Big Bend Ranch State Park
Our Big Bend Thanksgiving adventure started earlier in the week when we learned that the region had been hit hard by an ice storm and power was out. They had planned a Thanksgiving dinner at the park, but without sufficient power to their kitchens ultimately had to cancel it (or so we thought).
On Monday, Matty tried to find a camper top for his truck on craigslist. He found one that looked promising, but the guy didn’t respond until Tues afternoon, the day we were supposed to leave. We arrived to find the camper top in relatively good shape except for a busted latch on the back window. We also had to stop and get C clamps to secure it onto the truck. We got back home late in the afternoon and packed in a frantic rush. As we were just loading the last of our stuff, our next door neighbor came over and proceeded to talk about upcoming holiday plans for the better part of an hour. 5:45. That is when we finally got on the road. And sat in traffic on MoPac.
Due to our late start, we were already hungry by the time we hit the Y. We stopped at the gas station taqueria at 290 and Fitzhugh Rd and got a few pastor and picadillo tacos for the road.
Then we stopped at Tractor Supply for a washtub.
Then we stopped in Fredericksburg at the HEB for more groceries, beer, and ice.
We finally arrived in Ft. Stockton around 1 am. The lobby was quiet with one person working the front desk and one person (gender unknown) passed out on the couch. It was chilly and we layered up to take the dogs out to potty, which they refused to do. We went back into our room and settled in only to have the bed taken over by snoring dogs. Several hours later, motel residents started waking up and moving around and Bertie barked at everyone who walked outside to the parking lot. It was not a restful night for us at the La Quinta.
Bleary-eyed, we crossed over the freeway to get gas and breakfast tacos at Laredo Taco Company and we met up with our other friends on this journey with us. As we drove into Alpine, we tried to find Big Bend Brewery. Thanks to spotty 3G and bad Google map reading, we thought maybe it was the Coors Distribution Center. We turned around and went to a liquor store to see if we could find BBBCo beer there and the helpful clerk informed us we just hadn’t driven far enough. We still bought a case of BBBCo beer from him. With proper directions on our side, we finally found the brewery. Despite it being the day before Thanksgiving, they were still open and agreed to show us around. We spent most of our time at the tap wall tasting their line-up of brews. They even filled our growler for us. We stopped in the merch area on our way out and picked out a few souvenirs as a reminder of our good beer fortune.
We made yet another stop at the Dollar General in Marfa for charcoal and foil. A few miles down the road, we made another stop in Presidio to get gas, only to discover they were having some sort of breakdown with pumps and payments and it was a complete cluster.
Finally, we arrived at Ft. Leaton, the check-in point for entry to Big Bend Ranch State Park. They informed Matty and Abob that the park still didn’t have power, but we could purchase 5 gallon buckets to poop in. We declined this nice offer.
The drive into the park was about a 30 mile stretch of rough road to our campsite, meaning you can’t drive very fast. Traveling along this bumpy road, at one point the wash tub slid off the cooler over toward the half of the backseat where the dogs were sitting. Ginger was so terrified that she launched herself out the open window. Screeching to a halt and wondering if we’d run over the dog, we found her dangling from the window by her leash/collar. After a thorough assessment, we determined she was not hurt, just really scared. We secured the wash tub and the dogs and managed to get a few more miles before Bertie starts conducting static electricity and shocking herself repeatedly. Trying to escape, she jumps up front into my lap (she is a skinny dog, but still like 50 lbs) and also tries to migrate over to Matty’s lap while he’s driving.
We finally reach our campsite, Los Ojitos, at about 3 pm with the sun already starting to set. As we pull up the long driveway, we see a group of three javelinas roaming around the perimeter of the site, but they move along when they hear vehicles. Given the dwindling light, we set up the tents quickly and got a fire going. We made sandwiches for dinner and drank most of our growler. The boys also drank a fair amount of whiskey to “stay warm” or whatever.
Breakfast consisted of campfire-cooked bacon and skillet-cooked eggs for breakfast tacos. We thought we’d take the easy loop trail that started from our campsite, since we had a toddler in our party. We took a wrong turn and ended up making a 4 mile trek. Eventually we found our way back to Sauceda, one of the main bunkhouse stations, where they had the generator running and informed us we’d still be able to take showers if we hurried back with our stuff, which we did, after another mile walk back to camp. While at Sauceda we also learned that the Thanksgiving lunch they’d originally had planned still happened, but unofficially. They didn’t want the food they’d purchased to go to waste, but we were too late to benefit from any of that. So after showering, we returned to camp around dusk and put the tri-tip (our Thanksgiving “turkey”) in the cast iron over the fire. We cooked our side dishes, rice and beans, on the camp stove. Once the sunset and the wind picked up, it was hard to keep it all warm from pot to plate. Not wanting to waste good meat juice, we threw some potatoes in the cast iron for a snack/breakfast potatoes for the following morning. Thanksgiving night concluded with a toddler having night terrors, a pack of howling coyotes, and Bertie pacing continuously around our tent. We thought she was nervous because of the toddler or the coyotes, but it turned out it was just a case of good ol’ fashioned diarrhea.
Breakfast consisted of another cast iron skillet meal: a pound of ground breakfast sausage, peppers, onion, garlic, taters (from the previous night), and eggs cooked in the lard we got from the CSA. Given our sleepless night and hike the day before, we took it easy and just sat around the campfire for a while. One of the park rangers showed up to remind us to keep our dogs safely tied up and within view since javelinas had been reported as mauling some dogs recently. He also noticed our tailgate where we had some six packs and bottles of bourbon sitting out and reminded us to keep it out of sight, the standard TPWD rule. Later that afternoon, Matty went to start his truck and discovered his battery was dead, so we went back to Sauceda to get cables. While there, Ranger Roy (on his day off) told us about some other drive-in-and-hike spots around the park where we might see some rock art. By the time we went back to camp with the cables and back to Sauceda to return them, we were off to a late start. We took the somewhat off-road path out to the trailhead Roy had told us about, but the sun was already getting low and we figured we’d be hiking back in the dark, so we ended up just making a longer drive out of it. All this driving did not improve the mood of our friends’ toddler, so by the time we made it back to camp they had had enough and were ready to pack things up and head home that night. After helping get things packed up, Matty and I just had some leftovers and sat around the fire. We had a surprisingly uneventful night in the tent. The dogs were still and the temperature was warmer than previous nights by about 15 degrees.
We got up early to take some sunrise photos and then started to pack up camp. We made the long drive back out of the park without Ginger or Bertie trying to kill themselves this time. We also noticed a rock shelter with rock art right off the side of the road and stopped to check that out. Once out of the park, we bypassed Presidio altogether and opted for lunch in Alpine instead. We got another case of BBBCo beers and went across the street to get our growlers filled at Harry’s Tinaja (a bar). The bartender had never filled growlers before and had to make a call to Harry to ask about whether they did that and how much it was. She got the go ahead and checked with us along the way to ask if she was filling them correctly. Glad we could be her first! We got one filled with Tejas (the lager) and the other filled with La Frontera (the IPA), basically the two they had on tap.
A few miles down the road the auxiliary cable for the truck stereo went out so we stopped at the Dollar General in Marfa, again, but no luck. So then we stopped in Ft. Stockton, again, and finally found a cable at “the Wal-Mart.”
The rest of the long drive home was pretty uneventful.