George

Glacier National Park, in far northern Montana, was our favorite national park for decades, until we visited Big Bend National Park in southwest Texas in 2012. This high mountain desert is stunningly beautiful and loaded with birds we Mainers never see. This year was our third visit here in five years.

On our second visit, we discovered Cynta de Narvaez’s three wonderful rental houses in Terlingua. We settled into her smallest house, a one-room where everything you need is in its place, and everything you need outside is as well, including a sink, shower, tables, chairs and even a bed. These folks live life outside. The largest house can take 10 or more people if you are traveling with a group. And the view of the mountains from Cynta’s houses is — well, “amazing” doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Sit here some evening at sunset, facing east to watch the sunlight go up the mountains, and you’ll know why we love it here. There is also that fabulous national park 12 miles away. And there is also a funky restaurant, the Starlight Theater, just a five-minute walk away in Terlingua’s ghost town, where you’re entertained by live music while enjoying great meals.

Linda

The first time I went on a birding trip to Texas, I was smitten. We went along the coast near Corpus Christi and then along the Rio Grande. I remember being impressed with the colorful birds, astounded at the variety, and pleased to meet the kindest people imaginable who were ready to help the “birders from Maine who knew nothing about birds.”

We have alternated between trips to the coast and to Big Bend National Park since then. The two areas are as different as night and day. Big Bend is extraordinary for its beauty, with steep mountains rising out of flat desert scrub. Both areas offer a variety of species.

This year’s Terlingua trip was a repeat of one we’d done two years ago. We knew where we were going, had a great place to stay and took that week of our vacation to relax a bit more. The little “villa” that we rent is the cure for a cold winter in Maine. Endless bright sunshine and beautiful scenery is a wonderful break from the variable weather back home. We eat and cook outside while staring out at the mountains.

On our first afternoon there we looked up to find baby doves nesting in rolled-up fabric in a shady alcove, right above the spot where we were reading. Not long after, we noticed a bright yellow flash that turned out to be an Audubon’s oriole. I’d never even heard of it before. We continued to enjoy Bendire’s and curve-billed thrashers, scaled quail and cactus wrens that frequented our patio.

After stocking up on groceries in Alpine (no big grocery stores south of there), we happily enjoyed making our meals. Easy breakfasts got us off to a relatively early start, considering the sun doesn’t even come up until 7:20 a.m. We had many picnics while out birding, then enjoyed nice dinners back at our place.

We both knew we wanted a return to the Starlight Theatre for a dinner. I distinctly remember falling in love with their award-winning chili. This trip, George also fell in love with it. We went twice and ordered bowls of chili with tortilla chips each time.

Terlingua is a great place to unwind, relax and take in the sights the awesome national park at Big Bend.

Travel Tips

Since our honeymoon in Europe, Linda and I have been traveling Mainers. So let us share a few tips with you. First, getting from here to there and back used to be fun. Today it’s an ordeal, requiring patience and plenty of reading material and snacks. Assume something will go wrong and, if everything goes right, as it did in our most recent birding adventure to Arizona and Texas, you will be blessed.

We’ve settled into a routine that works well for us. If we’re flying out of Logan International Airport in Boston, we leave our car at the Concord Coach Lines bus station in Portland and take the bus that delivers us right to the airport and right back to Portland when we return to Boston. Parking fees at the station are reasonable.

This trip we discovered a great way to start a trip out of Portland International Jetport. Our flight was scheduled early, at 6 a.m., so we spent the night at the Holiday Inn by the Bay, where they allow you to leave your vehicle while you’re away, and even provide a shuttle service to and from the airport. Wonderful!

This is a Lafayette hotel, owned by a Bangor family, so it was no surprise that the staff is superfriendly and eager to help you. They even offered us an earlier than normal shuttle to the airport, but we decided that the 4:30 a.m. option was early enough.

These days, you should take advantage of the airlines’ online check-in opportunity. It does speed things up, getting your trip off to a good start.

And here’s some really great news. If you are 62 or older, you can buy, for just $10, a lifetime pass to all of our national parks. And everyone in your vehicle gets in for free.

Visit George’s website — georgesmithmaine.com — for book reviews, outdoor news and all Travelin’ Maine(rs) columns, found listed by town in the “Best of Maine” section.

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