Go west and south as far as you can in Texas to find Big Bend National Park. At 1,252 square miles (3243 square kilometers), it’s a little bigger than Rhode Island. The Rio Grande River along the south marks the border of the park, and the border to Mexico. Most Texans have not been there, but people travel from around the globe to take in the wonderful scenery and more. It’s a fantastic introduction to the various ecosystems found within Big Bend and to desert hiking.
Most visit in spring when the usually barren desert bursts in to color. Mid-winter is also a popular time. July- October is the rainy season. It may not rain much, but when it does rain, it pours and there can be flash flooding. Mostly the weather is hot and dry with those cooler desert nights.
The best known feature in the park, The Window, is a gap in the mountain with a view well in to Mexico. Most come to Big Bend for hiking, float tours along the Rio Grande, mountain biking, horse riding or 4 wheel drive touring, but there is plenty for the less adventurous. It’s one of the best places in the country to stargaze as there is so little air pollution and it’s a mecca for bird watchers.
Vegetation and wildlife
There are three main ecosystems in the park: desert, mountains and river. The Chihuahuan Desert covers most of the park. It includes many mountains, hills and rock formations, dry creek beds and a few springs and oases.
The park has some wildlife you’re unlikely to find anywhere else. The javelina is like a small pig, but related to hippopotamus. If you’re camping in the park, you may encounter more than you want of javelinas. Store food securely in cars or containers and, while not dangerous, be aware they can become aggressive.
Bring binoculars to take in the wide variety of birdlife – there are more than 450 species. The best place to see some is along the river, although the Chiso basin is also good. Some species, such as the Colima Warbler can only be found in the park. The park also boasts more tropical butterflies than any other national park in the country.
Geology and history
The park includes many interesting features for anyone just slightly interested in geology. Dinosaur fossils have been found here, plus those of sea creatures as millennia ago this area was under sea. The geological formations are not as gob-stopping as those in Utah or some other places, but they are interesting.
People have lived in the area for 10,000 years. Some of the first were the Chisos, then later the Comanche and the Mescalero Apache. Mexicans and European settlers left further ruins from farms and mines.
Big Bend has been a national park since 1944, and a state park before then. Neighboring ranches have been bought to add to the park’s area, and the neighboring Big Bend Ranch State Park may be incorporated one day.
Getting there & staying
Big Bend is a six hour drive from San Antonio, but it’s a pleasant trip. The park is directly east from the tiny towns of Study Butte and the ex-mining, almost abandoned town of Terlingua. While there are some stores in the park, it’s best to take supplies. There is no public transport within the park, but renting a bike is a great option. Bikes have to keep to tracks, but there are plenty of those. There are no places to hire a horse in the park, but you can bring your own. Horses have to stay on recognized roads, trails and campsites and away from most of the Chisos Mountains. Bring all their food as grazing is not allowed.
What to do
Big Bend is not a park to explore in a day. Rafting down the river, hiking and backpacking and rock climbing are popular. People come from all over the world to do the Outer Mountain Loop.
Adjacent to the Rio Grande upstream from Rio Grande Village there is a series of thermal springs. The most popular are Langford Springs, four miles up from Boquillas Canyon. The water is 105 degrees Fahrenheit and has a range of minerals that possibly might be healthy.