Looking to Get Off the Beaten Path? Try the Lone Star State

Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Texas

Looking for a great American National Park experience? Our suggestion is to look off the beaten path.

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One of my old photos rescued from what hiker Cam Honan refers to as “Shoebox Purgatory”, the shoebox where old pre-digital photos go to die.

As far as the outdoor recreation community is concerned, that perfectly describes the dang ole Great State of Texas. No one thinks of Texas as being a hiking mecca. But in our opinion, trans-Pecos Texas (the very western part of the state) is the most underrated outdoor areas in the US.

Many people seem unaware that, while there’s a passel of flat land in Texas, the Lone Star State has bigger mountains than any state to the East of it. It also boasts two excellent national parks.

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Y’all may not recognize this river but you done heard about it on the news, they’z fixin’ to get ready to build a wall on one side of it. 
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Santa Elena Canyon as photographed by me from the American side of the Rio Grande  in 2005. The left hand side of the canyon is in Mexico.

In fact, if Brian was to name most underrated national park in the United States, his answer would undoubtedly be Big Bend National Park.

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The Grapevine Hills area of Big Bend NP.

At 801,163 acres Big Bend is the seventh largest US National Park in the lower 48 states. It is five times bigger than Zion National Park but gets one tenth the visitation. Think about what that means in terms of crowds.

The reason for this light visitation? Certainly not because there is nothing to see. Mostly, it’s because the Big Bend ain’t close to anything in particular, except the US-Mexican border.

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Brian spent a week here as a younger man doing service work for the National park, and can report that this is a VAST, wild and remote place. He still has memories of an encounter with a wild Javelina here.

We also recommend Guadalupe Mountain National Park. Smaller than Big Bend but even less visited, Guadalupe boats one the American Southwest’s greatest – and most overlooked – iconic landforms…El Capitan.

The OTHER El Capitan…By Ricraider – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11273830

It also boasts McKittrick Canyon, one of the best (actually, one of the few) places to see fall color in the Lone Star State. One of Brian’s favorite hiking experiences was doing the extremely remote Bowl Loop solo over a decade ago.

Be advised that it’s a long drive to either of these places, and they are NOT or the faint of heart. We recommend avoiding the Big Bend entirely in the summer, and don’t hike either place unless you are prepared for desert conditions.

Another thing to be aware of…if your immigration paperwork is, say, not presently in order, you don’t want to go to Big Bend. Being stopped by border patrol roadblocks is fairly routine. Brian, who is about as white as ceiling primer, was stopped and his car searched.

We very much suggest you get out to this very remote area at least once. The hike that is still very much on our list is Big Bend’s South Rim…Though how we will every find the time to get back there is anyone’s guess!

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One of the most famed of Brian’s ‘Legendary Lost Hats’ is this red North Face chapeau which went missing after a stop in a Mexican Restaurant in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

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