We spent 3 glorious days and 2 glorious nights exploring Big Bend National Park. For a trip we weren't planning to make, we have no regrets. I have so much to say & don't know where to begin. This is a warning, folks, this could get long & ugly.
We weren't sure we wanted to head that far south in Texas. It wasn't so much that the park was 4 hours out of the way, but more to do with the fact that Big Bend borders Mexico.
We spoke with rangers at the other parks and they assured us it was safe. It was safe, but surreal to be so close to Mexico. And when I say close, I mean you could smell the burritos.
There used to be 2 informal (no passports or pat down needed) border crossings in the park--Santa Elena and Boquillos.
But they have been closed since Sept. 11. This hurt both the people of those villages who lost commerce from Americans and park visitors who lost the experience of easily visiting a "real" Mexican community. Boo. Blame the damn terrorists. The park does plan to reopen one crossing; we hope so! I think it would add an extra appeal to the park.
For the time being, though, brazen Mexicans cross the border illegally to put out goods for sale. That was interesting. On one hike, we ran into Victor who serenaded us and tried to get us to make a purchase. We politely declined. Maybe the border patrol people were not hiding in the mountains watching like we thought, but we weren't keen on breaking rules.
Overall, we were expecting border patrol to be all over the park. But we never saw any until we left the park & had to go through "customs" to get back into the United States, which we never left, by the way. It's not like we saw Mexicans trying to cross into the country or drug smuggling going on, but it all felt slightly forbidden. That's the best way to describe it.
The Rio Grande serves as the international border. The river flows 2,000 miles and 10% of the river is in Big Bend (118 miles to be exact). It is described as wet and wild, but it has lost a lot of its dignity over the years and can barely be called a river. I suppose this is why border crossings could be easy!
Besides the Rio Grande, Big Bend has a lot to offer in its 8,000 acres of mountain cliffs, desert & canyons. It is the land of many contrasts and rich history.
This part of Texas was also once under water millions of years ago-hard to believe since it is a DESERT now. Its history reaches back into prehistoric ages. Archeologists have found 800-lb dinosaur vertebraes in the park! How's that for fossil life?
Once the land was settled by American Indians, then Spanish and Anglo American homesteaders, there were whole villages and communities that thrived through the 1940s, even some after Big Bend became a national park in 1944. Plus, there are hot springs, emerging from the ground and heated to 105 degrees. We saw many remnants of ranches, post offices and motels. Very cool.
In terms of wildlife, besides the dinosaurs of course, we saw tons of javelina (think pig, but hairy). We were told there are bear in the park, which had us scratching our heads. It was the desert after all. Also mountain lions. UNfortunately, we saw neither. We really wanted to run into a puma!
Because of the mix of mountains and desert, flora are diverse from desert types of pine, oak & juniper trees (plus my favorite, the Texas madrone) to stipa & grama grasses to lechuguilla & sotol cacti . Some plants are only found in the park too, making the plant life even more interesting. We took one hike following a written guide and learned so much. We both wish we had a greater knowledge of what's in nature! If I did, I wouldn't have thought this was a life-size asparagus and would have known it was agave.
I now know where the saying "all quiet on the western front" came from. It was so quiet in Big Bend. At night, there were no trees rustling in the wind, no birds or squirrels (although there are 450 species of birds). It was just pure silence ...except for the one night when a javelina was poking around our camp. Also, Big Bend has one of the darkest night skies of all the national parks in the lower 48. The stars were redunkulous. As were the sunsets/sunrises.
We had fun. We went to every end of the park by foot and vehicle and are pleased with the whole experience. Can't believe we ended up spending a full week in Texas, but it was awesome!
Now we are continuing on our tour of state high points. To the East we go!
Labels: National Parks, Outdoor Recreation, Road Trips