Fixe Restaurant – Southern Charm in Downtown Austin Texas

A 2018 review of Fixe restaurant in downtown Austin: Upscale and down-home — a hopping, somewhat noisy ambiance — like grandma’s back porch has been dressed up and adopted by the coolest city in Texas.

Fixe restaurant in downtown Austin: Upscale and down-home — a hopping, somewhat noisy ambiance — like grandma’s back porch has been dressed up and adopted by the coolest city in Texas.

Bar at Fixe restaurant in Austin Texas
Bar at Fixe restaurant. Reclaimed wood, tall leather chairs, and grandma’s plate collection on the wall in the background. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Chef James Robert and co-owner Keith House opened Fixe in 2015, with the concept of transporting guests to home-cooked southern Sunday dinner. Chef Robert, a native of Opelousas, Louisiana, used family recipes as a starting point for his menu, but don’t expect simple Cajun soul food — either in terms of food OR price. The dishes are innovative and often surprising takes on traditional preparations.

My first visit to Fixe was in the fall of¬† 2016 — while I was in town for the Austin City Limits Festival. After a great afternoon of music, my sister and her friend cleaned up and headed to Fixe for cocktails and dinner — one so memorable I asked to go back.

So here we are back on a warm December night — sisters and friends celebrating the end of 2017.

It’s as good as I remembered.

Barrel Aged Manhattan at Fixe restaurant in Austin Texas great craft cocktail with: Woodward Reserve, Carpano Antica, garnished with candied bacon and a dried cherry.
Barrel Aged Manhattan at Fixe: Woodward Reserve, Carpano Antica, garnished with candied bacon and a dried cherry. Photograph, Ann Fisher.
Beet A-Rita cocktail at Fixe restaurant in downtown Austin
The Beet A-Rita: Milagro tequila, Cointreau, lime juice, and pickled beet juice. Calvin says — not again.

Happy Hour at Fixe is a good deal — a selection of their hand-crafted cocktails at $7 instead of the usual $14. Of course, my favorite, the Barrel Aged Manhattan — isn’t offered on the Happy Hour menu ūüė¶ .

From the Happy Hour selection: Calvin ordered the Beet A-Rita.¬† He rates it as good, but not outstanding — and would go with something else the next time around. Carolyn and Karolina both opted for wine — Fixe regularly features very good ones by the glass.

We ordered the smoked trout from the Happy Hour appetizer menu. After a very light lunch much earlier in the day, we were ready for something to go along with the cocktails. Smoked trout with buttermilk, trout roe, and fermented leeks¬†crispy, topped with a togarashi-seasoned trout skin — outstanding. The crisp black chips made of Carolina rice and seeds paired well with the mild smoky flavor and creamy texture of the trout, with a few drops of the hot chili sauce to give it a kick.

Smoked trout dip at Fixe restaurant's bar in Austin Texas
So good! Smoked trout dip with crispy rice chips. Photograph, Carolyn Fisher.
The central section of Fixe restaurant in Austin makes you feel like you're sitting outside on a screened porch.
The central section of Fixe makes you feel like you’re sitting outside on a screened porch. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Once we finished our cocktails, we moved on to our table.

The central part of the dining room at Fixe is a framed space made to feel like a big wooden porch, with outdoor light strings running back and forth across the ceiling (see above). Seating in this area is a collection of different kinds of comfortable leather chairs and banquettes, and wooden tables are set simply, with no table cloths, in keeping with the casual theme.

There are private rooms along one side of the porch area, and these feel like you’re in the house looking out onto the porch. As you can see from the picture, you might be at Aunt Mildred’s dining room table — but it’s just family, and she hasn’t pulled out the formal linens. Creative design touches include a distressed wall, a collection of trays used as wall art, and a nouveau-industrial chandelier suspended from a formal plaster ceiling medallion.

Low pass table in the kitchen at Fixe.
Low pass table in the kitchen at Fixe. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Our table was near the kitchen, which is open — and watching the activity can be a great part of your dining experience at Fixe depending on the location of your table. From my seat, I had a good view.

I loved the design of the kitchen. The low pass tables feel more like a big island in a home kitchen than an industrial space — building on the feeling of being invited to someone’s house for Sunday dinner.

Fixe Biscuits — the restaurant is rightly famous for them, and the recipe is a secret!

One must-order at Fixe. The BISCUITS — which are perfect, and are always on the list of the best in Austin. Golden brown on the outside, light and fluffy on the inside — could not be better. They are made fresh to order, so put your order in the minute you sit down. The biscuits are served with seasonal preserves and a savory nduja (a spreadable spicy salami), but I think they’re much better with just butter.

Our server was highly competent and knowledgeable of both the menu and the wine list. He was funny but not obtrusive, and it’s obvious that Chef Robert does regular food and wine tastings with his staff so that all of them know what is coming out of the kitchen — almost as well as the line cooks and the chef.

We ordered the beef tartare as a starter for the table. This was wonderful, and unlike the tartare I’ve eaten anywhere else. The quality of beef is outstanding, and we cut the oysters into smaller pieces so that we could all make bites that combined all of the ingredients. The beef, accompanied by the acidity of the gooseberries, and a little texture variation from the crisp oyster — all wrapped in a tender cornmeal pancake — so good!

Beef Tartare served with two crispy fried oysters, pickled gooseberry, celery root remoulade, and corn meal pancakes. Fixe Southern restaurant in Austin Texas
Beef Tartare served with two crispy fried oysters, pickled gooseberry, celery root remoulade, and corn meal pancakes. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Grits play a major role on the menu, served three different ways: Herbivore (kale, farm egg, garlic, romesco, and salsa verde); Carnivore (Texas quail, pickled pears, pecan granola, and BBQ consommé); and finally, Pescavore (Texas shrimp, freeze-dried corn, shrimp butter, bottarga).

However, as a girl who grew up eating too many grits in Mississippi (I nearly turned into a grit) they aren’t my favorite thing — so I rarely order them. If you are a grit connoisseur, you should try them here: they are supposed to be very good at Fixe.

On this evening, our main dish selections were the duck breast, the braised Duroc pork shoulder, the blackened red snapper, and as a side, we chose the charred broccoli. All of the main dishes were outstanding.

What was the best dish of the evening? Impossible for me to say.

My braised pork was wonderful, and I would order it again. Incredibly tender and flavorful, with a slight counterpoint of bitterness from the mustard greens. The potlikker beans? Cooked in the pot liquor of the pork — well, let’s just say they are well-named, in both senses of the word.

After tasting Karolina’s blackened red snapper, the poaching liquid was so good, we all wanted to drink it out of the bowl ūüôā . Carolyn loved her duck breast, so the entrees were a big hit all the way around.

The one thing I wouldn’t order again: the charred broccoli with blue cheese. This was a table consensus. Two members of our party actively disliked it . . . and while I love blue cheese, I wasn’t a big fan either. I felt like the strong flavors detracted from my braised pork, and we left most of this either on our plates or in the serving bowl.

The dessert? We were all SO full we almost passed it up, but ended up ordering one for the table to share. We chose the brioche donut with a creamy vanilla bean custard-ice cream.¬†So glad we did — it was outstanding — one of those desserts that tastes as good as it looks.

Brioche donut dessert at Fixe restaurant in Austin, Texas
Brioche Donut, vanilla bean custard, sunflower seed streusel, preserved fruit, honey ice cream. Pretty thing, isn’t it? ūüôā Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Practical Information

How much? Menu prices at Fixe in January 2018:

  • Most of the appetizers range from $8 to $12, but there are two more expensive choices: the ahi tuna and the beef tartare at $18 to $19.
  • Most of the entrees range from $21 to $30; the higher priced menu items are the dry-aged ribeye at $48, and the expensive dish, a massive 32 ounce tomahawk ribeye at $85.
  • Sides run from $8 to $18.
  • Desserts are from $8 to $10.

Could a vegetarian or vegan eat here? This is a very meat-and-fish-centric restaurant; however, a vegetarian would be able to create a good meal from the sides and a few of the starter options. I would not bring my vegan friends here.

Find current menu options, prices, and Happy Hour menus for Fixe here.

Location and parking: See map below, and valet parking at the front door solves the parking question.

Inside the kitchen at Fixe restaurant in Austin Texas
In the kitchen at Fixe restaurant, where they showcase just a few of the many local farms they work with on their menu that emphasizes locally produced meat and produce. Photograph, Ann Fisher


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Do You Remember the End of Prohibition? The Esquire Tavern Does

On December 5, 2017, The Esquire Tavern celebrated their 85th birthday AND the 85th anniversary of the END OF PROHIBITION! What a great night! Here’s my review of one of the best bars on the San Antonio Riverwalk.

Esquire Tavern craft cocktail Quiet Little Voices
Craft cocktails? You’ve come to the right place! Here is Esquire’s Quiet Little Voices: cognac, Jamaican rum, Italian vermouth, sherry, and chicory-pecan bitters. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

What? Don’t tell me you don’t remember the day booze became legal again in the United States?

Geez — what was Congress thinking, outlawing alcohol? Then the depression hit, and everyone needed a drink!

On December 5, 1933, Americans everywhere celebrated the end of Prohibition and the repeal of the 18th Amendment.
On December 5, 1933, Americans everywhere celebrated the end of Prohibition and the repeal of the 18th Amendment.

The day we came to our senses and repealed the 18th Amendment, drinkers everywhere rejoiced and took to the streets to raise a glass legally again.

That day was December 5, 1933, and that’s the day the Esquire Tavern in San Antonio opened its doors for business.

On December 5, 2017, I swung into the Esquire Tavern to help celebrate their 85th birthday AND the 85th anniversary of the END OF PROHIBITION! It’s several years since I visited San Antonio, but I remember this bar fondly — and they continue to make amazing drinks and great food.

Prohibition ends on December 5, 1933!
Prohibition ends on December 5, 1933!

Tying One on at The Esquire

The Esquire is the oldest watering hole in San Antonio, and it sports the longest wooden bar top in the state of Texas. The ambiance at the Esquire has a vintage quality in keeping with its 1933 beginning, including great jazz playing in the background. On some evenings, you’ll find live music and burlesque entertainment.

The long, long wooden bar at the Esquire Tavern in San Antonio.
The long, long wooden bar at the Esquire Tavern in San Antonio. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

Their cocktail menu boasts ten house-created drinks with catchy names like The Texecutioner, as well as all the classics we know well.

Boar's head decoration the Esquire Tavern in San Antonio
The boar gets festive for the holidays!

I felt a personal challenge here, and decided to visit the Esquire Tavern twice in one day to maximize the number of libations I could sample and write about for my blog . . . . without ending up lying in a flowerbed along the Riverwalk.

I know. Sigh. It’s a tough job, but I just had to put on my big girl panties and get the job done.

Seriously though — my approach to writing about restaurants and bars when I travel alone is to go more than one time, if at all possible. I get to try more things, and I also have a chance to check on consistency in service and the quality of the food. Otherwise, I have to order a selection of dishes, knowing I’ll only be able to eat a little of each one. Wasting food is not something I like to do.

Esquire Tavern's Wonderlust King cocktail
The Wonderlust King. Yes, I know it looks the same as Quiet Little Voices, but it’s not. And it’s my fave! Photo, Ann Fisher.

I started with Quiet Little Voices (cognac, Jamaican rum, Italian vermouth, sherry, and chicory-pecan bitters — see top image) and went on to the Wonderlust King (rye whiskey, Amaro Nardini, Italian vermouth, Xocolatl bitters, and orange bitters).

These are both inventive variations on the Manhattan, and it was fascinating to see a drink with no rye whiskey, Quiet Little Voices, made to emulate the flavor you’d expect from a Manhattan. Both cocktails were outstanding, but my fave was the Wonderlust King: the Xocolatl Mole Bitters, with its combination cacao, cinnamon, and spice, along with a touch of Amaro Nardini, citrusy with a hint of licorice — makes this drink really special, and different.

Food at the Esquire is creative, but unpretentious — so right for one of the oldest bars in Texas. The chef focuses on making everything in-house, with organic, locally sourced ingredients, and the resulting quality of the food is outstanding. There’s a reason their bar program earned a James Beard nomination this year. You’ll find great bar nibbles, burgers, salads, and big plates. Find the current Esquire Tavern menu here. I took a look at all of this, and chose to focus on the small plate bar food.

Prices? Appetizers range from $6 to $12, Burgers, salads, and almost all mains run from $11 to $19. The most expensive item on the menu is the Texas Wagyu Beef Ribeye at $32. You’ll spend most of your tab on the craft cocktails at $10 to $14 apiece.

Chalupitas at the Esquire Tavern in San Antonio - one of the best bars on the Riverwalk
The Chalupitas were outstanding!
Riverwalk entrance to the Esquire Tavern in San Antonio
Riverwalk entrance to the Esquire.

My first choice out of the gate: The Esquire’s Chalupitas. Classic chalupas are a fried corn tortilla covered with a savory filling — and these little chalupas are wonderful. Organic chicken, chipotle refried beans, chimichurri, white cheddar, salsa verde, and a dollop of sour cream with fresh cilantro. Fresh, bright flavors — smokiness and a little heat from the chipotle pepper, without enough to be hot. I loved the unexpected combination of chimichurri, which has a bit of vinegar in it, with the salsa verde. It’s hard to write about them without wishing I could order them again — right now please!

Two drinks and one appetizer filled me up at lunch. I left the oldest bar in San Antonio, and headed to the Menger Hotel, the oldest hotel in Texas, to do some writing and to take a nap — and get ready for round two at the Esquire.

One of the Best Bars on San Antonio’s Riverwalk

If you find yourself in San Antonio, and you’re a visitor, then you will hit the River Walk.¬† Problem: many of the River Walk restaurants are either national chains or stale local restaurants slinging mediocre queso to capitalize on the tourist traffic. Do not despair! There are some wonderful places to eat and drink in downtown San Antone, and the Esquire Tavern is a fine place to start.

The Esquire Tavern has two entrances: one on the Riverwalk for the tourists, and one on Commerce Street, which more locals tend to use. I love the classic neon sign over the street side door. If you have difficulty with stairs, you’ll want to enter on the Commerce Street side.

I was lucky to be able to reserve the last available table this evening, since the Esquire was having a major party to celebrate its 85th birthday.

First Note cocktail at the Esquire Tavern in San Antonio - one of the best bars on the Riverwalk
The First Note — often I associate pink drinks with overly super-sweet — something I don’t care for, but First Note is nicely balanced.

My second foray into the Esquire’s cocktail menu started with their First Note, made of Aguardiente de Cana, Amaro Ramazzotti, guava, honey, lime. Enough citrus from the lime, along with some bitterness and spice from the Amaro to offset the sweetness of the guava and honey — resulting in a nicely balanced drink.

As part of the birthday party festivities, wait staff were passing hors d’oeuvres, one of which were the Esquire Deviled Eggs — which was great since I’d planned to order them. These free-range eggs were perfect, creamy concoctions topped with pink peppercorns and garnished with arugula.

So good!
The Texecutioner - one of the many craft cocktails at the Esquire Tavern on San Antonio's Riverwalk
The Texecutioner is aptly named. Too many of these, which are very, very easy to drink, and you’ll be sleeping under a bridge on the Riverwalk . . .

Second drink of the evening: The Texecutioner. With a name like that, I just had to try it. This is a combination of Espadin Mezcal, Xtabent√ļn¬†(a Mayan anise flavored liqueur), Cocchi Americano, and fresh¬†grapefruit juice. Another great cocktail — very refreshing. I think it would be particularly nice on hot summer nights — something San Antonio has a lot of!

In addition to the deviled eggs, wait staff were passing chicken-fried oysters, which are NOT on the menu at the Esquire — but available in their second bar (Downstairs at the Esquire). The oysters were so good, that I have no pictures. Sorry ūüė¶ .

About the same time, I ordered the Esquire’s Shrimp Toast, envisioning a couple of little bite-sized appetizers, you know, like you’d expect shrimp toast at a Chinese food restaurant to be.

Instead, I got shrimp TOAST. Texas-sized SHRIMP TOAST.

Wow! Crispy, fresh, perfectly fried — it’s like a Monte Cristo sandwich lost its ham and cheese, cavorted with fresh shrimp mousse, and ended up settling down in San Antonio. A crunchy bite of the toast, with a smear of ch√®vre, some chives, and a drizzle of jalape√Īo jelly syrup: this stuff is good. Wickedly good.

Shrimp Toast at the Esquire Tavern in San Antonio - one of the best bars on the Riverwalk
Shrimp Toast at the Esquire .Tavern is HUGE! And yes, I returned to my favorite drink, the Wonderlust. Photograph, Ann Fisher

Well, the Shrimp Toast finished me! But the next time I’m back in San Antone, I’ll head back to the Esquire and give you an update on other dishes here. I finished up my evening here, and headed back towards the Menger and a good night’s sleep — pausing to catch the square in front of the Alamo all dolled up for the holidays.

Merry Christmas from Texas!

Alamo and a Christmas Tree
As a sixth generation Texan, the Alamo is mighty important to me — lovely to see the mission at Christmas. Photograph, Ann Fisher.


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Whooping Crane Morning

Whooping crane with crab
A Whooping Crane looks for breakfast in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge near Rockport, Texas. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

In early December, I drove to Rockport, Texas.   Mission: to visit Whooping Cranes in their winter home.

Sunrise on Aransas Bay
Sunrise on Aransas Bay, Texas. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

I met Captain Kevin Sims the next morning, just before sunrise, and we headed out on Aransas Bay towards the marsh and the cranes.

The Whooping Crane is one of the most endangered bird species in North America. At their low point in 1941, there were only 15 birds. Extinction seemed certain. In 2015, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the count now stands at 635 (329 birds in the Aransas/Wood-Buffalo flock, 145 in other re-introduced populations, and 161 in captivity).

They are the tallest birds in North America, standing approximately 5 feet tall, with a wingspan of 7.5 feet, but they are very light — just 15 pounds.

After a chilly ride across the bay, we were rewarded with the sight of a Whooping Crane family. The cranes have a 20 – 25 year lifespan. They mate for life, and each year lay two eggs; typically only one chick will survive, and will then spend a year with its parents.

Whooping Crane family aransas Refuge
We found a Whooping Crane family just after sunrise. Juvenile cranes are brown and white. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

It was an extraordinary morning. We spent six hours on the marshes and photographed three different groups of Whooping Cranes, and saw even more at a distance.¬†While Whoopers are the big stars, there were so many other birds — too many to count. I saw Roseate Spoonbills, a variety of herons, Crested Cara Cara, Curlews, Cormorants, American Oyster Catchers, Sanderlings, Osprey, White Pelicans, White Ibis, Brown Pelicans, and Avocets.

Two Days on the Bays

Brown Pelicans and Cormorants on a sandbar
Brown Pelicans and Cormorants. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

I loved my time in Rockport: two sunny days on the water surrounded by birds and dolphins. This was my first serious attempt to photograph birds — definitely the toughest subject I’ve ever tried. I enjoyed the challenge, and it provided a great opportunity to practice with my Tamron 150-600 mm lens -which I’d bought in August before heading to Alaska (Inside Passage, Alaska — Minus the Cruise Ship).

In addition to my morning excursion to see the Whooping Cranes, I went out for a afternoon trip out of Conn Brown Harbor for dolphins, other birds, and a great sunset near the light house.

Brown Pelicans and dolphins were the highlight of my afternoon boat trip. I love pelicans — such strange birds. The Brown Pelicans are so prolific now that it’s hard to believe that we came close to losing these amazing creatures. In the late 19th century, hat makers prized pelican feathers — so hunters slaughtered them by the thousands to supply the millinery trade. In the 1960’s DDT nearly finished the job — pushing the Brown Pelican population to the brink; the Louisiana population was completely wiped out. Through protection and conservation, the Brown Pelican rebounded. They were taken off of the Endangered Species list in 2009. It’s truly a success story.

Big blue crab on the Rockport water front.
Big blue crab on the Rockport water front.

Great Weekend Get-a-Way from Houston, Austin, or San Antonio

Rockport is just a three hour drive from either Houston or Austin, and a little over two hours from San Antonio, which makes it a great, inexpensive weekend get-a-way for people looking to get out of the city. There are a number of local motels, in addition to a few national hotel chains; winter prices range from $50 – $115 a night.

I stayed at the Harbour Inn, which was newly renovated, very clean, with a good bed, but bare-bones basic. No amenities, not even soap, and no lamps — only harsh, overhead lights. But hey, it was fifty bucks a night. The light thing is a problem for me – harsh glare is a migraine headache trigger, so I’ll try somewhere else on my next visit.

Brown Pelican in flight
Brown Pelicans are such odd birds, weird and wonderful, and so graceful in flight. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

I did my Whooping Crane tour and afternoon sunset trip with Aransas Bay Adventures, which is owned by a husband and wife team: Captains Kevin and Lori Sims. I had such a wonderful time with these folks — both of them are personable and friendly, and they know so much about the bays, birds, and dolphins.In addition to birding, photography, and dolphin tours, they also do bay fishing trips and photography workshops. I liked the heck out of both of them, and I look forward to returning soon.

Whooping Cranes live in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge November through March before migrating to the Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Canada.

I plan to return during the rookery season, when many birds (not the cranes — their breeding site is¬†in Canada) are building nests and taking care of their young — this happens from March through May.

You can look forward to great seafood during your stay in Rockport. I ate at Latitude 28¬į02′ Restaurant and Art Gallery and Paradise Key Dockside Bar & Grill, and look forward to going back to both. Paradise Key: great fried oysters and crab cakes. Latitude 28¬į02′ is a bit higher end — loved the local art, and I thought the food was wonderful. I’m getting hungry just thinking about my dinner there . . .

Whooping Crane with a crab
Whooping Cranes love crabs. Such good taste! Photograph, Ann Fisher

In North America, the only birds in greater danger of extinction than the Whooping Cranes are the Ivory Billed Woodpecker and the California Condor.

If you live in Texas and love birds, you need to plan a trip to see our winter guests!

Ann Cavitt Fisher in Castolon, Texas. Photograph, Jim Stevens.
At Castolon, in Big Bend National Park, Texas. Photograph, Jim Stevens.

About Ann

I grew up in Mississippi and New Orleans, have lived in both Seattle and Manhattan, and finally moved back to Texas in 1990’s.

I have a darling teenage daughter who heads off to university in the fall of 2017. I have been divorced and am now widowed. Finally, I am a colon cancer survivor.

I am now writing and traveling full time — what a wonderful thing!

This website is a forum for many things. I want to talk about life, in all of its rich, wonderful and terrifying forms. I want to share my travels, my thoughts on life, and my experiences as a woman and a mom. I want to talk about the nature of reality and the meaning of life, and to celebrate being alive.

Thank you for visiting! 

I’m writing and traveling full-time now, and if you like my work, please subscribe to my blog via email.

I’m happy you’re here¬†—¬†For other articles on life and travel, browse the home page:


Follow these links for additional information on Whooping Cranes

America’s Top Ten Most Endangered Birds. Rep. National Audubon Society, Mar. 2006. Web. 8 Jan. 2017.

“Home – Aransas – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.” Home – Aransas – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Jan. 2017. ¬† Current Whooping Crane Updates

Times-Picayune, Christine Harvey The. “Brown pelican comes back from the brink of extinction.” N.p., 11 Nov. 2009. Web. 08 Jan. 2017.

Whooping Crane Recovery Activities Report: October 2016. Rep. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Oct. 2016. Web. 8 Jan. 2017.

What is it about Big Bend?

“According to Apache legend, after creating the universe, the Great Spirit tossed a large pile of leftover boulders and debris on the Big Bend.”

“Oh, so you’ve been to Big Bend . . .”

Yes.¬†I’ve been so many times that I have lost count.¬†I was married in Marathon, Texas, about 70 miles north of the ranger station.¬†When I die, it is where I want my ashes spread.

Poster by Doug Leen and Brian Maebius done in the style of the WPA posters of the 1930's.
Poster by Doug Leen and Brian Maebius done in the style of the WPA posters of the 1930’s. Available through the Big Bend Natural History Association.

What is it about the Big Bend?

The park’s name comes from the 100 mile long big bend in the Rio Grande river that forms the Texas-Chihuahua-Coahuila border. At over 1,250 square miles, Big Bend is approximately the size of Rhode Island. It’s so remote that it remains the least visited of the National Parks in the United States.

I went the first time in the summer of 1993, when a dear friend from the Netherlands came to spend the summer with me. I wanted to show him a big western landscape, and I didn’t have the money to fly us out to Utah or to the Grand Canyon. Texas Monthly magazine ran an article about the Big Bend a month before my friend arrived. I was transfixed. Here was this amazing, wild space — that I had never considered — in easy driving distance from Houston. Okay, perhaps not easy. But we could get there in one long day’s drive.

I have been visiting Big Bend for twenty three years now, and I really have lost count of how many times I’ve been.

Why do I keep going?

Vast open spaces speak to me. Sky and the rocky terrain take turns dominating.¬†The wind blows a rushing,”Shush Ssh, Ssshhhh Ssshhh,” through the needles of¬†the juniper and pinyon pine of the Chisos mountains. I travel on the wind, up and over peaks, then fall back towards the desert floor.¬†A¬†cactus wren perches on a prickly pear pad and tells of the glory of the day in liquid song. Peregrine falcons¬†call, their voices bouncing back and forth, down the walls of the canyon to mingle with the water flowing around¬†boulders.¬†I hear thoughts.¬†I see time. I feel¬†eternity.¬†God, in all mystery — resides¬†here.

Rosillos Mountains by James Evans
Rosillos Mountains by James Evans.

James Houston Evans has devoted¬†his life to capturing the landscape and the people of this part of Texas. His photography¬†is extraordinary. Sometimes grand. Often intimate. Time¬†and true¬†understanding of his subject make him the visual expert on this corner of the world. If you visit¬†the Evans website, you’ll be rewarded with a¬†wonderful collection of images. It was James Evans’ work that drew me to this wild place. His¬†photographs in a Texas Monthly article compelled my first visit in 1993. He photographed my first wedding in 1997.

“I moved here in 1988 to dedicate my life to the Big Bend and its people. I don’t shoot pictures and leave and make a book. This work is a slow accumulation of years of being here. The mountains are familiar friends and the people my heroes. I am one of them.”

— James Evans

Link to Camping by myself in Big Bend.

Three Distinct Ecosystems and an Extraordinary Birding Area

The area along the Rio Grande, the desert, and the high alpine forest in the Chisos mountains attract many different kinds of birds. Over 450 species have been documented in the park. Because Big Bend is on the central flyway of North America, over the course of a year it is possible to see nearly 2/3 of all the birds found within the continental United States.

National Park video on the birds of the Big Bend.

Road into the Chisos Mountains, Big Bend
Road into the Chisos Mountains. Photograph, Ann Fisher.

When To Visit

The most popular time to visit the park is during the spring, when milder temperatures and flowers are the big draw. Wildflowers and blooming cactus bring rich color to the rocky desert. The two main blooming seasons are in the spring and late summer. Wildflowers begin in the lower elevations of the park near the Rio Grande in late February and continue gradually up into the higher elevations near the Chisos mountains, finishing in late April. If you want to visit in the spring, you must make lodging arrangements well ahead of time.

Prickly Pear blooms
Prickly Pear blooms. Photograph by Kevin Gassiot.

Flowers in the desert are beautiful, but during the spring¬†people often miss the architecture – the bones of the landscape — as they are drawn to the bright colors. I love other times of the year equally well, and the huge bonus is that the park is not crowded. In the summer, the century plants bloom and and attract hummingbirds during the day and nectar-feeding bats at night. While it is very hot on the desert floor in the summer, since the Chisos mountains are from¬†5,300 to 7,825¬†feet above sea level, it is much cooler there. An early in the morning hike is in order, before relaxing during the hottest part of the day, then get back out for incredible sunsets. Often the summer heat creates¬†massive¬†thunderhead clouds in the afternoon, and if you’re lucky — you get a desert thunderstorm (seen James Evans’s photo below).

The winter in Big Bend is a lovely time of the year. Birds from the frozen north visit, choosing the water along the river, desert arroyos, or pines in the high elevations.

I’ve spent half of my life returning to the Big Bend, and I love taking people along.¬†Care to join me?

Storm from Dugout Wells by James Evans
Storm from Dugout Wells by James Evans.


Along the Ross Maxwell Drive in Big Bend
Along the Ross Maxwell Drive in Big Bend. Photograph, Ann Fisher.



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**** Opening quote at beginning of article is from:

Jameson, J. R. (1996). The story of Big Bend National Park. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Ann Fisher