Whether you’re looking for paved elevation changes or dirt tracks, fine restaurants or barbecue, the Big Bend area has all that and so much more to satisfy your soul
Story and Photos by Jamie Elvidge
“Texas is a state of mind” John Steinbeck wrote in his 1960 travelogue Travels with Charley. And while there is no dispute the state is best known for its prideful swagger and bold stance on the world stage, there is another, quieter nature to the Lone Star State, a sensation available only while travelling its deepest back roads and resting in its quietest corner. A state of mind that’s less about an exhibition and plentitude and more about the undiscriminating, healing arms of solitude.
It took me many years to fall in love with Texas. For at least a decade, I simply rode across the colossal state as quickly as possible on my many trips back and forth from my previous home in Los Angeles to various bike events in Florida. Twice the size of Germany and four times the size of Florida, Texas is nearly 1,300 km across at its widest, most oft-traversed span. It was always a gruelling task, tolerable only for the barbecue and big smiles so plentiful along the way.
But then one spring many years ago, I found myself travelling east to west across Texas with the sun in my eyes and a few days to spare. I first dropped down to Austin – then just budding as the hub of hip it is today – to explore the roads I’d heard about in the Hill Country. These were and remain the best roads Texas has to offer if you’re looking for corners: the famous Twisted Sisters, of course, and the smaller single-lane squiggles in between as they dash across rivers and whoop over modest hills.
From the Hill Country I rode down to San Antonio to check out the Alamo, Texas’s most visited tourist attraction, to see firsthand the root of Texas pride and defiance, a battle site that was pivotal in Texas winning its freedom from Mexican rule to become an independent republic almost a decade before it was annexed as one of the United States in 1945.
A Church in the Desert
From San Antonio, it was a very long, lonely ride across U.S. 90 and the current-day Mexican border to investigate West Texas, another part of the state I’d heard great things about. Little did I know this area would become sacred to me, that I would find a repeatable religious experience in Big Bend National Park, or that the towns tethering the roads into Big Bend would come to feel like old friends. It would be a place to which I would return over and over in the coming years, whenever I needed a true escape, to think big, to feel small, to be alone or to spend unforgettable time with friends.
These days if I’m travelling from the east, I make my way to Marathon and treat myself to one night at the Gage Hotel. Built in 1927, this historic hotel is the essence of Texas architecture and charm, including great food and an award-winning bar.
Mapping programs will suggest to drop down to Big Bend on Texas 118 via the larger town of Alpine, with its chain hotels and fast-food options, but this is a mistake. Not only is Marathon a higher-quality port of entry, U.S. 385
is a much more scenic highway, with gorgeous mountain views and an abundance of sweeping corners that take you into the park proper sooner than if you arrive via Texas 118.
Finding Your Space
I suggest you spend a minimum of two days in the park if you’re on a street-only bike. If you would like to include some soul-satisfying hikes or downtime, allow for three days, and if you’re on an adventure bike, four days, minimum, with a week being ideal.
Big Bend National Park is not only extremely remote and austere, it is extreme in temperature as well, with summers bringing unbearable heat (many campgrounds and both visitor centres at lower elevations close from June through October). Winters tend to be mild with cold nights. I try to spend…