Running Big Bend

By Amy Willis – June 1, 2021
Courtesy of Trail Roots.

In early April, 20 adventurous trail runners headed west to Big Bend for Trail Roots’ first Runcation of 2021. Just after the 2019 trip, the world closed down due to the COVID-19 pandemic and, after a year of isolation, runners were ready to reunite and reconnect. This annual trip has been coveted by Trail Roots members and friends for years, but for many, it was their first experience of this sprawling and majestic landscape that defines the border of Mexico and the United States. 

We all piled into cars stuffed to the brim with camping gear and snacks, left Austin and made the long trip to Terlingua, an old mining town just outside the parks where we’d set up camp for a few peaceful, cell phone-free days. After unloading and pitching our tents, we chowed down on homemade chili stuffed in baked potatoes, then fell asleep in our tents beneath the famous Texas starry night sky, anxiously awaiting our first run in the morning. 

At 6 a.m., Trail Roots founder and owner, Erik Stanley, led a morning meditation followed by breakfast and coffee. Once we gathered our gear, we drove to Big Bend National Park to run two trails. To our surprise, there was a significant wildfire in the basin and all but one of the trails were open to runners. Luckily, the Window Trail, which is one of our favorites, was open and we ran the five-mile trail that meanders down into a canyon, surrounded by massive rock formations and ending at the famous “window.” We carefully hopped on stones across a stream with birds and butterflies flapping past. Early morning is always the best time to run and, with fewer people on the trail, nature captivates all of your senses. It’s an incredible feeling to be running in a wild national park and see all of your friends run by with huge grins on their faces, occasionally stopping for a photo-op. At the end of the trail, we came upon a “window” which was the top side of an ancient waterfall in the crevasse that overlooks a truly stunning view of the Chihuahuan Desert. Many of the runners took careful selfies with the “window” and the spectacular desert in the background. We spent extra time exploring a side trail and added some vert to a gorgeous morning. The national park is a stunning place to spend the day, and being able to run through the trails is a dream come true for any outdoor enthusiast.

Courtesy of Trail Roots.

After our initial run, we drove to Santa Elena Canyon, one of the most photographed areas of Big Bend due to the dramatic, towering canyon and the Rio Grande splitting down the middle. After a hot run, we willfully shed some clothing and dipped into the river to cool off. We sat shoulder to shoulder and swapped stories of our day’s adventure while admiring the overwhelming beauty of our surroundings. 

Courtesy of Trail Roots.

That night, we all got seconds and thirds of homemade spaghetti. Runners are not shy about their precious post-run meals. Once we were all showered, fed and rested, the group enjoyed a spectacular Big Bend sunset which quickly drifted into a dark, glittering night sky. 

On the second day of our Runcation, we ventured to Big Bend State Park where we were welcomed by flatter terrain, but we had to endure more of the hot afternoon sun. We had the option of running a 10- or 18-mile route, all with expansive views and never-ending blue skies. Throughout the run, we were lucky to run through rows of colorful desert flowers and explore abandoned mercury mines and ghost towns in the middle of the desert. 

Once we got back to camp, we each dressed up in our best evening trail clothes and headed to the Starlight Theater for food, country music and dancing. We downed cheeseburgers, queso and Starlight margaritas — and no calorie was considered shameful after the day we just conquered, running for hours in the desert. After our evening of music, dancing and delicious food, the group headed back to camp. 

That night, we sat around the campfire and did a gratitude circle. We reflected on our favorite moments and expressed gratitude for each other and the opportunity to run in such a special place. These trips help us realize that we are so much stronger as a group than we are on our own. We learn to rely on each other, to open up and to share what is weighing on our hearts. Vulnerability is inevitable when you spend hours on the trails together. Not wanting our last night to end, we stayed up a little bit longer and sang songs until the fire went out.  

The trip seemed to fly by, as most vacations do, but we were all grateful to have gotten the opportunity to experience this beautiful and remote area of Texas by running along its ancient, mythical trails. The Big Bend trip was an overwhelming success; stories and inside jokes are sure to be re-lived on future runs for years to come. Being able to step out of the daily hustle, even for only a weekend, into a wonderland of trails and mountain views helped us recharge and revitalize our passion for running. The best part of the trip? Venturing with such a diverse and fun group of trail-running friends where the bond will last a lifetime.


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