This became the greatest adventure of all.
I drove 1,930 miles from Rhode Island to Texas in May. Over rolling hills in Virginia, past billboards outside Nashville. It’s not a new story. Austin grew by around four percent in 2017, or 36,690 people, according to city data.
My boyfriend and cat quickly followed, thank heavens. I’d never been in this part of the country before, making every trip an exploration. Austin has an impressive number of opportunities to get outside. We made hikes with friends a part of our weekly routine. We said we would go camping outside the city and kept putting it off. The reasons were legitimate—my cat was sick, the weather was too hot and then the weather was too cold and wet.
Remarkably, to me, the average temperatures in Austin in January range from highs in the 60s to lows in the 40s, according to The Weather Channel. Knowing this and vacationing in the frigid Northeastern U.S. for the holidays, I booked a weekend of camping in Big Bend National Park for my return. A wintry week in Connecticut made camping in just-above freezing seem doable.
Big Bend National Park is a good seven-hour drive west from the capitol city, but its average temperatures are only a few degrees cooler. However, this particular weekend, the state was experiencing a cold front. As we prepared for our time away, we realized we’d be camping in snowy conditions and booked a “Texas-sized” hotel room in Alpine.
Telling the story to others sounds a bit foolish. My boyfriend and I drove eight hours on a Sunday, woke up early on Monday to spend a few hours at the park before driving right back. All in the ice and fog. Oh, the fog. Alpine seemed a sweet place—with charming storefronts and vibrant murals—but the thick fog enveloping the town gave it a dreary disposition that night.
It had a different effect on the natural landscape. Driving into Big Bend provides miles and miles of views for many of its visitors. While the fog limited the distance we could see, it added an extraterrestrial feel. We were either on Mars, or somewhere in Middle Earth.
Big Bend is larger than the state of Rhode Island, and that’s just the national park—it also lies next to Big Bend Ranch State Park and two protected natural areas in Mexico, according to the National Parks Foundation. Once we entered the park, we had miles to go before reaching the popular Lost Mine Trail.
There were signs warning us of bears and mountain lions. The foliage was frosted with snow. The air got less chilly the higher we climbed, which was unexpected. I am so glad we visited when we did, because how often does someone get to see snow at Big Bend?*
We couldn’t stay long. There was a long ride home ahead of us and work in the morning. Nevertheless, the opportunity to be among the mountains, desert and small Western towns was unforgettable.
*The answer: once or twice a winter, usually at high elevations, according to the National Parks Service.