Welcome to the Desert
If you are reading this, there is a good chance that you don’t live here. And if you don’t live here, there are many obvious and many more not-so-obvious differences from wherever it is that you do live. Our goal is for you to have the best experience possible in Terlingua and the Big Bend, to have fun and be safe, to minimize your impact on the beautiful land around you, and to leave with great memories and plans to come back and see more. Below, you’ll find a list of some of the good advice we’ve learned from living here, and we’re happy to share it with you.
Basic Tips & General Guidelines
Don't be a jackass. And this should apply to anywhere you roam.
Don't make us explain RULE #1.
Those are the only rules. Not really, but you get the point. Mind the good manners your granny taught you, and you'll do just fine. Below are some suggestions and advice we'll offer because this place is unlike the one you came from and, well, this is a guide.
Other than Big Bend National Park (BBNP) and Big Bend Ranch State Park (BBRSP), nearly all other land out here is privately owned. While it may seem like a fun idea to explore that dirt road and see where it leads, don’t. Most folks around here enjoy the privacy of this vast expanse and don’t want to even have to tell you to get out. Please respect the privacy and property of all our neighbors, and this includes driving off a designated road with a car to “look at something.” It is important to note that if you see anything (rocks, fence posts, etc.) marked with purple paint, this is a de facto No Trespassing sign in the state of Texas and elsewhere and carries all of the same legal protection. If you see purple paint, do not proceed, or you will be trespassing.
Your phone will probably not work south of Alpine. Verizon and AT&T customers may have some service within Terlingua, Study Butte, and BBNP, but never rely on it. This is a very remote area and outages of any public utility are fairly common. Before you leave WiFi, be sure to download the offline maps for this area, and don’t underestimate the relevance of the paper map. That being said, think of this as your chance to tune out of the busy, connected life you live at home and enjoy the quiet beauty of your surroundings.
Please don’t be in a hurry, because no one here is. Aside from the many people who visit this area every year, this is a very small community, one that appreciates a slower pace and a laid-back lifestyle. When you go out to eat, especially during the busy season, a long wait for a table should be expected. In return for your patience, you’ll be treated to a one-of-a-kind experience in dining and service that you just can’t get back home. You are on vacation—relax!
Observe posted speed limits. Our local sheriff’s department works hard to keep everyone safe and that includes you. The desert can be a disorienting place even for those who have lived here for many years, especially at night. There is an abundance of wildlife and other folks who may not know exactly where that next curve in the road is, so slow down and keep your eyes on the road. Local tip: National Park Police at Big Bend National Park can/will write you speeding tickets, and they take your safety very seriously. So keep it at 45 mph and don’t let that ruin your trip.
Everything is a precious resource out here, and water is the most essential. Be mindful of your use of water, as every drop counts. Most places you’ll use water out here employ water-saving technology, but for the most part even those are only as effective as the intent of the human using them. Rainwater catchment is also common in this area, and as you can imagine, it doesn’t rain all the time. Conservation is key!
On the subject of water, make sure to stock up on jugs of water to keep in your vehicle as you explore the area. The general rule of thumb is one gallon per person per day, especially in the hot summer months. When hiking, always take as much with you as you can carry, because anything can happen and fortune favors those who are prepared.
Keep your gas tank topped off. We’ll cover locations for fuel later in the guide, but know that there are only a few, and it’s not uncommon for any of them to run out of gas or not be able to sell due to power outages or other factors. It’s always a good idea to fill up in Alpine, Marathon, or Marfa on your way down to the Big Bend.
DO NOT attempt to leave the Big Bend with any marijuana or anything else illegal.
It’s hard to believe that in 2020 this beneficial plant is still outlawed in many states of the US, including Texas, but that is the case. We are only a few miles from the US-Mexico border, and all roads leaving the Big Bend have a US Border Patrol Checkpoint that you will have to stop at on your way home.
The agents are highly trained, have search dogs, and have been known to ruin people’s days over even very small amounts of harmless marijuana. It’s not worth the risk, so enjoy it all, give it away, or if you have to, give it back to the earth—just don’t try to take it through that checkpoint.