Tex-Mex Americana - Page 2

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Big Bend National Park
Essential Southwest: Big Bend National Park  (courtesy, National Park Service)

Days 2-4: San Antonio to Big Bend National Park (393 Miles)
Big Bend National Park (432.477.2251; www.nps.gov/bibe) is far enough away from anything to merit at least a few days of exploration, so stock up on your way out of San Antonio and gun it 400 miles west. The massive park includes the famed Rio Grande River, probably the last immense reserve of wilderness in Texas, which creates the southwestern border between the Lone Star State and Mexico. Ranging from elevations of 1,840 feet at the big, U-shaped bend in the Rio Grande River, which gives the park its name, to 7,825-foot Emory Peak, it encompasses a rugged landscape of volcanic rock outcrops, plunging canyons, and desert and mountain terrain sprawling over 801,163 acres. The longest driving tour through the park is a circle from Marathon to Alpine that covers 187 miles, though hiking, biking, and canoeing are recommended alternative means of exploring. Indeed, with over 150 miles of trails, guided walks and interpretive programs, and innumerable sites at which to stop for picnics, swimming, and fishing, you'd be remiss not to leave the blacktop for at least a few hours.

There are several options for camping in Big Bend National Park, the pick of them being scenic Chisos Basin Campground (432.477.2251; www.reserveusa.com) at an elevation of 5,400 feet in the mountains that form the heart of the park. Not recommended for RVs over 24 feet in length given the winding, narrow approach road, the next best option for travelers in a rig is Rio Grande Village Campground (432.477.2251; www.reserveusa.com) in the southeastern corner of the park and on the banks of the river that divides the U.S. and Mexico. Expect the usual amenities (RV hookups, showers, general store), as well as easy access to Big Bend's countless acres of outdoor action.

Day 5: Big Bend to Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico (345 Miles)
From one untapped wilderness to another. Carlsbad Caverns National Park (505.785.2232; www.nps.gov/cave) is located 27 miles southwest of Carlsbad on 46,776 acres in the Guadalupe Mountains, and includes some of America's deepest and largest cave systems in at least 100 known caves. Witness incredible two- to four-million-year-old stalactites and stalagmites, tower-like protrusions, fossilized rock, and a nightly cloud of hundreds of thousands of bats emerging from an upper chamber where by day they hang inside asleep. There are guided or self-guided cavern tours, as well as a 9.5-mile Walnut Canyon Desert Drive through the park.

There's no camping in the park. Try the private Carlsbad RV Park and Campground (505.885.6333 or 888.878.7275; www.carlsbadrvpark.com). It's located 15 miles north of the park and offers groceries, Internet hookup, laundry, and an indoor pool.

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