I just got back from an epic adventure to Big Bend National Park, which is one of the largest, most remote, and least-visited national parks in the United States. In the 10 year period from 2007 to 2016, an average of about 352,000 visitors entered the park annually. My friend Jenna originally planned to organize a Women's Retreat there, but it was canceled due to health issues, so she organized a group of friends to drive over 8 hours to West Texas on Earth Day Weekend. We rendezvoused at her house and waited until Darren showed up in a classic Dodge Ram 2500 Mark III converted hippie van with a bed in the back. It wasn't long before we were on the road, meeting up with three other travelers in a white Subaru along the way. We made a pit stop in Fredericksburg for pizza and continued onward. We stopped at the next gas station and I gladly took over driving the van. We finally reached our destination of Marfa, Texas and checked into a campsite at El Cosmico. We walked through the dark to a collection of teepees where our friend Vanessa was staying for a few nights. I was pleasantly surprised to see her again. She graciously served us tea as we sat in a circle sharing stories around the fire. I opted to sleep outside in a warm sleeping bag on the ground under the majestic stars. The chilly wind awoke me in the early morning, so I decided to take advantage of the time with long exposure photos of the night sky and surroundings. I sat under a tree and watched the sunrise as clouds rolled across the horizon.
We looked around El Cosmico for awhile and I randomly bumped into two photographer friends from Austin. We stopped in for breakfast at Mando's, which is the same place Jenna and our group went on the first trip to Big Bend back in 2014. The food and conversation was delicious. Marfa is not a particularly interesting hipster town, so we continued onward to Big Bend immediately after. It took another 1.5 hours to reach the park entrance. Naturally, we had to stop for a quick photo-op at the sign. Nathan flew his Phantom 4 drone outside the park as I took the following timed photo on a tripod.
Once inside the park, we drove directly to the hot springs and soaked in the rejuvenating waters for over an hour. It is located right on the Rio Grande River which runs over 180 miles through the park delineating the US-Mexico border. It's a nice barrier since you can just hop in the cool river to equalize your body temperature. We eventually had our fill of detoxifying mineral water and made our way further down the road. We stopped along the way and I reluctantly flew the Mavic Pro at 800 feet in strong wind along the Boquillas Mountains. This was my first time flying a drone illegally in a national park on the US-Mexico border and it was a rush of blood to the head. Afterward, we high-tailed it along winding roads to the Boquillas Canyon Overlook, providing a breathtaking view of the Rio Grade River and Mexico on the other side. My friends were preoccupied with collecting small crystals in the dirt while I climbed to a high peak and meditated to the beautiful scenery. I kept trying to convince them to climb higher to witness the natural beauty all around and started throwing rocks down the hill to get their attention. I appreciated their fascination with the little things, but I've always been a big picture kinda guy. Different strokes for different folks. I spotted a Mexican guy on a horse selling knick-knacks down below. I took a wooden walking stick at this location a few months ago during my Canada/Pacific Northwest adventure. You can read the series of blog posts here. We hiked along the Rio Grande River for awhile and then drove through the hills during sunset to our campsite for the night.
Afterward, we drove another hour to the Chisos Basin Campground to set up for the night. It turns out I was not adequately prepared for this trip since I left my tent and sleeping bag at the house in Penelope Cruze (my car). Luckily, Jenna is always thinking ahead and brought a one-person-tent, two cots, and a sleeping bag. It was very windy that night and I woke up around 3am to capture a few long exposure photos of the Milky Way. Big Bend is one of the darkest places in the country and hence the perfect place for night sky photography. If you're not familiar with how it works, you basically set your shutter speed to the max and crank up the ISO to increase the amount of light into the lens. For example, the following RAW image was taken with a Sony A6000 / 19 mm Sigma lens with a shutter speed of 30 seconds at f/2.8 - 10,000 ISO.
Patience has never been my strong suit. If you wish to accomplish great things in life, you must have a certain impatient attitude. Therefore, rather than wait around for my fellow travelers to wake up in the morning, I watched the sunrise over the basin perched atop a large boulder while taking a timelapse video on my phone, and then made the 3.8 mile hike to The Window. Here's a few of my favorite photos from that journey...
Two hours later, everyone was up and moving when I arrived back at the campsite. We decided to check out Grapevine Hills Trail. Everyone piled into the car and we drove about 8 miles to the trailhead. Luckily the Subaru is an off-roading champion. We crossed paths with a snake in the road and turned around to investigate further. Laura startled the snake and it slithered up into the undercarriage of the car. We all thought this was pretty funny and unexpected. We eventually reached the trailhead. I drank a flask of boxed wine during the drive, which made the desert hike in high noon heat considerably more difficult. We hiked through rugged arid terrain until reaching the prize of our efforts; Balanced Rock. It's a pretty incredible display of what nature is capable of forming through erosion. My favorite part was taking photos of Jenna posing by the rock. She's such a remarkable woman! I even captured footage with my drone flying through the rock opening. I threw caution to the wind since the park rangers were miles away. This is my favorite photo...
It was a relief to get back to the parking lot. We jammed to music as Nathan rock n' rolled down the dirt road. We relaxed for awhile at the campsite and then performed a "special ceremony" before hitting the trail to The Window. We hiked silently taking in the beautiful sights during sunset. I went off the beaten path and followed the river for awhile before getting back on the main trail. We began to jog as the sun sank to the horizon until reaching The Window. The gradient colors over the mountains were absolutely incredible! It was a truly unique and beautiful experience as we all relaxed on the smooth rocks, chilling at The Window.
We hiked back to camp in the pitch dark. I was shining a flashlight lantern which cast eerie shadows on the trees and surrounding mountains. Everyone had their own flashlight which I provided before we started out. We reached the campsite after what seemed like hours. Nathan played the steel drum as Jenna and I meditated on a blanket. It was such a relaxing experience. Afterward, we hopped in the Subaru and drove to the hot springs again to experience it at night without people. This was a very vulnerable and emotional moment for me. It provided me with a newfound respect for women and their boundaries. I took ownership of my sacred virginity and even achieved an out-of-body experience floating in the purifying waters of the Rio Grande River. We jammed to music on the drive back to camp and everyone passed out. Here's a group photo shortly before departing on Sunday at noon.
Thanks for reading! This adventure was yet another transformational experience in the timeline of my life. My next destination is Guatemala for a yoga/meditation retreat on Lake Atitlan, organized by Jenna Jasso and hosted by Joshua Param Sevak . This will surely teach me many new lessons that I can apply to areas of my growth as a spiritual being searching for love and happiness. On May 15th, I'm flying from Guatemala City to San Jose to shoot for CostaRica.com for two months, possibly longer depending on my interest level. I'll be shooting tours all over the beautiful country, all expenses paid! My Spanish skill level is very minimal. I'm still waiting on that universal translator... Luckily, the majority of people speak decent English over there, and I may just have a travel companion. I'm currently typing this blog post from a coffee shop before it closes. I'm not exactly sure where I'm going to sleep tonight, which only adds to the excitement of this journey called life. I have confidence that the next few months are going to be full of radical shifts. Be awesome to each other!