We put 29 miles on our hiking boots over Thanksgiving week down in Big Bend National Park in west Texas. Just what the doctor ordered. Whenever we go on a road trip, I pack our family favorite, Salami and Roasted Red Pepper Sandwich with Garlicky Mayo. Holy yum, batman! All it needs is some strawberries and grapes to go with it. And if you’re a hiker, stick around after the recipe, and I’ll tell you all about Big Bend.
Salami and Roasted Red Pepper Sandwich with Garlicky Mayo
1 loaf crusty Italian or French bread – I prefer the wide ones to contain all those delicious fillings
Preheat your broiler on high. Slice in half lengthwise, place on a baking sheet, and broil for 2 minutes. Remove the top half of the bread from the baking sheet.
4 oz Provolone, sliced (about ½ the pack)
Layer on the bottom half of the bread, and broil for 2 minutes more.
6 oz hard salami, sliced thin
8 oz roasted red peppers, drained really well (about ½ the jar)
1 big fragrant tomato, sliced, and salted. The salt’s important. Don’t skip that part. It makes tomatoes more tomato-y.
Fresh basil, washed and dried
Layer in order.
(This makes an obscene amount. Make ½ this if you don’t like saucy sandwiches)
3 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice (fresh is better, but bottled will do in a pinch)
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
½ t salt
2 turns fresh ground pepper, or a big pinch if you’re using bottled
½ cup mayo (I love Hellman’s regular or olive oil mayo)
Combine everything and slather on the top bun. Cut the sandwich into 4. If this is going on a road trip, wrap each sandwich in saran wrap, then foil. Then put the 4 of them in a gallon ziplock.
Okay, now about hiking in Big Bend National Park… We rented an Airbnb in the ghost town of Terlingua, TX. It’s about 15 minutes from the park’s entrance. Two bedrooms and a bathroom. No kitchen, so it feels a little like glamping with super comfy beds. But, oh, that view! And there were four adirondack chairs and a firepit to enjoy it all. There’s no light pollution, so some of the best night sky viewing you can find. Kitchen smitchen. I bought a food saver, FoodSaver Premium 2-In-1 Automatic Bag-Making Vacuum Sealing System, Silver FSFSSL5860-DTC, (there are cheaper models, but I waited for a good deal on Amazon on the mac daddy of food savers) for my sous vide, but really love it for making breakfast and dinner kits to toss in the cooler. And I brought along an electric skillet, Presto 06857 16-inch Electric Foldaway Skillet, Black. I swear that the view makes everything taste better.
FOOD… Breakfast burritos for three breakfasts. Those just needed a bottle of Cholula. For 24 burritos: 2 large russet potatoes, cubed to 1/8” and fried in 1/4 cup olive oil, stirring frequently, til softened, and getting a little color, about 6 minutes. Then add 5 minced, seeded jalapeños for another 3. Salt and pepper. Remove to a plate. Scramble about 12 eggs with a little salt and pepper. Remove to a plate. This time I added 1/2 jar of roasted red peppers, because I had it left over from making sandwiches. Sometimes I do chorizo or bacon.
Hike#1… Day1. West side-Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive side. Santa Elena Canyon. It’s only about 2 miles with some stairs and switchbacks early on, and the rest of it’s pretty flat. Beautiful canyon views. Kids and big kids love to play with the echo at the end.
Weird info my kid would like to point out. The visitor’s center over there has really clean bathrooms that smell like cinnamon. This is the only visitor’s center without a water bottle filler. They sell cool hand-painted walking sticks, and they’re only like $18. Nice.
Hike#2… Day 1. West side-Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive side. Lower Burro Mesa Pour-Off. About 2 miles and mostly flat. Cool rock layers.
Food. My taco salad kits. Meat and beans (1 pound lean beef browned and then 1 can drained, rinsed black beans, and 1 packet or 1/4 cup taco seasoning added), Pico De Gallo (two tomatoes, seeded and chopped, 1 chopped sweet bell pepper, 1/2 red onion, chopped, 1 jalapeño, seeded and minced, the leaves of 1 bunch cilantro, chopped, and juice of 1/2 lime), guacamole (2 haas avocados, half chopped, half smashed with salt pepper, and the juice of half a lemon)1 bag Mexican cheese, and one bag shredded lettuce. I only had to reheat the meat and beans in the skillet. Oh, and bring a bottle of Cholula.
Hike#3… Day 2. West side-Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive side. Mule Ears Spring. About 4 miles and relatively flat with some mild hills. Pretty panoramas, but no big payout. We thought this ended at the ears. It doesn’t. It ends at a little water feature. Really little. lol.
Wildlife quest… Day 2. East side near Panther Junction. Dugout Wells. This is a known javelina hangout. We didn’t get to see one on this trip. We saw coyotes, foxes, and deer, but no javelinas. There are two short hikes (more like strolls) here. One goes through the center looking for javelinas. The second wanders through big patches of paddle cactuses, where you’re sure to spot great big jackrabbits.
Sunset on the west side – Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. West side. Ahhhhhhh.
Food and entertainment. Garlic butter Pringle Burgers. Don’t judge me. I’ve been teased for potato chips in my camping burgers forever, then I got Bobby Flay’s book and see his signature burger is the crunch burger. Totally vindicated. For 2 pounds 85% lean ground beef, I mix in 2 Tablespoons of butter and one crushed, minced garlic clove. Right before I cook them, I salt and pepper both sides. You need one canister of sour cream and onion Pringles, 4 brioche buns, and one jar of pickles. We followed up the burgers with a game of Catan. Oh, look at those sad little faces. Yeah, I won!
Food. Sunny side up eggs with Foxpoint seasoning (shallot blend) from Penzey’s, and about 1/2 pound of bacon lardons that I crisped up before we left the house.
Hike#4. Day 3. Central-Chisos Mountain area. The Window Hike. This is my second favorite hike in the park. It’s about 6 miles, and the last half mile is like a stairmaster. Beautiful views. You’re surrounded by a ring of mountains, and hike down to a framed view of the rest of the park.
The visitor’s center here has a water bottle filler, a mediocre restaurant, and a really nice gift shop attached to the restaurant. You can get goodies like jalapeno peanut butter, hand painted ceramics, Christmas ornaments, and cutesy socks.
Factoid spot. Day 3. Fossil Center about 8 miles north of Panther Junction in the middle of the park. Cool little museum building, and an overlook to re-enact Simba’s big moment. Rafiki jumped out of view.
Panther Junction visitor’s center has a water bottle filler, a great selection of books, and a cool little cactus identification path.
Food. Hot dogs on King’s Hawaiian buns with extra sharp cheddar, Wolf chili with no beans, diced raw onions, and Fritos for crunch. Yeah. Followed with a marshmallow chaser because we already had the sticks out.
My husband loves to tell the kids that everything builds character. Everything. Dishes and Christmas carols…
My husband said, “Washing the dishes in the shower builds character.”
My youngest responded, “Yeah, character got all over the toilet.”
Hike#5. Day 4. West side-Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. The Chimneys hike. About 5 miles and flat. At the end, there’s Native American rock art to see, and a big rock to climb. Lovely strawberry and green colored cactuses dot the path.
Food. Chicken caesar salad. Cut 2 pounds of chicken into 1/4” slices. Add 1/4 cup olive oil and 2 crushed, minced cloves of garlic. You need 1 lite Caesar salad kit (2 would be better. 1 pint cherry tomatoes would have been nice, too.)
Hike#6. Day 5. East side. Daniels Ranch Hot Springs trail. This was a happy accident. We wanted to do the Lost Mine trail up in the Chisos Mountains, but the parking lot was full, so we headed to the east side. It’s about 6 miles round tip, with a good climb at the beginning, and some hills interspersed along the way. Great views of the river and Mexico. We saw a donkey and a cow with a bell across the river, playing on the beach, and it was entirely too charming. The hot springs at the end are 105 degrees F, so we gave it a miss, but you can park right there if that sounds awesome to you. This was our favorite hike.
The visitor’s center has a water bottle filler, and a camp supply store.
Some other fun things to do in the park that we’ve really enjoyed on past trips: * Balance Rock hike. It’s about 2 miles long, and flat til the climb at the viewpoint. It has tons of brightly colored lizards to see in the summer. * Marcos Paredes, an ex park ranger for 20 years, owns a company called Rio Aviation. He gives rides to groups of 1-4 in his little Cessna plane, Brownie, over Big Bend, with killer views of the park and Mexico. He’s super informative. * Charlie Angell of Angell Expeditions does rafting and kayaking trips on the Rio Grande, and other waters in both the state and national parks. * Sotol Vista – gorgeous scenic overview on the Ross Maxwell.
Food and fun. The ghost town of Terlingua. Fun place. There’s a huge shop where you can buy all sorts of gifts and souvenirs. The restaurant there, the Starlight Theater, has delicious food and margaritas, live entertainment frequently, and the taxidermied Clay Henry. Who’s Clay Henry? Well, he’s a goat. A beer-drinking goat. The beer-drinking goat mayor of the neighboring town of Lajitas. Not even kidding. He had a good life until he and his son were interested in the same lady goat, and his son killed him. No, really. They sell Clay Henry shirts and hats in the store.
Alpine and Marfa. Day 6. We spent the day enjoying the galleries and food trucks, and the Big Bend Brewery in Alpine. It’s a great little college town. Then we headed to Marfa to see the Marfa Lights. Believe. Alright, I don’t expect to see aliens, but the gravity of having an actual parks and recreation structure out there sure adds to the fun!
Some other fun things we’ve really enjoyed on past trips in that area: the museum at Sul Ross is fantastic! * We saw Monty Python’s Holy Grail performed in the amphitheater at Sul Ross * Marfa Prada is a fun highway art installation that’s great for photo ops * The Chinati Foundation in Marfa is a fun outdoor art installation piece that we loved contemplating and playing in * McDonald Observatory in the Davis Mountains has a killer night sky program and a cool daytime museum.