Deep in the Canyons of the Big Bend National Park, Texas
The ThunderTix staff seem drawn like magnets to tours while vacationing and since tour groups make up a significant part of our client base, we're always eager to visit them and compare notes. We've done everything from walking food tours in Chicago, Duck tours and Trolley Tours, and outdoor hiking tours outside of Boulder, Colorado. There is one rule that always holds true--no matter the surroundings, your experience on a tour can be made or broken depending on your tour guide.
This past week I took a trip to the Big Bend National Park near Terlingua in West Texas, an area that was wholly unfamiliar to me. Originally I'd been a bit hesitant about the trip, because it's rare to hear people talk excitedly about the area. My mind conjured up images of dusty, dirt roads, cacti and extreme heat. Much to my surprise, the land was beautiful, and our awareness and appreciation for the land and was heightened by our expert guide and outdoorsman, John Parker.
Our day started with John strapping our group into life jackets, outlining important safety measures, then loaded us into the inflatable raft for our seven hour journey down the Rio Grande's Santa Elena Canyon. John's passion for the area was immediately evident as he talked about the land's geological formation, it's history, and makeup. I knew we had the foundation for a great trip because John possessed the first trait every superb tour guide has: passion.
In our group of five women, we ranged in age from teens to forties with varying interests, yet John shifted from person to person fluidly connecting with each of us on different topics. From regaling the youngest with riddles, chatting it up on pop culture and college goals with the older teens, to sharing his favorite books and movies with the adults, John's charisma and ability to genuinely relate with others provided the second attribute to a great guide: sincerity.
There were two birders in our group, and they were delighted by John's ability to identify birds as they soared overhand or sang from high up in the canyon walls. Another member loved learning the history of an area, and again our guide shared stories about past battles over the territory's borders, previous Native Americans camps, and the role of mining in the growth of West Texas. John shared information on plant life, what land features to consider when arrowhead hunting, and how to find shelter in a storm. This breadth and depth of knowledge was the third trait he possessed that made him such an excellent guide.
John gave each of us a turn at the oars, and taught us how to row, the importance of keeping our downriver oar out of the water, tips on avoiding rocks, and how to pull out of danger. The smallest among us, at a mere 95 pounds, struggled under the weight of the oars, yet John allowed her the full experience of rowing by helping shift some of the weight to himself. She grinned ear to ear as she navigated us downstream. Expertise and utter confidence again raised the caliber of our guide.
John admitted he had such a strong connection to the land, that at times he had to work to push his emotions aside to avoid being hurt when a customer seemed uninterested in the landscape. This insight provided the perfect segue to gaining our full appreciation when he pulled up the oars to simply float, allowing us to absorb the landscape in almost eerie silence for several minutes. Passion.
I can't vouch for the expert level of the all of the river guides, but the other rafters seemed as equally as entranced as ours. For days after the tour our group continued to talk about our experience and the bond we'd made with our guide. Not only did he do a great job entertaining and informing us, but his love of the land instilled a pride in all of us of the wonderful treasures West Texas holds.
Contact Big Bend River Tours at 800-545-4240 to secure your spot with John Parker.