Texas Largest National Park


Mar 1

A surprisingly quiet night last night considering our camp location between the Union Pacific Railroad and Hiway 90. That is, until a few hours before sunrise when the west wind picked up to “RV rockin'” speed. We had seen on the TV weather that was playing in the Judge Roy Bean visitor center that a cold front was due to move thru our area. Temps dropped about 15 degrees along with the increased wind. So—— I wasn’t all that disappointed that I was going to be driving STella today instead of riding directly into that.

Our first stop of the day was at Marathon. The man who named it thought it looked like the city of the same name in Greece. We found it to be a tiny town full of wonderful surprises. As we were fueling up STella, we looked across the un-busy lanes of hiway 90 and saw the gates to an oasis standing invitingly open. It was called “Gates Garden” (named for the hotel of the same name in town: more about that in a minute).

The town itself is two blocks long and half a block deep, but the Garden covers 27 acres! It is totally supported by the owners of the Gates Hotel/Coffee Shop/Bar (named “White Buffalo”, by the way 🙂 } and Gift Shop. There was no charge for viewing the gardens, and Cathy had a field day finding birds in all the flowering plants and trees there.

The Gates Hotel is one of those “destination places” that you read about in the travel magazines. It has been operating continuously since 1927 and is as SouthWestern Chic/Elegant as can be found. The cheapest room was $175/night (only two of them) up to $375 for the top tier. I think it would have been a real treat to stay there, but, another time maybe.

We headed straight south off the ST route, headed for Big Bend National Park. As I’ve said before, this has been on Cathy’s “wish list” for as long as she’s been a student and aficionado of bird watching. She would repeatedly pull out her “bird books” and show me all the different birds that both lived in and/or wintered in this remote and beautiful part of the country. So today it was going to come to pass.

It’s about 70 miles from hiway 90 to the entry into the park. The scenery grew steadily wilder, more remote, and awe inspiring the farther south we drove.


As a result of its immensity, there are many miles separating the areas of interest and the various campsites. Not all of the campsites are reservable, and those that can be are generally reserved weeks, if not months, in advance. Cutting to the chase, we needed to find an open campsite and claim it, or else we would have to completely vacate the Park, resulting in driving back that 93 miles to get out (absolutely NO “wild” camping. Probably a good idea, considering wildlife menagerie and the constantly on alert Border Patrol). Let’s just say that of the hundreds of campsites available in the whole park (a minuscule number compared to Yellowstone or Yosemite) there were less than 10 still marked as “open” when we checked in at the Ranger Station. That surely puts “focused” on the mission, and we drove the max speed limit of 45 heading for that last open campground. Long story short(ened), we scored an open spot in the Cottonwood Campground, a mere 100 feet from the Rio Grande, and 125 feet from Mexico.


It’s a very lovely, very remote, very quiet spot with the promise of a very active and interesting day tomorrow. Cathy wants to be up with the sun to start walking along the river for bird sightings.

Far south of the Southern Tier, but that’s OK.

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