There's a big corner of Texas you might not have visited yet, far from the big cities and the Hill Country and the Gulf Coast. The Big Bend, that knob of West Texas where the Rio Grande takes a southward detour between El Paso and the Pecos River, offers wild open spaces to explore.
Big Bend National Park (www.nps.gov/bibe) offers everything from desert to mountains, rising from the Rio Grande to peaks nearly 8,000 feet above sea level. Check out "Activities" for information on hiking, boating and road tours and one vital detail -- the park is miles from the nearest supermarket and hospital. You'll need to click on "Plan Your Visit" to learn about fees, weather and the only three highways leading to the park.
You're too late for this year's Terlingua World Championship Chili Cook Off, but you can learn about this and other events and sights to see in the area at Visit Big Bend (www.visitbigbend.com) which also offers an interactive road map of the area. Slide your cursor over the photo at the top of the page to open menus for info on places to go, special events and small but striking photo galleries. If you have patience or a fast Internet connection, be sure to look to the bottom of the page for the link to interactive panoramic photos of the park.
Don't forget the scenery and activities in the region's state preserves. Go to the interactive map at Texas State Parks (www.tpwd.state.tx.us/park/clicpark/west.htm) and click on "Big Bend Country." Remember this Web site for other trips to Texas.
If you're heading to the park from the west, or planning to fly in and rent a car, El Paso (www.elpasocvb.com) offers places to stay and eat and its own collection of scenery to take in.
Driving in from the east or north? Turn off Interstate 10 at Fort Stockton (www.ci.fort-stockton.tx.us/tourism.html) and tour the local historical sites and rest up a bit before heading south on U.S. 385.
Between Fort Stockton and Big Bend park headquarters, the city of Marathon (www.marathontexas.net) offers more places to stay and to stock up on supplies and souvenirs. It's also a handy central location for visiting other towns and landmarks in the area; look for "map with links" to get an idea of what's located nearby.
Roughly 100 miles north of the park's west entrance, Alpine (www.alpinetexas.com) boldly lists 101 reasons to visit, including the Museum of the Big Bend. Click on "Visitors Guide" to find suggested itineraries and photo galleries of the area.
There's still more to see and do in this corner of Texas. Visit the official Texas tourism (www.traveltex.com) and click on the link to "Texas Regions" and then hit the link for "Big Bend Country." You'll find information on spots such as Del Rio and the one-time frontier town of Pecos, still more photos, and suggested driving tours.
Thinking of taking an RV? Visit Texas Campgrounds (www.gocampingamerica.com/texas) and click on "West Texas" on the map for a directory of places to park.
Roger Petterson, Associated Press