Last year was a busy year, but also a frugal year as I held off taking a vacation road trip like in previous years. The major road trip that I postponed was a Midwest road trip around Lake Michigan in order to visit the two states I have never visited and the one state left in which I had only visited by changing planes in a major airport within the state. When I had created my initial plan for this trip, there was also two national parks included in the trip, but since then, a national lakeshore had been re-designated as a national park, adding it to the travel plan. I currently have this trip planned for the summer, but since I missed taking a trip last year, I decided to check out doing a quick spring break trip to another national park still on my list to visit, Big Bend National Park.
Five years ago, I had planned to visit Big Bend with five other national parks on a road trip from Los Angeles to Colorado, a trip I wrote about in an earlier post on my site. Unfortunately, Big Bend was just too far off the path for me to visit on my limited timeline, so it became an outlier for any potential future trips. When I considered adding a second trip for this year, I researched whether I could do a quick trip covering Big Bend with a visit to the Alamo in San Antonio and a quick tour of Louisiana, a state I had driven through once with no stops. However, it became obvious that it would take longer to travel to all three of these locations in just a week, so I pared down the trip to just Big Bend National Park. As a road trip, I determined that it would take two days to drive down to a location near the park, one day to visit the park, and two days to drive back home. In my planning, I noted the potential to stop in Roswell, New Mexico, to check out the UFO sites on my way down and to possibly visit Bandelier National Monument near Santa Fe, New Mexico, on my way back. However, as I looked to finalize my plans, the specter of the current COVID-19 outbreak began to rise up.
When spring break week arrived, the coronavirus information was just recommendations of social distancing. I considered that since I would be driving alone within my car and traveling to a more remote section of the country, I should be fine. I went online and discovered that motel options in Marathon, a small town nearest to Big Bend, were booked up, but I found a motel in another close-by town, Alpine, to the west that had a direct road connecting it to the western entrance to the park. I booked a room for the two nights, then booked a room in Roswell for a night on the way down to Alpine. The next morning, I took off.
I reached Roswell by late afternoon, which gave me time to check out the International UFO Museum in the downtown area. The admission price was inexpensive, and the museum was an interesting display of photos, artwork, and presentations in a large hallway. It didn’t take long to experience the displays, which were interesting, regardless of one’s opinions regarding extraterrestrial visitation. My motel also took advantage of the ET reputation, projecting a space alien welcoming all earthlings. I enjoyed my night, but woke up to find the area surrounded by fog. I wondered if I had uncovered an omen.
I drove south out of the fog and made it to Alpine by mid-afternoon. I was alerted by the motel manager about potential closures at Big Bend, so I went online to check the conditions of the park. All visitor centers were being closed, but the park entrances were still open. The next day, I headed down to Big Bend. When I got down to the entrance, I discovered that rangers were not manning the gates, meaning that my annual pass was unnecessary, as entry was now free for all visitors.
Big Bend was a wonderful southwest ecosystem of desert and mountains with flat areas of cacti and yucca around buttes and rock formations. My exploration took me down the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive to where the Rio Grande exits out of the St. Elena Canyon. It gave me a chance to walk down to the edge the Rio Grande and look across to the cliff wall on the Mexico side of the river. Viewing the park during the opening of spring proved to be a most comfortable time as the outside temperature was in the comfortable 70s, which is probably why this was the park’s prime visitation period, since people would want to avoid the desert hot days of summer. It was a good day to discover this bend region of Texas.
When I got back to my motel after my day in Big Bend, I stopped in for dinner at a nearby diner where I had enjoyed dinner and breakfast earlier before going into the park, only I noticed that now every other stool at the bar had been covered to create distancing between guests. Concern that the diner would have to close in a couple of days was prevalent between the cook and waitress. Back at the motel room, I went online and booked a room in Santa Fe for the next night. I drove up the next day and discovered that I was just one of a few guests in the Santa Fe hotel. The hotel had to close their small dining room and was supplying the booking’s promised morning breakfast as a grab and go bag. Restaurants in the city had already closed down per government distancing rules, forcing me to get dinner through a fast food drive-thru. I also discovered that nearby Bandelier National Monument was now closed, so this stop was now dropped from the trip. The next day as I finished the drive home, I discovered that gas station marts along the way had needed to close their public restrooms as visitors had been stealing soap. I also noticed attendants at the gas stations were taking time to go out and spray disinfectant cleaner onto the gas pumps. I made it home from a very enjoyable quickie road trip to deal with stay at home orders and depleted grocery shelves. I hope to survive this pandemic concern and get an opportunity to take my bigger Midwest road trip in the summer.