Road trip! Big Bend, Terlingua, and Jen’s Chili recipe

#Texas #RobbWalsh #FoodwaysTexas #Terlingua #BigBend #hiking #chili #SummitMaps @SummitMaps #TMwanders

West Texas is my favorite part of the state. * There’s a killer dark sky program, with a museum and night sky party at McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis, right in the Davis Mountains. * Or go try out all the food trucks and play with outdoor art installations at the Chinati Foundation or Prada in Marfa. At night, you can go see the Marfa lights. I’m not saying it’s aliens. But aliens. * And Alpine is a cool little college town with lots of outdoor murals, galleries, Big Bend Brewery (NOT affiliated with the park), and a fabulous museum at the University. We once saw Monty Python’s Holy Grail performed at their amphitheater.

That’s not what this trip was about. This trip was all about hiking. Six days filled with it at Big Bend National Park and Big Bend State Park. Ahhhhh. We stayed at a darling cabana with a great view of the park just outside its entry in Terlingua.

Souvenirs. Okay, some of you may laugh because I came home to find 7 new cookbooks to review waiting on my front porch when I got back, but I just can’t resist buying regional cookbooks on vacation. And if we’re doing a Texas roadtrip, it’s frequently Robb Walsh. Robb Walsh is one of the co-founders of Foodways Texas, an organization dedicated to preserving the food culture of Texas. If you’re a bbq head, you’ve probably heard of and fantasized about going to Camp Brisket. That’s one of their babies. No, I haven’t managed to snag a spot. <sniff> His books are filled with charming stories and historical photographs between the recipes. I read them cover to cover like novels. He has all the classics from all over the state in there, but throws in some fusion here and there, making me love it all the more. The first book of his that I bought, The Chili Cookbook, was on a vacation in New Orleans. My youngest considers chili a food group, and loves every variation out there. I’ve been making an Indian spiced meat dish with peas and corn called Murghi Ka Keema, out of a Mudhur Jaffrey book, for years. It’s been one of my chili-loving daughter’s favorites since she was about 3. I’d never thought of it as a chili before, but there’s a version of that in here, too. Since I always include a recipe in my posts, I thought it only appropriate that I share my recipe for chili. No. This one’s not a Texas chili. Texas chili doesn’t have vegetables or beans. I grew up in Wisconsin, where chili has onions, green peppers, celery, garlic, tomatoes, and beans. It’s half produce, and I’m a massive produce-head. It has been tweaked after cooking my way through Robb’s delicious chili book. One of the chilis in the book, Kay Bailey Hutchison’s, included mole, and it gives amazing depth of flavor. I wondered how that would play with my produce-laden chili, and gave it a try. Boom! We loved it! I hope you do, too.

For you hikers, I’ll tell you all about the hikes, Airbnb, and Terlingua afterwards! And I’ll give you an idea of what Robb’s other books are.


Jen’s Chili

3 pounds 80% lean ground beef, preferably chili grind for a little texture
Brown, drain, and reserve.

2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 yellow onions
, chopped
2 green peppers, chopped
2 stalks celery, sliced about ¼-inch
10 cloves garlic, minced <I view garlic as a vegetable. Dial this down if you’re not a garlic-head>
Heat the oil over medium, add the vegetables, and stir occasionally, til softened and coloring a little bit.

¼ cup chili powder
¼ cup mole
<If you don’t know already, the mole jars can get repurposed as the cutest little orange juice glasses later!>
1 teaspoon oregano
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper

Stir in for about a minute to wake up the spices. They should just start to film the bottom of the pan.

1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes
1 28 ounce can tomato sauce
1 can of beer <
I use what I affectionately call yellow beer or cooking beer. I save the craft beers for sipping, but you do you.>
Stir in with the reserved beef, scraping that film of flavor off the bottom of the pan. Bring to a gentle simmer, cover, and let it simmer away, marrying together all those delicious flavors for an hour.

1 16 ounce can pinto beans
1 16 ounce can kidney beans

Add and simmer for just a few minutes. You’re warming them and letting them grab a little flavor, but you don’t want them to get all mushy. That’s totally a technical term.

Ladle into bowls. Garnish with a little extra sharp cheddar. Serve with a view. 🙂


DAY 1 – Big Bend National Park. Grapevine Hills Trail to Balanced Rock. (1.9 miles and 232 feet elevation gain) This trail is pretty darn flat, with a little elevation at the end to get up to Balanced Rock. It’s flanked by craggy mountains on both sides. Over spring break, it was filled with the beautiful fragrance of the bluebonnets. It’s not the best place to view them, but I’d never realized they were even fragrant before, and their perfume fills the whole walk. It’s gorgeous. In the summer, it’s filled with tiny rainbow lizards, but we only saw a few little guys that blended into the rocks this time. I should mention that there’s a long dirt trail that’s pretty rough to get there. You don’t need 4 wheel drive, but you will definitely feel it.

After our hike, we drove down the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive towards Cottonwood Campground in hopes of seeing a javelina. You have better chances if you’re there super early or super late, so our middle of the day try was pretty darn unlikely, and we didn’t manage to see one. Bluebonnets. They are everywhere. They seem to be more densely packed in on the east side of the park, but on the west side, there are canyons filled with them, and you will see cars pulled over with kids posing in them as their parents delightedly capture those pics.

DAY 2 – Big Bend National Park. Chimneys Trail. (4.6 miles and 364 feet of elevation gain) This is another really flat, easy trail with a little elevation to get up to the chimney at the end. It has desert views that go on forever in every direction. There’s scrubby brush and flowering cactuses everywhere. At the end, you can climb all over the rocks if you enjoy a nice scramble. History enthusiasts will be particularly excited to see the petroglyphs.

DAY 3 – Big Bend National Park. Daniel’s Ranch to the Hot Springs and back. (5.5 miles and 921 feet of elevation gain) This one is our personal favorite and the most challenging. The first half mile feels like a stairmaster. It’s much easier after that. But those views! This walk is fabulously scenic with views that go on forever of the distant mountains and follows right along the Rio Grande, with views of Mexico right across the river. If your passports are current, you can drive up the road just a little bit afterwards and cross into Boquillas, Mexico. We have to remember to get ours updated for next time! You can see their solar farm that generates ALL the electricity for their 275 inhabitants, and there’s two restaurants and people selling crafts. $5/person for the roundtrip rowboat ride across.

DAY 4 – Big Bend State Park. Fresno Divide Trail. (7.5 miles and 725 feet elevation gain) This was our first time in the state park. We decided to pop in because we already had season state passes from our daughter’s birthday camping trip, so thought we’d check it out, and we’re so glad we did! We practically had the place to ourselves. Easy open-desert, nearly flat trail. Pretty views. I would call it flat for hiking, but I say nearly flat because the two families we ran into were mountain biking the same trail, and considering biking it, it’s not flat and even – lol! The elevation is there, but so gradual that it *seems* flat. This one is particularly cool for rock enthusiasts with interesting rocks everywhere.

DAY 5 – Big Bend National Park. We were planning to hike the Lost Mine trail, but my hubby got a message that he’d need to join in on conference calls at 1 and 2:30. We’re not early birds. We show up at the 6 mile trails that say you should be off of them by noon, and start them at 12:30. So, we decided to do a number of little scenic hikes instead. Lower Burro Mesa Runoff. This one’s about a mile walking between rock faces that touch the sky. You’ll see kids, including ours, trying to climb them at the end. The whole walk is on golfball sized rounded rocks so it’s a little ankle fatiguing.

Sam Nail Ranch. Maybe 1/2 of a mile. You get to see a window into history where the Nails’ homestead was. There’s 2 windmills, 1 of which works. Under the windmill you can see the fig and pecan trees they planted, and the remains of one wall of their home.

Window. There’s a longer, challenging hike down to the Window and back (I’ll link to our trip last year where we did that one at the end), but these photos are from the viewpoint. Good to know – IF you find yourself having to take a conference call on vacation, the best reception you’ll get in the park is right up at the top of the Chisos. There’s a restaurant, my favorite posh gift shop in the park, views, and a few shorter hikes for the rest of your party while they wait for you to put that darn phone back away!

Santa Elena Canyon. Beautiful view of the Rio Grande. It’s crazy popular and hard to get parking. Cross the Rio Grande (dry, muddy, or a river crossing, depending on time of year), and hike the Santa Elena Canyon. It’s about 2 miles, paved with switchbacks up the hill, making it pretty easy. Kids will find it super fun to play with the echo you can get going there. Lots of people skip the hike and just toss a football back and forth in the river, splash, or sit on the beach.

Old Maverick Road. This is a 12 mile, 4-wheel drive only, fun, dusty, dirt, sand, and gravel road that’s an alternative to the Ross Maxwell scenic drive. If you’ve got 4 wheel drive, and fancy a little jostling about, you’ll have a good time.

Day 6 – We befriended a local that drew up a hiking trail that doesn’t show up on the map. I will respectfully leave it unnamed here. (5.7 miles and 685 feet of elevation gain)

Good to know: If you’re a book, map, and poster enthusiast, Panther Junction Visitors’ Center is where you want to go. There’s also a gas station there, and a water bottle filler. Okay, here’s my ONLY disappointment from the trip. We high-tailed it to the visitors’ center after a hike to get a relief map of the park. We have them of Yellowstone and the Smoky Mountains. There isn’t one of Big Bend! What?! Yeah, my husband has put a request in with the map company to rectify that. We need that map, SummitMaps.com!


Terlingua! This is the fun town we stay in each time we come down. Terlingua’s a ghost town with lots of teepees and little cabins you can rent. We loved the airbnb we stayed in this time. One bedroom with a tempurpedic pull-out couch for the kids. Stylishly decorated. Little, fully-stocked kitchen. Bath towels so soft that I came home wanting to up our own towel game. But the view!!! They have the *best* view. I wont say what landmarks are visible in case you want to have fun identifying them yourself, but there are three landmarks from the National Park that are visible from the back porch, and park nerds will be tickled over them! The porch is oriented so that both sunrises and sunsets can be enjoyed from it. There are two iron chairs at one end and a chiminea at the other. (There are 4 camp chairs in the bathroom closet to drag out for that. Cottonwood, in Study Butte, has firewood and groceries.) Every night, we came home to find that the owner had left a little kindling for our fire like a magical s’mores fairy. Yeah, they are really warm, kind people. If you’re new to Airbnb, here’s a link that’ll get you a nice discount on your first trip. You’re looking for Tana and Dan’s La Cabana in Terlingua.

I call this Sunrise over Slinky Dog Mountain. <I made that name up. But Disney-heads will certainly be able to see it.> And before us, you’ll see Sleeping Mermaid. <Yeah, I made that up, too. But you see it, right? It doesn’t actually have a name yet. I think they should go with it.>

And sunsets. This is looking towards the ghost town.

Rustic Iron BBQ. We decided to try out a new restaurant on our last night. Delicious! He’s on the very smoky end of the spectrum. He was out of brisket, so we got pulled pork, ribs, and turkey. The pulled pork was fabulously peppery.

We saw our first scorpion! We don’t get those in northern Texas. We saw a golden eagle, coyote and rabbit, too, but those were too fast for my camera.


Need more Big Bend? Here’s my post from last year’s trip. Some more hikes, my favorite sandwich recipe in the whole wide world, Clay Henry, the beer drinking goat mayor (not even kidding!), Alpine….


Need some Robb Walsh books? I’m an Amazon affiliate. Any time you use one of my links to make a purchase, Amazon gives me a tiny percentage. Thank you!

I’m not going to review these here. I’ll just give you a quick overview of what to expect. And as you can see, giving you a list of recipes I have flagged to try would be a little ridiculous. I kinda want to try it all. 😉

The Chili Cookbook. 10 Speed Press. This is a fabulous chili book with a huge range with all the classics and modern versions, and both local and global recipes. Lots of background stories.

Tex-Mex Cookbook. Broadway Books. This has just as much history, stories, and old photographs as it does recipes. I read it cover to cover like a novel. It’s time for enchilada, fajita, and chili-heads to rejoice.

Legends of Texas Barbecue. Chronicle books. This book is filled with tales of all the legends, history, and photographs. Barbecue nerds will be delighted that a lot of their heroes’ recipes are inside.

The Texas Cowboy Cookbook. 10 Speed Press. Chock full of tales and photos of the cowboys and chuck wagons. What to expect? Some recipes that you’ll encounter are Sourdough, Biscuits, Beans, Cobbler, Sirloin Guisada, Fideo, Corn Dodgers, Catfish, Pork, Sweet Potatoes, Cane, Barbecue, Burgers, Dr. Pepper Tenderloin, and Poblano Mac and Cheese.

Texas Eats. 10 Speed Press. This one is a sampling of the state. The chapters are: Lone Star Seafood * East Texas Southern * Vintage Tex-Mex * Old World Flavors * Country and Western * and New Texas Creole. It’s filled with photos and maps so you can really get a sense of all the iconic dishes and influences by region.

All contents copyright © 2019 Jennifer Guerrero.
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