Friday, December 2, 2016

Big Bend National Park - A Journey Through Time

Cerro Castellan and historic site of camp housing US Cavalry
Big Bend National Park is a remote and wonderful place located in southwest Texas. Big Bend became a national park June 12, 1944, but it has been continually inhabited by humans for much of the last 10,000 years.   Early inhabitants were hunter gatherer tribes of native peoples, with farmers, ranchers, and miners making the land their home in more recent history.  At times, the park land has also been occupied by cavalry and air corp.  The story goes that some of the pilots stationed there enjoyed flying through Mule Ears during training.  There are many historical sites located within the park that provide a fascinating look into the human history of the area and the lives of those adventurous souls who called it home.
Mule Ears in the distance

The park covers 800,000 acres and consists of three habitats: river, mountain, and desert.  It includes the largest protected tract of the Chihuahuan Desert in the US, and it is the only park in the US that contains an entire mountain range, the Chisos Mountains.  There are also springs, canyons, and of course the Rio Grande River.  The geography and geology of the park provide a lifetime of interest.
Chihuahuan Desert

Boquillas Canyon
A bull snake crossing the trail
The park is home to a vast number of plants and animals, including some on the endangered species list.  Nonnative plants and animals can also be found in the park, some of which are considered invasive, such as the Tamarisk or Saltcedar.  Nonnative animals include the Aoudad.  We saw three of these skilled climbers scrambling up the mountainside.  It is a big job for officials trying to keep the nonnative species from spreading more, protecting the native species, and re-establishing the native vegetation in the areas that were heavily farmed and grazed in the past.  We enjoyed seeing the magnificent aoudad, and the saltcedar are lovely trees, but I understand the threat they pose to native species.  Native big horn sheep are still being re-introduced into the area,  and the aoudad are competition for habitat.  Several native creatures paid us a visit during our stay.  We saw several roadrunners, quail, a bull snake, dozens of lizards, etc.  A refreshing rain fell on our second night camping, which blessed us with an abundance of flowers afterwards, such as desert sage.

Desert Sage
There is no better place for camping, hiking, biking, driving, rafting, watching wildlife, and relaxing than at Big Bend.  There are five visitor centers, some of which include small grocery sections and camping gear as well as information and souvenirs.  There are camp grounds, backcountry camping, and the Chisos Mountains Lodge for those staying the night.

View from Chisos Basin campground

Chisos Mountains

This place will get into your soul and become a part of you.  As I lay awake in my tent at night, I sense the voices of generations murmuring with the wind as it blows through the rocks high up in the mountains.  Those same voices echoed off the canyon walls as I stood on the bank of Rio Grande in Santa Elena Canyon. I will be back.
Santa Elena Canyon
Emory Peak
Chisos Basin

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