Saturday, January 29, 2022

Why you should visit Big Bend National Park

Driving through Big Bend

As you approach Big Bend National Park in far west Texas, your first view might be of the desert. It is brown and dry with prickly plants everywhere. Heat and seasonal winds can bring scorching temperatures at midday. Or visit in winter when northern storms cause temperatures to plummet below freezing.

Plentiful cacti blooms

If that’s your introduction to Big Bend National Park, you might stop short of actually going in the park. After all, the entrance is 80 miles from the nearest town, so you might think getting there from Marathon means you’ll likely be stuck all day in this unfriendly environment. If first impressions like this are lasting, people either lover Big Bend or hate it.

But, if you don’t venture further into the park you won’t discover the wonders of the three ecologies that define Big Bend.

Beautiful views on Lost Mine hiking trail.

Beyond the Chihuahuan Desert (one of North America’s four major deserts) are the Chisos Mountains. A green island in this desert sea, the mountains are responsible in part for the desert since they block rain from reaching the prairie. But within this green oasis are a variety of plants and animals that you might not expect to see there. 

Mountains in the Chisos Basin

White-tailed deer, bears, and coyotes range here, and leathery succulent plants of the arid landscape give way to green leafy shrubs and trees and spring wildflowers. Rainfall in the Chisos Basin nourishes oak and juniper trees, even becoming home to bird species that only nest in these mountains.

Seeing a mother bear and two cubs was a highlight.

Santa Elena Canyon is a focal point 
of Big Bend.
And then there’s the Rio Grande River, whose distinctive curve gives the park its name. The life-giving waters of this green ribbon cut across the desert and carve deep canyons.  

For 118 miles the Rio Grande forms the boundary between the United States and Mexico. In fact, one of the park’s best-known features, Santa Elena Canyon, is shared by the two countries—its rugged south wall towers above Mexico while the smoother north wall lies on United States soil.

Elevation contrasts and multiple ecologies formed by a trio of river, desert, and mountains create microclimates that enhance the diversity of plant and animal life within the park’s boundaries. 

Hiking to Balanced Rock
Birding is a popular endeavor because many species of birds include Big Ben on their migratory routes between South, Central, and North America.

Big Bend must be explored to be appreciated. You can find interpretive displays and easy walks to scenic or historic points on paved roads. If you want to be more than a spectator, strap on a back pack and go hiking--trails range from easy to challenging. Then raft amazing canyons, go off road on a jeep tour, ride bikes on back country roads, or inhale spectacular vistas from horseback.

Sunset looking through the Window between mountains

Not to be overlooked is the peace and serenity that this remote area offers. Many visitors return year after year to revel in the solitude of their favorite happy places.

You can't find a more glorious drive than early morning to Chisos Basin.

I’ve visited Big Bend National Park several times and have fallen in love with its distinctive character. Every time I go there, I discover more dimensions of its natural beauty. If you visit the park, give yourself enough time to indulge and savor all it has to offer. You, too, will come to love this iconic place.


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