It takes a certain kind of person to book a weeklong wilderness camping trip; a week full of canoeing through the Rio Grande for eight hours a day, setting up camp on a desolate riverbank in Terlingua, eating out of tin cans while you’re sitting in soaking shorts that haven’t been washed in days, that kind of stuff.
For my parents, this was the perfect recipe for a family-fun spring break vacation.
My dad, being the researcher he is, discovered Far Flung Adventures; an exhilarating nature guide experience based in the deserted and historic mining town of Terlingua, Texas. In the absolute middle of nowhere, Terlingua is the perfect place for a hiking pit-stop or the home of a social recluse. Located near Big Bend National Park, Terlingua situates itself on the outskirts of rolling mountains and diving canyons.
It’s the perfect blend between a desert and mountain oasis.
I met the idea of vacationing in a small town with apprehension. As an eight-year-old, my idea of fun was going to Universal Studios for a week of rollercoasters and junk food, so an 11-mile canoe trip took me off guard. Terlingua is only 12 miles from the Mexican border.
Therefore, our journey consisted of a two-day sightseeing road trip through Texas. As we made our way farther and farther from civilization, I felt anxious as to what could lie ahead. Our second day on the road, the terrain began to transform from city-like structures to rocky deserts painted with sunset colored sand. I remember feeling a sense of peaceful solidarity which was a foreign feeling for me.
Our first pit-stop in Terlingua was a bright pink burrito shack called the Cosmic Cow that looked like it belonged in a wild-west film.
As we approached, I remember thinking how funny it was that a structure so vivid and full of life could exist in a place so quiet and vast. I came to learn that that was the charm of Terlingua. Life there flourished in the most unsuspecting way.
When you’re surrounded by nature rather than civilization, a community is built under the stars instead of the city lights, making it easier to take in what is going on around you without the distractions of the hustle and bustle connected to the city.
The day we embarked on our weeklong journey through the Rio Grande, our tour guide emphasized three things: embrace the silence of the land, watch out for mountain lions and most importantly be prepared for world-class stargazing. Because of its minimal population and light pollution, Terlingua is a Class 1 dark sky on the Bortle Chart. Basically, this means there is no better place to see the celestial bodies; a star-gazers paradise. I felt eager to put my binoculars to good use.
Before I could do that, we had to make it to our first checkpoint and set up camp.
What seemed like a simple feat in my mind, turned out to be the most physically grueling eight hours of my life. There were moments of peacefulness as the current carried our canoe through glassy canals and valleys. In those moments, the silence was beautiful. Murmurs of the water met with a cool whispering wind echoed through the rocks and sent me into a content relaxation that I will never forget.
Those moments of peace were quickly transformed into intensity as we hit current pockets that required the arm strength of a heavyweight champion to navigate. At one point, my sister and dad were sent into what seemed like an infinite spiral. The rest of our group advanced as they were sitting there making circles in the river laughing and laughing at their failed attempt to combat it.
After we reached our checkpoint and set up our tents, we explored the riverbanks on the look-out for Red Racers; the illusive red colored snakes native to that region.
I remember looking up at the two masses of earth on either side of me and feeling so small. Later that day, our guide brought us to a narrow passage that could barely fit our bodies. He instructed us to raise our arms and touch each piece of rock to our sides, informing the group that we were simultaneously touching the United States and Mexico. Two prominent bodies connected by our arms in a monumental moment.
The time finally came for the stars to reveal themselves.
We lit a campfire and prepared our viewing snacks of smores and hot chocolate. Running water and crickets hummed in the background as the night-sky unfolded in front of us.
It’s hard to put into words how truly breathtaking the image above me was. The clarity was remarkable as you could see every single star that surrounded our planet, down to the purple and green hues of the Milky Way. I honestly didn’t know it was possible for there to be that many stars in the night sky. Space brought itself to us as we looked through a portal of glistening speckles encompassing everything in sight.
That was one of the most special memories that I have the privilege of holding onto. Not only the celestial beauty, but the serenity that comes with detaching from society. We were in our own world for a fleeting second, present in the moment. I came into that experience as an eight-year-old with apprehension. I left with a newfound gratitude for going out of my comfort zone, and the convenience of a shower.