Laura and Naomi discuss Big Bend National Park - an underrated treasure!
Here's a synopsis:
Q. Big Bend isn't as well known as parks like the Grand Canyon. Can you tell me a little bit about Big Bend - where is it located? And why is it a good destination for student travel?
A. Big Bend is located in SW Texas. It's about 10 hours from Houston and 8 hours from El Paso. It's an amazing National Park located on 196 miles of the Rio Grande - at a "big bend" in the river. It has incredible canyons carved by the river, big mountains (8,000 ft) and Chihuahan desert - very diverse ecosystems. There's great opportunities for outdoor adventure including camping, rafting, hiking and soaking in hot springs. It's really at the end of the road, so to speak, so the ability to unplug and unwind is unparalleled.
Q. I've heard Big Bend is pretty rugged and remote - how do you get there? What are the accommodations and food like? What do you do to keep kids safe out there?
A. Groups from TX typically bus out to the park, while groups from farther away tend to fly into El Paso and bus from there. Even though it's a far flung destination, we can make the trip pretty comfortable. You can stay in hotels and lodges or camp to be closer to it all. If you camp, our camp staff will provide 3 delicious and filling meals a day - everything from scrambled eggs to fajitas. In terms of safety, our guides have satellite phones, as cell reception is not good out there. They are also trained in Wilderness First Aid. Finally we have an emergency plan in place to get you to a clinic or hospital if something does happen.
Q. What are some of your favorite activities on the Big Bend trip? What about the kids and teachers - what do they like the most?
A. Rafting is usually the big highlight for the group. It's incredibly scenic. So too kids love sliding down the dunes in Boquillas Canyon and seeing wildlife like javelinas. Teachers are usually most excited by the educational opportunities - you get to see firsthand the processes of erosion, for example, in the cool limestone canyons or study the unique plants of the Chihuahan desert. Teachers also love the lack of cell service - it gives a great opportunity for the kids to unplug and interact with each other.
Q. What educational topics would you cover on a trip like this? Or is it more about outdoor adventure?
A. We customize all our trips so we can emphasize whatever best suits the school. Most schools opt for a combination of education and adventure. Topics to study include history and culture (the park has been inhabited by Native Americans for 1000s of years); astronomy (the night sky is amazing out there); environmental science, and geology to name just a few.
Q. What other elements could schools add on to a trip to Big Bend if they wanted to do something different?
A. Carlsbad Caverns is a great stop to add on. So too are Guadalupe Mountains National Park, White Sands National Monument, and McDonald Observatory (they do very popular star parties). A lot of groups make stops in places like Marfa, TX (known for its art scene and UFO sightings), Caverns of Sonora or Fort McKavett on their way to or from the park. Another cool option for the adventurous is to do on an overnight rafting trip on the Rio Grande.
Q. Do you have a favorite moment from the Big Bend trips you've guided?
A.One moment that sticks out is talking to a boy from Houston after our astronomy presentation at camp. He was completely mesmerized by the night sky out in Big Bend. He told me he had never seen stars like that before. Amazing!