice because it’s been pretty cloudy since we got here, but not so nice at the some time because now it’s going to be warm.

Since we woke up late this morning (didn’t hike out until 11 or so), we’re not going to be able to eat at Dugout Wells. We’ll just go to the hot springs and then back to our Solis campsite.

We hiked out from our Canyon Crossing trail site and went straight to the hot springs. Oh, that was glorious. My right hip had been bothering me since Marufo Vega and it was such a relief to stick it in some hot water for an hour or so. After the hot springs we had a pack lunch and went back to the general store for a little bit before driving out to our Solis campsite. We decided to stick with the original backcountry site because we woke up late and we’ll need to wake up and git to get up to Emory Peak before the rest of the campers fill up the Basin Lodge parking lot.

Our Solis campsite is pretty baller. We set up the tents in a circle around the mats and parked the cars in front of them to break up the wind.

Danny, Preston, Jonathan V., and Andrew went out to explore a little before the sun went completely down. They took one of the little Cobra radios and some flashlights. Next time I’m not bringing any dang blister pack radios because the only anything they provide is a false sense of security. I could hear their weak transmissions because of my longer antenna and better ham radio, but they couldn’t hear mine. [Later we found out that their radio was just straight up broken.] We set some flashlights up and they eventually got back to us.

Tomorrow, we hike Emory. We have three and a half miles to the Emory Peak trailhead and a mile to Emory peak, then a mile back to the trailhead and a mile to our campsite at Boot Canyon before we set up camp for the night. Six and a half miles tomorrow, four and a half miles Thursday, plus the 11 hour drive back. I don’t have to drive though, so I’ll be able to just sleep or read. The Longview ham radio club is hosting their monthly testing at school on Saturday, so I might study for my General License. Depending on how that goes I might just shoot for my Extra license too, although I may not have enough time to cram for that.

Wednesday, March 14

We woke up sharply at seven and were packed up and out by 8:10. It took us nearly two hours to drive out from Solis to the Basin lodge, although that included picking up a non-off-road car from the ranger station. It took about an hour to prepare our packs, but we were on the trail and on our way to Emory Peak by 11:15.

About a quarter-mile from the peak, we stopped for lunch at a great place overlooking Boot Canyon, which will be our campsite tonight. We made it to the peak at around 3pm. We celebrated by eating chocolate and drinking sparkling cider. I got my radio and tape measure yagi out and made a quick contact with the repeater before heading down, grabbing a few group pictures and making the hike down the peak and down again to our campsite at Boot Canyon 2. Tomorrow is going to be a long day, as we have to hike the mile up and out of Boot Canyon, the three and-a-half mile hike down to the Basin lodge, and then make the nearly eleven hour drive back to Longview.

I made sure to bring plenty of water this time. Last year we woefully underestimated the length of our hike and suffered from dehydration and fatigue on the hike down. This time I brought 5 quarts, one-and-a-half of which I drank on the way up and one of which went towards the instant potatoes for dinner. That leaves me two-and-a-half quarts for the morning and the hike down, which I think will be more than plenty

The view from the top of Emory Peak is breathtaking. Pictures do no justice, which is why I only took a few that didn’t have people in them. Marufo Vega was arduous, and the hike from Emory peak was not made easy by a pained hip and heavy pack, but the view from Emory peak made the whole trip worth it. Not that it wasn’t worthwhile before, but even if we had the worst of the worst luck these past five days, the view and experience of being nearly 8,000 feet high would have made everything okay. And it was.

Thursday, March 15

Today’s the day we leave Big Bend and drive back to Longview. We still have three or four hours of hiking ahead of us, so the trip’s not over yet.

Hiking is all about give and take. When you’re going uphill, It’s all about what the mountain will take from you. If your legs give out generally you can easily just sit down and rest until you’re good to go. When you’re going downhill, however, it’s all about what you have to give. If you have no energy left and your legs give out, It’s going to be a long fall to the bottom.

We made it down the mountain in just under two hours, by 10:30am. We have finished Spring Break 2018 in Big Bend National Park, and now it’s time to go home. I am tired.


Big Bend is a unique park. There’s not anything particularly special about it. It doesn’t have big trees, a geyser, or particularly neat animal and plant life. There’s pretty much no cell service in the park or even within 50 miles of it. You can’t day trip to Big Bend because it’s all the way in West Texas and three hours from I-20. What makes Big Bend unique are the little things. The fact that you can see the Chisos mountains from almost anywhere in the park, and especially at the campsites along the river road. The in-park border crossing that leads into a nice little town in Mexico. The fact that you pretty much have to make a multi-day camping trip to come here because it’s so out of the way. It’s the darkest place in the continental US and it shows (literally). I haven’t been to too many national parks yet, but I have no doubt that Big Bend will always be one of if not my favourite places to visit, and it will definitely be the first park I recommend to anyone who may ask me about them.

Also, I made it through the entire trip without having to dig a single 6-inch hole. How’s that for fortunate?

The Pictures

Since I stuck all of my good pictures in their respective journal entries, these are some of my favourite pictures that the others in our group took. Not everybody has added their pictures to our Google Drive yet, so I’ll add more photos as I see them after this post goes up.

The Data

This year, I brought an old GPS (Garmin eTrex Venture Cx) to document our hikes, and came back with some cool data about the length and altitude change of our Marufo Vega and Emory Peak hikes. The most interesting/disturbing fact was that the last stretch of of the Marufo Vega trail is a descent/ascent of 1,000 feet in just about a mile of trail.

Our paths and the raw GPX files can be viewed/downloaded from the links below.

March 11: Boquillas/Marufo Vega

March 12: Marufo Vega/Canyon Crossing

March 13: Canyon Crossing/Solis (really just the hike from Canyon Crossing)

March 14: Solis/Emory Peak (Really just the Emory Peak and Boot Canyon hike)

March 15: Emory Peak

I wouldn’t trust the GPS data 100% because I did have some problems with it during the trip, but for our casual purposes I think the data’s trustworthy enough. The paths that will have the most discrepancies are the Emory peak hikes, because the GPS doesn’t ping the satellites as quickly as we hike around the switchbacks, and so the data doesn’t reflect them accurately.

The data below was taken from Trackprofiler’s statistics on each path.

Total distance hiked: 26.38 mi
Total time hiking: 17:36 hrs
Total uphill: 6442 ft
Total downhill: 6552 ft

The Money

Last year, we didn’t put much thought into how we’d organize the money for gas and food, and it got… confusing. Some people got paid, some didn’t, some got paid weeks after the trip ended (I’ll admit I wasn’t punctual with my reimbursing), and so we resolved that we wouldn’t do that again.

This year, we decided that we would each pay $100 to a trusted person (in this case, Liz) before the start of the trip for food and gas (the two largest shared trip costs). If the trip ended up costing less than $1100 ($100 * 11 people), we’d all get some back, and if it cost more than $1100, we’d owe a little bit more. Overall it worked out pretty well.

Personally, I set out to spend a max of $200 this year, including the $100 for gas and food. As my analytical self, I made myself a little spending log and recorded most of my expenses (towards the end I lost some coins and decided that it was close enough). In order to hold myself to this plan, I went ahead and withdrew my budget in cash so I wouldn’t spend over budget without intending to.

All in all, I came out a few dollars under budget cash-wise (I used my card at Subway on the drive back), and according to Liz we came out under budget in the food-gas pot, and so we should expect a few dollars back from that.

Not bad!