GETTING THERE: Fly into El Paso International Airport and rent a four-wheel-drive vehicle ($65 per day at National Car Rental, 800-227-7368). Head east on Interstate 10, turning south onto U.S. 90 at Van Horn and then south onto U.S. 67 at Marfa. Then pick up Presidio County 170 east, and you'll find the entrance to Big Bend Ranch State Park (915-229-3416) just east of Presidio. To reach Big Bend National Park's (915-477-2251) western entrance, continue east for an hour.
LODGINGS: Both U.S. parks have toilet-equipped campsites that are available on a first come, first served basis—don't worry, there's always space. At Big Bend National Park a spot costs $7, and backcountry and primitive camping are free with a permit. At Big Bend Ranch State Park, admission is $3 per person and camping is another $3. More upscale accommodations can be had at the comfy Lajitas Resort, between the parks on Brewster County 170 (doubles, $75; 877-525-4827), or the Chisos Mountains Lodge, inside Big Bend National Park (doubles, $80).
LOCAL FARE: For a sit-down meal, order the zesty pork chop chipotle at the Starlight Theatre (above) in Terlingua. Stock up on camping essentials at the Lajitas Trading Post or the Study Butte Store (below).
OUTFITTERS: For Rio Grande cruises (and Y2K monologues), sign on with Mike Kasper at Far Flung Adventures (915-371-2489), or try Texas River Expeditions (800-839-7238) or Big Bend River Tours (800-545-4240). All are Terlingua-area-based and offer daylong trips for $110 per person. Lajitas Stables' (888-508-7667) four-day horsepacking trip in Santa Elena Canyon Reserve runs $560. To bike the Solitario, Desert Sports (888-989-6900) charges $450 for a three-day excursion. Arrange for guided hikes through Big Bend Ranch State Park.