Put the Rock Back

It was 2016.

We had been talking about how we’ve never actually seen the night sky. Our night sky is polluted by light. “Isn’t it crazy - and sad - that our whole lives we’ve never seen the milky way galaxy?” So we decided to change that. 


We both love primitive camping. I remember the day sitting in my apartment googling "national parks near me". The one that caught my attention had the tagline, “Half the park is at night” - Big Bend National Park.


We planned and we prepped and we left the weekend before Thanksgiving. We decided to leave in the evening, and drive the 14 hours through the night so we could arrive in the morning. 


The drive was... dangerous. We were so tired. So tired. And the GPS took us on long straight highways through tiny Texas towns. I had gotten a bad head cold right before we left. So bad that I went through an entire box of tissues on the way there - so attractive, right? 


After what felt like the longest night, we finally saw the sunrise over the desert hills.

We had made it. 



Our plan was to camp in a developed campsite the first night since we knew we’d be tired. We had planned to do a backpacking night the second night. When we went to the ranger station, however, all of the campsites were taken. Our only option was to backpack the first night. So, we parked the car, loaded our bags, and set off on the trail. 


It took us a while to find a spot to camp. You have to camp far enough off the trail so that people can’t see you. With no sleep and cactuses threatening you everywhere, it felt like we had been walking for days - when really it had only been a few miles. After some sketchy rock scrambling done by B.J., he finally found us the perfect spot. It was beautiful. 



The tent, as it always does when you’re tired, took forever to set up. One of the poles had something wrong with it. But after patient determination we got it set up. 


That’s when the fever came. I was so tired and my body felt miserable, that I almost* cried. (*B.J. swears I did cry, but I really don’t think I did! ha)  Looking back, poor B.J. thought I was having a terrible time. 



After a nap, some food, and the setting desert sun, I felt like a new person. As the sun went down, our anticipation went up. We were finally going to see the stars.


Slowly, the sky darkened, and one by one the stars came out. Then all of a sudden, it was as if we blinked and there it was - the milky way galaxy. There were billions of stars as far as the eye could see - but what surprised me the most was the texture. The stars and the sky had texture - as if we were looking at clouds. It was breathtaking.


As we stood gazing skyward, B.J. came and put his arm around me. He started patting my shoulder (something he does when he's nervous). And he told me, “You have to put the rock back.” 



Since I was a girl, I’ve had a fascination with rocks. We had a large gravel driveway growing up, and I would sit out there for hours finding beautiful rocks. I would even find ones with holes in them and wear them on a chain as a necklace. My fascination continued into adulthood, and I would keep small rocks from special places. 


Well, I was a little heartbroken to learn that it’s illegal to do this in a national park. With my dad’s stubbornness, I was determined to take one anyway. I had the tiniest rock in our tent that I was going to smuggle out. (Necessary side note: I know, it’s wrong. And I know the reason why I shouldn’t do it.) 


So, I responded to B.J., “Why?” He said, “Because I don’t want you to get in trouble.” I turned on him defensively, ready to tell him that I’m not putting my rock back. It was at that moment, though, that he told me he had found a rock for me. 


And then he dropped to his knee and asked me to marry him beneath the stars. 



Neither of us remember the exact words he said, and I barely remember him putting the ring on. We kissed and hugged, and then I had to turn on my headlamp on so I could see my ring. ha! 


In the morning, I gave Big Bend it’s rock back. 



The next couple of days were just as dreamy. We hiked up a canyon, sat in an ancient hot spring next to the Rio Grande, had mountainside picnics, and climbed lava rocks. We even found a heart shaped cactus! 



Now before you start thinking that everything was picture perfect, let me tell you about our last day….


The evening of our last day, we decided to get some beer from the gas station in the park. On our way to the campsite, we were driving up a hill and we heard something break. The car transmission went out. It was a few minutes before 5pm, and the ranger station was about to close. With the one service bar I had, I tried calling for help. The call dropped, and when I tried calling again the station was closed. The sun was starting to set and our minds were racing on what to do. 



Luckily, BJs car had the option to use lower gears to manually shift. We were able to make it to our campsite. We threw the tent up and went to sleep, knowing that the next day would be stressful. We thought we’d have to tow our car all the way from southwest Texas. We thought we’d have to just trade it in and get a new car. We thought we wouldn’t make it home for Thanksgiving. But, the next morning, we packed up, prayed, and drove home using only two gears. 


We had to take the backroads and highways the whole way home which ended up adding several hours to our already long trip. But most importantly, we had each other… and a rock. 




November 20, 2016


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