Words and pictures by Cass Gilbert.
I can’t say I knew too much about Texas. Just the headline factoids: it was vast (twice as large as Germany), it was staunchly Republican and Texans loved to drawl. Throw in some dated colour gleaned from my mother’s fascination for Dallas – the ‘80s soap opera chronicling the excesses of wealthy oil barons and their mistresses – and that’s about the picture I had.
Perhaps not surprisingly, what I hadn’t heard was that tucked away right on the Mexican border, far removed from the cigar-toting JR Ewings of this world, lay a singletrack nirvana. In fact, it was the simplicity of the name that had first caught my attention: Big Bend. Two small words to describe the monumental, country-dividing arc of the Rio Grande, sweeping through the Chihuahuan Desert on its slow, lethargic route to the Gulf of Mexico.
Although far less frequented than many of America’s playgrounds, Big Bend National Park is well known for its grand vistas, dramatic canyons and river rafting potential. But it’s the neighbouring State Park that holds most interest to mountain bikers. Previously a working ranch, it’s now become a progressively bike-friendly domain, laced with mile upon mile of roughly hewn dirt roads and enough desert singletrack for several days of epic riding. So, with two more well-chosen words – winter sun – I convinced my US-born partner to venture south, and explore what seemed like the perfect bikepacking terrain.
No Country For Old Men
Epic is also an appropriate term to describe the act of simply getting to Big Bend. In our case, we were relatively close to begin with. At least by American standards, where double-figure driving hours are the norm. Starting in the neighbouring state of New Mexico, our journey was a mere ten hours in duration. Thankfully it was broken up with a Texas culinary baptism. We stopped off en route at Nancy’s family home in El Paso for dinner: a succulent steak overlapping the land-of-the-giants plate on which it was served.