Big Bend National Park sat on my to-do list for years. Three times I attempted to go, and three times the trip cancelled. Big Bend is a tough place to get to–you can’t drive by “on the way to” somewhere. You have to intentionally go.
We packed our Tesla with our two carry on bags and a cooler, said goodbye to Denver for the last time, plugged in the GPS coordinates for Big Bend National Park and headed almost due south from Denver as far as you can go before crossing the Mexican border.
A Long Haul Gets Longer
It’s a long haul. It’s even longer in the Tesla going though West Texas. I believe I might have said, “There ain’t nothing pretty about Texas,” a couple of times to Steve. West Texas through Amarillo, Lubbock and Midland may make lots of oil folks lots of oily money, but it didn’t waste any money on beautifying the place. And I love a good desert landscape. West Texas doesn’t have one.
Lubbock does have one good thing! A close friend from long ago–we had a quick cuppa–then continued the long slog to Fort Stockton. It was here at the Tesla Supercharger that we realized that we might be in a bit of trouble. We could charge the battery to 276 miles, and to get to the Chisos Mountain Lodge and back would be 276 miles. Gulp.
Getting Resourceful Isn’t Resourceful Enough
While charging, we made a plan to rent a car in Fort Stockton. Thinking we could park the Tesla for the night, we’d get a rental and cruise through Big Bend and all of its attractions, then come back in 24 hours to resume our road trip to the east. The problem? No one in Fort Stockton rents cars. We even asked the one Airbnb host in Fort Stockton if she’d rent/trade a car for the day. Nope.
But we had come all of this way, and I wasn’t going to squander my fourth attempt to get to Big Bend. We headed out, fingers crossed, going slower than the speed limit to extend the range on the Tesla.
An hour south we traveled, and again, I might have said something about Texas being ugly. Then we crossed the border into the park and the world changed in less than a mile. Flatness turned to rolling hills, ocotillo cacti appeared, and soon, brown turned into shades of purple and slate punctuated by blazing reds and brilliant yellows. I couldn’t believe we were still in Texas.
Where to Charge Tesla Electric Vehicle in Big Bend National Park
Another hour later, we arrived at the Chisos Mountain Lodge with 121 miles left of range. We had used more than half the miles on the Tesla, and we were in trouble. How would we get out of the park? Despite the National Park Service’s initiatives to put more electric vehicle chargers into the National Parks, their vision has yet to reach Big Bend.
We checked in. We explained our predicament. They confirmed that they did not have any EV chargers, which we already knew from researching it previously. We asked if we could plug the car into a 110 plug on the outside of the building, and we also declared we were happy to pay any additional amount. They replied that if we could find a plug, we were welcome to use it. No charge.
And so the hunt began. The challenge with finding an external plug is finding one that will not only allow the cord to reach the car, but also will keep people from having to walk/roll/trip over the cord. After about a half an hour of searching, we found the perfect situation. Thus, for all you electric vehicle and Tesla drivers, here’s the secret. Reserve a room in Building B on the bottom floor in the middle of the building. There’s a great exterior plug to use where no one will trip over the cord. Bring an extension cord. You can lay the cord between some cacti and safely reach your car.
Dark Skies at Night
With the car charging, we laced up our boots and headed out for a sunset hike along the Basin Trail. By hiking the two-mile loop in a clockwise fashion, we came upon the sunset at the perfect time with the perfect view. Afterward, we warmed up our dinner. Due to Covid, food service in the park is quite limited. In anticipation of this, we brought along two meals from Trader Joe’s, the Madras Lentils.
With the sun set and our bellies full of good vegan food, we grabbed a blanket and went back outside. The park is an official Dark Sky Park, and we couldn’t wait to see our beautiful universe at night. Laying on our backs, we looked up into the bright Milky Way, buckled Orion’s belt, and took a sip from both Dippers.
Let the Hiking Begin
Our July visit would turn hot, so we set the alarm to Early and set out for our hike to the Window view at the crack of dawn. Fog streamed across the Chisos front range, cooling the morning and adding dimension to the first view of the day. We drank down smoothies from the camp store (really!) and headed down the Window Trail. And I mean down! 1000 feet decline over 3 miles. Gradual and persistent, the trail trekked through shrub, juniper, cottonwood and ash. Footprints from the night’s kit fox, ringtail, bobcat, and kangaroo rat stamped the ashen dirt and gravel of the path.
Along the trail, we couldn’t see our destination. Near the end, the trail dips down to cross the non-existent creek, through a short slot canyon, and up and down granite staircases put in by the Park Service. And just when you really wonder if you’re really coming to the end, the end appears.
Walls of giant granite squeeze the view into a window out across the Chisos Mountain Range. It’s as if you’re standing on the edge of Narnia anticipating the next great adventure.
But slick rock and a deep drop off kept us from venturing further. Instead, we settled into a sit to just gaze and wonder at the depth of the Chisos Mountains. The way the granite framed the view reminded me of the first oil paintings that artists created when discovering the West. We were certainly at the Yosemite of Texas.
After a rest and a peanut butter and jelly, we hiked the long three miles back up the 1000 feet of elevation gain. Where we had the trail virtually alone on the way down, a continual stream of hikers, a small group every 2-3 minutes, hiked past us on their way to the Window view. Many carried big jugs of water–they’d need it–by the time we got back to the trailhead, three hours, later, the temp was already rising from 85 degrees. And it was only 10:30 a.m.
We had enough time to grab a shower before check out. We unplugged the Telsa, now at 200 miles of range left, packed up and headed back the way we came. A fun stop at the Dinosaur exhibit broke up the long drive. By the time we returned to Fort Stockton, we had about 60 miles left of range on the car. A new charge launched us east to stop at an old friend outside of San Antonio.
Was the fear of running out of “gas,” hiking in 85 degrees, and eating bagged food worth it to get to Big Bend National Park? Absolutely. Make your plans now.
We are thinking of heading to Big Bend in April 2023. I remembered you did a trip there so it was great to check out your article/suggestions. We are trying to figure out where to stay and the options seem very limited. Wish us luck! Thanks for posting such much good stuff about all your trips.
Yes, the choices are very limited. The Lodge is nice and worth it. Treat yo’self!
This Big Bend National Park review is incredibly helpful. You’ve really thought through everything you need to know before planning a trip. Thank you for this helpful resource. Saving this guide for later!
Oh, I’m so happy! We loved it there. Bon voyage!
Where exactly is Building B with the exterior 120VAC plug? Is there a map showing the layout of the lodge grounds?
When you drive into the lodge area, find the visitor center. It’s exactly opposite of that across the parking lot. It’s marked with a B. The plug is on the ground floor in the middle of the building next to the stair case.
Hi! Nice article but PLEASE make a correction: you hiked the Window Trail. The Window VIEW Trail is the tiny loop behind the store. It’s a 0.04 mile trail with 16’ elevation gain. Yes, they named them poorly but it is what it is. The Window View trail is a popular sunset watching spot. Come back to Texas next time and visit Fort Davis. It’s a little closer and absolutely gorgeous, reminiscent of northern NM/southern CO.
Oh, thank you so much. Will do!
I am so glad you made it to our Big Bend ! I enjoyed reading your article.
thank you so much. We loved it!
Was looking for a dark sky photo and disappointed that none were included in this article. Big Bend is a bucket list trip for me bcuz of dark sky.
Thanks for looking. Although I don’t have one, I’d hope you’d give me credit if I did. Sadly, I just don’t have the skills to take a good night photo. I’ll work on that. But def, if you can get to Big Bend, the sky’s the limit. haehehe.
You should put Big Bend and West Texas in general back on your to-do list because in 24 hrs you didn’t even scratch the surface. Next time leave the Tesla home and bring the 4WD.
Oh, I totally agree. Big Bend is just the scratch on the surface. Although I’m not a fan of Lubbock, I bet there’s some other great places in West Texas to uncover.
So happy to have been at to read and learn this much any the area . Thanks. E.F.J.
Great. I hope you get a chance to go.
You really missed the boat if you drove all the way to Big Bend and only hiked the window trail. #travelblogfail
I totally agree that we didn’t spend enough time there. Our time was short (if you’ve read elsewhere in the blog) and I’ve done a lot of travelling in Texas already. Now that we’ve got time, we’re slowing down and doing a month at a time in the places that we visit. I’ll put West Texas back on the list for the next time I’m in Texas. I can’t wait to check out Marfa, hike more in Big Bend, and just slow down and relax. You’re dead right.
Didn’t the on-board software warn you that you were driving out of range of the last nearest Tesla SuperCharger?
Yes, it did. But we figured that the worse case scenario would be that we’d have to find a 110 volt plug, plug in, and charge the car. It was a bit frightening tho, when we got the warning because we did not know where a 110 plug might be.