Some Things About Big Bend

An exercise in captioning some photographs

Words and Images by Luke Batten

People tell me all the time I am good at telling stories. I am not sure I agree. I am good at visuals and I have done many odd jobs in my life which lends one to believe I am good at stories so maybe that is why people tell me these things. I’ve raced mountain bikes as a teenager, taught in a one room school house and worked with horses and cattle in Montana. I once worked an entire summer clearing dozens of fallen cottonwoods on the Boulder River with a 25 year old chainsaw. I could write a book about that but Hemingway already wrote The Old Man and the Sea. I survived a summer traveling in Idaho and Montana on a couple $100 dollar bills by fishing trout streams with a few friends. I still like trout. I played a wash-tub bass in a folk-punk band, Ive made art and I’ve survived sleeping only 7 hours during a seven day trip in Russia. I have six brothers and sisters which lends itself to some stories. Four of my siblings are sisters and I am smack dab in the middle of them. Two of them are twins and we are pretty good friends. This winter I got to spend a little over a week traveling with some twin sisters, Anna and Elina. They are not my sisters but I could sense their purpose and manners which reminded me of my own kin. So, I may not be good at telling stories but I am going to try and tell a few stories from our trip since Anna and Elina did the same.

Big Bend Motor Inn Store and Restaurant

Texas is big. It is a long way from Chicago to Big Bend. It’s surprisingly a long way from Marfa to Big Bend. This is especially true if you come by way of Highway 67 and travel through the border town of Presidio towards Big Bend State Park. From Presidio you jump on Highway 170 and make your way to Terlingua which I suppose is a sort of gateway city to Big Bend. It was here that I realized I did not have charged camera batteries for this Big Bend Adventure. I felt like I was holding the trip up and to charge all my batteries was going to take a couple of hours but the sisters were good sports about it. There is a gas station in Terlingua that has a cafe. It is called the Big Bend Motor Inn Store and Restaurant. It is a good place to charge some batteries, get supplies and the cafe is not bad. We ate simple, breakfasts and a BLT. Our waiter was a heavy set young lad who usually did not wait tables but he was aces if you ask me.

Anna above the Rio Grand

This might be one of my favorite images of the trip. This is still on the way to Terlingua while we were in Big Bend State Park. Rumor has it there is some good mountain biking there. In retrospect we should have camped one night here before we headed in to the National Park. When you reach this part of the State Park the terrain rivals the National Park. The views of Rio Grande are spectacular. I am pretty sure I could not have crawled out on these rocks and Elina was visibly nervous for her sister. I just assumed Anna was born without fear so I told her to stand up so I could get a better picture of her. Turns out she has some fear and could not manage to stand up fully. I do not blame her. It was windy. (actually I am not sure if it was windy but just in case she reads this…)


This picture is our first day in Big Bend along the River Road. They are standing with their brand new Juliana Mountain Bikes above green river plain near the Rio Grande. Since you aren’t allowed to ride on the trails of a National Park, the River road and several satellite roads are your only option for dirt. Lucky for everyone there are some gnarly sections of 4 x 4 jeep tracks that make the riding interesting. We started talking about doing a trip to Big Bend together not too long after met each other over Instagram. I started following Anna and Elina when Anna tagged me in an image that immediately made me laugh. One of the things I like about them was their sense of adventure and humor whether it be trail running. xc skiing, orienteering or their images of collegiate track and field. We have been conjuring up this concept of “guides” for TSH. People showing us and everyone on the internet something they know. I think Anna and Elina are guides. They know a bunch about maps and not getting lost. Being 1/2 Finnish they also know a lot about good snacks and living in the woods.

ELINA Eating I think…

I do not have much to say about this picture but I have a lot of pictures of Elina eating snacks. Also I realized in looking at all these pictures when I got back that Elina might need a smaller jersey. We quickly mocked up a new XXS size after this trip and sent a sample to Elina and sure enough they fit perfect. All petite women and junior racers can thank Elina for this.

Elina Stomping on the Pedals To Check Out a Campsite

This is another one of my favorite photos for some reason. We wanted to check out the remote campsites down a spur road and Elina just took off. I think she looks cool. If you were going to bike pack the park these primitive sites are where you would want to stay. Just make sure to reserve ahead of time as the NPS checks for permits. We ended up staying in the Cottonwood Campground which is one of the more quiet places to stay. I recommend it. There are resident Javelinas and our campground had some good neighbors and clean bathrooms. There are also some archaeological ruins nearby and you are just a hop skip and a jump from the Santa Elena Canyon Trail.

The Smoothest Road

For sure there are some smooth roads and this section near the Rio Grande on the Western Branch of River Road might be the smoothest but there is also lots of sand, loose rocks and seriously rutted roads. I think some kind of all road or CX bike would be a good option as well. There were times the full suspension and extra volume tires on our mountain bikes provided a level of comfort not found on skinnier treads. If you were to take a vehicle to a remote campsite I would take a 4 x 4 or at least an all wheel drive with good clearance. If it rains some of the spur roads and loops off of the River Road can be treacherous.



The Three Amigos

If you have not read Anna’s or Elina’s pieces on the trip please do. Anna was recovering from pneumonia and there were some times she looked pissed off that I was pointing a camera at her and documenting her pain. She writes about the experience with true grit. Elina was quite taken with our stopover in Marfa since it coincided with New Years which is a busy busy time for world wide travelers to see Donald Judd works. It is a confusing place at times. Chelsea meets west Texas. Recommendations in Marfa for some big city snacks would have to include Stellina. I would take a date there. It is that good. The menu is full of gourmet comfort food.

If you have a National Park Bucket List then go to Big Bend. Bring your binoculars for bird watching. Bring your telescope for star gazing since there are no urban lights to dim the brightest and dimmest stars in the galaxy. Cell service is spotty which is perfect. It is also so impossibly far from everything we recommend making a great play list on your ipod. Beyonce, Prairie Home Companion and Gregory Alan Isakov will help you pass the time on your way in and out of Texas. Make sure to grab some BBQ on the journey out and journey in for that matter. It is a good place to contemplate life and find out what’s missing. By the end of the trip I felt pretty good about the future. The 24 plus drive home to Chicago even taught me a lesson or two and reminded me of some things I forgot.