Final Sights in Big Bend and Marathon, TX
[Big Bend National Park & Marathon, TX – Dec 28, 2021]
After 2 full days in the park, it was time to say good-bye to this fascinating place. Our flight back to Los Angeles wasn’t until later in the day. Since we were going to gain two hours from Lajitas to El Paso, we took our time. We slept in a little and started late compared to the other two days. We entered the park almost two hours later than usual and sat in a 10-minute line at the entrance, about 20 cars deep
Our first stop was Chisos Mountain Lodge. We wanted to check out the paved 0.3-mile walk nearby. It circles a low hill with excellent views of the mountain peaks surrounding the Chisos Basin, and a view through an opening in the mountains called The Window. There is a more strenuous trail that takes you down much closer to the window, but we didn’t have time for that. The view was excellent nonetheless.
We also checked out Chisos Mountain lodge. The on-site restaurant had just stopped serving breakfast, otherwise we would have enjoyed a meal on the patio overlooking the mountains. Besides that, though, the rooms looked really basic, more motel-like. We were glad to not be staying there and I’ll be adding Chisos Mountain Lodge to my list of national park lodges to skip.
Our next stop was the new Fossil Discovery center, which is on the way out of the northern end of the park on Highway 385. Abundant fossils in Big Bend, including some found nowhere else in the world, record the existence and demise of dinosaurs and the flourishing of mammals. Big Bend’s 130-million-year fossil record is the longest and most diverse of any national park unit.
The first exhibit that grabbed our attention was the super-croc. This 40–50 feet long predator with 6-inch teeth was extraordinarily equipped to feed upon a variety of dinosaurs. In fact, dinosaur bones have been found here that are heavily damaged and covered with distinctive crocodile bite marks!
The rest of the exhibit continues inside an open-air building just constructed in 2016. This innovative structure opens to the Sierra del Carmen mountains. Because the exhibit is unstaffed, partitions create an intuitive, self-guided visitor experience. Durable and low-maintenance building materials blend with the surrounding terrain. The structure is elevated with piers to minimize disturbance to the site’s flora and fauna. A solar array providing sufficient energy to the structure and a rainwater collection cistern minimize its environmental impact. The building’s design won the 2019 American Institute of Architects San Antonio Merit Award.
The Gallery of the Giants centers the exhibit. Life-size bronze skulls of some of the most formidable dinosaurs to roam this area are on display. The butterfly roof above houses the bones of a giant pterosaur, the largest known flying creature of all time with a 36-foot wingspan.
The Marine Environment exhibit is also fascinating. It highlights marine life in the shallow sea that existed here until about 10,000 years ago when the area dried out and became the Chihuahuan desert.
Our last stop was Marathon, TX. This tiny town is home to less than 400 people but its proximity to the park – just 40 miles from the north entrance – keeps it thriving. We walked through the lobby of the historic Gage hotel and drove around a bit.
I noticed an eclectic building that turned out to be Eve’s Garden Bed & Breakfast, which I had considered for our accommodations. Even though Marathon is closest to the north entrance, the distance from there to any of the sights is quite big. Lajitas and Terlingua are still much better options if you want to be close to the park but not inside.
The rest of the drive was uneventful. We swung by Kona Grill to pick up the credit card I had left there 3 days before. This 4-day trip was just long enough to get a good taste of Big Bend. I would love to come back to try some of the more challenging trails, like the South Rim, and explore more of the many dirt roads into remote areas of this expansive park.