The “Texas Forever” Vacation: Part Three

We’re recapping our 2014 “Texas Forever” Vacation. You can read about our adventure: parts one, two, three, four and five.

We “slept in” this morning and managed to get wheels up around 9. It was our Big Bend day and everyone was pretty stoked.

Scott grabbed some lunch fixings at the local grocery store, we got the cooler loaded with ice and drinks and headed west to the place everyone in Texas praises.

texas forever, big bend_018

Yep, that’s why.

Big Bend is a HUGE national park. I’m fairly certain we could come back every year and still not see it all. Speed limit throughout the park is 45 and it’s strictly enforced. There are also a ton of border patrol agents roaming around since the only thing that separates this park from Mexico is the Rio Grande river. To give you a visual, we drove south from Alpine over to Marathon and down into the park. From there, we traveled to the Chisos Basin, then Santa Elena Canyon and back up to Alpine.



All day – and this is no exaggeration – we saw ten cars and seven of them were either border patrol or park rangers. It’s as if the park said, “Hey, the Whitaker’s are coming. Let’s open up!” We stopped in the visitor’s center and mapped out some possible routes, with the first being lunch in the Chisos Basin.



With the dry heat and breeze, in the shade the temps dropped down to the low 90s, but it felt so much cooler than that without humidity. It probably ranks as my most favorite part of the trip. It was just us in the basin, eating lunch and enjoying the time out in the boonies. Being off the grid sure felt nice. No cell phone coverage, no people, no traffic. Just God’s country. And sibling rivalry.

Texas travel tip #4: Pack a cheap waterproof tablecloth in your van and leave it there. It comes in oh-so handy.



There was a small freak out when we I saw the “how to react if you encounter a bear” sign on the bathroom door. Let’s just say that to me, camping is having a hotel room door open to the outside, not a hallway. While the boys went off exploring after lunch for about a half hour, the girls and I played “I Spy” while I nursed G. The boys came back hot and hotter, so we cooled off a bit before jumping back in the van to go exploring in the Santa Elena Canyon. It took us nearly an hour to get there, but the views were just spectacular. The kids crashed on us and Gianna started getting fussy, so I moved to the back. I totally paid for that a half hour later when I was sick to my stomach.

But, the view made up for it.





That divide in the canyon is split by the river, on the left is Mexico, the right, Texas. The sign at the base reminded us that by crossing the border illegally you could be “inprisoned.” I wonder if you could get off on a technicality due to spelling error?

Because of all the rain in recent days, the trail that took you all the way back to the canyon was closed. Big bummer, but I guess it just means we have to come back. Trust me, Scott is already working on a trip with the guys. If you’re interested, let him know because he’s got some spectacular ideas. I do, too. At the Spa on Lake Austin. Oh, I kid. I would definitely come back, but momma’s not a camper. I’ll stay in Marfa while the boys go overnighting it with snakes and coyotes and stuff.

We trekked back to the van, loaded up and headed north to Alpine. About a half hour away from our destination, we stopped in at a gas station for a quick break. Scott came back to the van laughing. When I inquired why, he said a lady had spotted several guys in vans from Sul Ross State University, all dressed in long sleeves and hats. She belted out, “Sure looks like a bunch of rock lickers!” AKA geologists. We’re still laughing about that one.

Not to be outdone on quotes, however, was our friendly border patrol agent. Once you’re about an hour into the Texas border, there are several checkpoints. As we drove up to ours, we noticed three agents, all looking very serious, and a German Shepherd to sniff down the van. Scott rolled down the window and the agent was all business. She asked him to roll down the van’s back window. As it was rolling down, she says, “So, you just have kids back there?” and before he could answer she glanced back, did a small hop and said, “Oh, LOTTA kids!” At least we got her to crack a smile.

The kids were wiped out and hot, so we decided a quick dip in the hotel pool might be nice. We had a quick dinner of leftover pizza and snacks, took super sonic fast showers and loaded back in the van for Marfa. You’ll notice that John Paul is not in swim gear due to that head laceration. The staples prevented him from joining in on that fun.


Let’s talk quirky Texas trivia. Marfa is known for its “mystery lights” dating back to the 1880s. There have been several folks hypothesize what they are – cars, change in atmosphere, the weather, aliens and everything in between. Right around dusk, these lights start popping up on the horizon, some bright, some dim. They move around with no rhyme or reason. It is so bizarre. And we got to check them out! There’s a nice viewing area off Highway 90 where you can enjoy the lights.



I’m pretty sure we all fell into bed this night. Which is quite comical, because just before bedtime Scott and I were still debating where to go the next day. We hadn’t made hotel reservations for the following night so we were pretty much flying by the seat of our pants. Soooo not like me. With that, we’ll call it a wrap on day four.

Tomorrow, we land a great deal, I almost punch a guy and we eat some pretty fine Tex-Mex.

Sites visited
Big Bend National Park
Marfa Mystery Lights


  1. Blair on July 12, 2014 at 8:24 am

    My husband Steven really wants to take the family to Big Bend! But we don’t do well on long car rides (fussy baby and fighting siblings) and I’m really not a fan of desolated places, although I did survive the day at the national seashore yesterday! Glad to hear you had a good time, maybe it’ll help me become more open to the idea of a trip there. I’m enjoying your Texas tour!

  2. Kim on July 12, 2014 at 1:15 pm

    Sounds like such a fun trip. Even though I am not the greatest camper either (nature doesn’t like me very much!) I would like to go to Big Bend with the family someday too, since it looks so beautiful. But it’s such a long haul from Dallas! Since we only moved here 6 years ago, we don’t have family or friends out in Lubbock or anywhere along the way. Still, you’re encouraging me that maybe we should give it a try someday 🙂

  3. Lisa Jones on July 13, 2014 at 9:55 am

    I LOVE Big Bend. There is something so special about that part of Texas. God’s Country. We’ve taken the kids out there twice and stayed in Marathon and Lajitas. The drive from Lajitas to Presidio through the Bid Bend State Park is one of the most beautiful drives ever. You follow the Rio Grande winding your way through the mountains. Most of the drive is on a cliff and incredible. A great place to stay if you don’t like “roughing it” is Cibolo Creek Rank, just north of Presidio in the Chisos mountains. Incredible! It’s a little pricey, but worth the resort prices for the experience. Every year my family debates going back to Big Bend vs trying somewhere new because we love it so much. If you’re not into driving and have the time for leisure, my parents have taken Amtrak. They thought it was a great way to travel to enjoy the scenery if you’re not in a hurry. It stops in Alpine and there is a car service called The Marfa Flyer who can pick you up to go wherever you are staying or into Big Bend. Sorry, I could go on and on about Big Bend. It’s one of those places my parents took us many times as a kid and is now near and dear to my heart. I’m so glad you got to experience a taste of it with your kids. Now its in your blood and you will have to go back!

    • Kathryn on July 13, 2014 at 9:55 pm

      Lisa, I LOVE all these ideas – thank you so much for sharing them all. I will definitely bookmark this for future trips. We really did enjoy our time in BB. I suspect we’ll be going back to Texas’ best kept secret very soon 🙂

  4. Meggan on July 14, 2014 at 12:24 pm

    My husband proposed to me in Big Bend at the window overlook in the Chisos Mountains. He used to go there all the time in college and his 20s, so he was able to plan a fantastic visit for us. Such great memories! We look forward to taking our boys when they are a little bit older.

    • Kathryn on July 14, 2014 at 10:55 pm

      How awesome!

  5. […] our 2014 “Texas Forever” Vacation. You can read about our adventure: parts one, two, three, four and […]

  6. […] our 2014 “Texas Forever” Vacation. You can read about our adventure: parts one, two, three, four and […]

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