Totally Team Coyote

So we all grew up watching Roadrunner cartoons, right? And that silly little bird, while definitely having a sadistic streak, doesn’t seem all bad. In fact, he’s kind of cute, which makes rooting against the coyote, who is admittedly trying to make a meal out of him, seem like the right thing to do.

Lies. It was all lies.

Little did I know how bloodthirsty these angry birds were until I watched one kill a tarantula in front of my motel room door in Big Bend, TX. You read that right…a tarantula. And perhaps you also noticed how I said RIGHT IN FRONT OF MY ROOM, where one would hardly expect to see a cage match of such colossal proportions.

A bird standing on the side of a stone wall.
Don’t let the cartoons fool you, this bird is evil!


Now I’m all about wildlife, but staying at the Chisos Mountains Lodge, the only accommodations located within 900,000-acre Big Bend National Park, takes animal viewing to a whole new level. Not only did I get to watch a life-and-death struggle within inches of where I was sleeping (though obviously not through the night once I knew that there were tarantulas out there), but I also got blocked from returning to the hotel by a pair of mule deer that were locking horns alongside the hiking trail, reminding me that while I might think I’m at the top of the food chain, my chewed-up fingernails are no match for a set of hooves or horns.

So I run to tell Terri all about my morning.

Me: You won’t believe what I just saw. A roadrunner and a tarantula were fighting outside my door.

Terri, totally skeptical: Right. And then the coyote showed up with a delivery from ACME.

Me: Seriously. It was horrible! I wanted to save the spider, but I couldn’t figure out how to grab it. Cause it was big. And hairy. And the bird was really mean!

Terri: You were trying to grab a tarantula? Aren’t they poisonous?

Me:  So maybe it wasn’t my smartest move.

Terri: You’ve done stupider things.

A bird is walking on the ground in the dirt.
Roadrunner 1; Tarantula 0

Note that at this point I didn’t bring up the fact that Terri tries to pet every young furry creature we come across, without ever considering that their large and angry mommas might not appreciate her fondling their offspring. I was still too excited about the deer.

Me: And then I was walking up the trail and found myself surrounded by a herd of deer! And two of them started head-butting! I had to wait until they stopped fighting to get around them.

Terri: You have literally been gone like 15 minutes. You’ve tried to pick up a tarantula and been accosted by angry deer. Do you have some kind of death wish?

Me: No, but I do have video!

Of course, all was forgiven.

At this point, our guide, Mike Davidson, shared a wealth of knowledge about the wildlife around Big Bend, which is home to 3,600 species of insects and animals, and 450 species of birds. He shared the fact that tarantulas, while poisonous, aren’t really going to kill you, and that roadrunners, despite their good Warner Brothers’ PR, are actually really vicious birds that will fight just about anything, including lizards and small rattlesnakes, which they kill by bashing them with their beaks. Starting to make you feel kind of bad for the coyote, isn’t it?

A large rock formation on top of a hill.
Big Bend’s Rugged Landscape

Next up, hiking with animals that can kill you

I have all this in mind the next day when Mike says that we’re going to take a hike up the Lost Mine Trail. But I didn’t need to worry about the creepy things and killer birds, because there are bigger things to be concerned about.

Terri: There sure are a lot of mountain lion warning signs around here. That’s kind of scary. What do we do if we see one?

Me:  We run. And I hope I run faster than you.

Turns out that we needn’t have worried about the mountain lions either, because the people coming down from the mountain stopped to tell us about the black bear they saw…about 20 feet ahead.

Terri: Dear God. Is there anything in this country that won’t kill us?

Me: Well, I’ve heard the tarantulas are pretty harmless.

A bear proof food storage box on the side of a road.
Oh look, a place to hide from the bears!

We make it to the top of the 6,850-foot peak with about 100 stops on the way to take photos of the stupendous landscapes, and to double-check that no large carnivores are waiting to take us down as we are obviously far easier prey than any creature that lives in such a contentious environment.

Vanessa: So Mike, are there any other animals that we need to know about—any other creatures unique to Big Bend?

Mike: Well, there is a goat. But he’s harmless. He’s the mayor of Lajitas.

Of course he is.

A goat with horns and a sign in the shape of a map.

If You Go

There are numerous places to stay around Big Bend, TX, but for a truly authentic experience, make reservations (well before you want to visit because it books up fast) at the Chisos Mountains Lodge located within the park. In addition to wildlife viewing, there are also 200 miles of trails within the park for every level of ability, so you can get your exercise (especially if you end up running from a bear or mountain lion, or even a raging roadrunner).

Chisos Mountains Lodge: To learn more about accommodations within the park, check out Reservations for 2019 (that is not a typo) are now open. While not fancy, the rooms (which run about $148 a night) put you right in the center of a whole lot of animal action.

For more information,, or call the Brewster County Tourism Council at 432-386-5635.

They Gave Us Guns: Learning to Shoot in Lajitas

I’ve written before about the fact that both Terri and I are fairly uncoordinated, which is why we were surprised—in fact, dumbfounded—when our hosts at the Lajitas Golf Resort & Spa in Lajitas, TX, agreed to let us sign up for shooting activities. In other words, they gave us loaded guns.

Now far be it for me to judge, but when we said that we thought it would be a howl to try the course, I expected someone to adult; to say that perhaps it wasn’t the best idea—that maybe we should try something more our speed, like, say, a museum tour or sitting on bar stools. And a few saner voices did try to convince us to try their new zip line over Quiet Canyon or to go trail riding across Comanche Creek, but it was a losing battle.

Because we were in Texas. And in Texas, you gotta have a gun.

We were joined in our folly by another travel writer, Deb from New Mexico, who was as familiar with weapons as we were—which is to say not at all. Our guide, a 20-something good ole’ boy who probably grew up shooting baby bottles instead of drinking them, thought it was hysterical that we were so inexperienced until my excitement at taking my first shot made me wheel around, gun still in hand, to exclaim my joy. I have never seen people hit the dirt that fast.

After everyone got back up, dusted themselves off, and moved warily out of range, I saw a new look of respect, or perhaps it was fear, in our guide’s eyes. No doubt he now took my lack of experience—and murderous enthusiasm—a little more seriously.

We took part in the Cowboy Action Shoot, which involves walking through the ghost town of Stargazer Springs, taking turns shooting targets with a single-action pistol, a side-by-side shotgun, and a lever-action rifle. It didn’t go so well.

Guide: All you do is look through the sight and…


Did I mention that I was kind of excited? Deb was far more cautious, and Terri, surprisingly, took this gun stuff pretty seriously. That’s not saying that any of us were very good at it.

Terri: Did I hit it?

Guide: No.

Terri: Did I come close?

Guide: No.

Terri: Am I doing this right?

Guide: No.

Terri: I think I’m getting better.

Guide: No.

I personally couldn’t hit the side of a barn with a pistol, not that I’ve ever tried to hit a barn (or for that fact, any unprovoked building) with anything. But then our guide handed me the rifle…and things improved dramatically.


Guide: I’ll be damned.


Guide: Seriously? Again?


Guide: This is kind of terrifying.

I proceeded to hit every single target on the rest of the course, channeling my inner Annie Oakley and perhaps some unresolved frustrations that even a therapist can’t decipher. It was so much fun that I didn’t want it to end, though I didn’t go so far as to say that they’d have to pry the gun from my cold, dead hands….I just pouted a little (okay, a lot) when he (with much relief) took the weapon away.

The three of us posed for photos, armed to the teeth, though we agreed that we would not try to take selfies while holding guns. If you’ve seen how bad our selfies already are, you realize the odds of pulling a trigger instead of pushing a button were very real.

While Deb and Terri enjoyed the experience, I was all about going back again to try their Combat Course, which involves an AR-15, 9mm pistol and pump-action shotgun.

Vanessa: Seriously, Terri. It would be so much fun! Think of me with an assault rifle!

Do I even need to mention that I got vetoed?

If You Go

The Lajitas Golf Resort & Spa is a fantastic place to stay, even if you don’t go for shooting sports. Their list of activities is impressive, and includes everything from zip lining and horseback riding to world-class golf on a Lanny Wadkins-designed course and massages at Agave Spa. There’s also birding, mountain biking, and opportunities to dine under the stars, and you can even rent one of their Jeeps to check out the area on your own.

We were only there overnight, but you could easily stay a week and not run out of things to do. I highly recommend staying in the Cavalry Post section of the resort; built on the historic site of a remote U.S. military outpost commanded by General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, this section offers 26 rooms that are individually decorated in an Old West theme—first time I’ve ever stayed in a room where handcuffs were actually part of the décor.

To learn more, check out, 1-877-Lajitas.