The six hour drive from San Antonio to Big Bend National Park is typical of any Texas road trip: flat spaces, dusty roads, whimsical windmills, and scratchy sagebrush. We, a crew of bedraggled medical students, ventured out last April to the great unknown: west Texas. The land of cowboys, tumbleweeds, and coyotes. Big Bend is literally surrounded by nothing, nada, zilch! The nearest “town” entails a single gas station and a bar. Not much. But once you make your way along the interminable entrance road to the park, you are sure to be dazzled by the spectacular arid mountains of the Chisos Mountain Range.
The dry and cracked sands of the desert tend to look pretty parched, but the blooming cacti and wildflowers of the region highlight the odd beauty of such an arid climate. April was the perfect time to visit the park, as Indian paintbrushes and bluebonnets lined the highways and the sun’s rays illuminated the vibrant cacti blooms. The lemon yellow color of the prickly pear flowers mirror the brilliancy of the sun, and along with the chollas’ deep fuschia, add to the desert’s color palette. My favorite is the ocotillo. Its needly dark branches jut in every direction with crimson colored bird-like blooms perched on its tips.
We camped in the park for a few days, sleeping under a blanket of stars so brilliant that we couldn’t make out the constellations. The Milky Way streaked across the sky, shedding light on the blackest of black nights. During the day, we hiked under the relentless sun, snaking our way along switchbacks to the tops of peaks. We also ventured down the rock face to the bank of the Rio Grande River. Mexican cowboys on horseback crossed the river back and forth, while donkeys carrying local souvenirs lined the opposing bank.
On our last day, we took a detour to Marfa, Texas before heading back home. Marfa is an oddity. An art community of eccentric souls dropped in the middle of nowhere. Just outside of Marfa lies the famous Prada store: a sculpture designed by Elmgreen and Dragset.
It’s difficult for me to reminisce on that adventurous weekend and the utter beauty of Big Bend National Park. I feel weighted down when I remember these moments. These moments of total presence, stillness, and ease. I crave that now, as the stress and crushing challenges of medicine seem to constantly bog me down. I’m counting down to our next adventure, wiling away my time pining over photos of the streets of Porto. I feel the pull of Portugal immensely, tugging at my soul, pleading for some relief. 52 days and counting down…