Memories of Big Bend National Park

I’ll begin by listing a few factoids about this popular national park. At 1,252 square miles, it is the 15th largest national park. The rugged terrain reaches heights of 7832’ at Emory Peak, and as low as 1850’ at Rio Grande Village. The park gets its name from the long curve of its southern boundary, where 196 miles of the wild Rio Grande borders Mexico. Over 450 bird species have been found here. Stargazers love it here because it has the darkest night sky in the USA. There are over 300 miles of roads (paved, gravel, and primitive), and over 200 miles of hiking trails. 

In 1933, Texas established Texas Canyons State Park here, and on 1944-06-06, a deed for about 700,000 acres was formally presented to the president of the USA. Less than a week later, on 1944-06-12, Big Bend was established as a national park by a Congressional Act signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It was designated an International Biosphere Reserve in 1976.

I first visited this park on 2020-03-07. Not realizing the immense popularity of this park, and being unaware that it was Spring Break, I believed I could find a place to stay overnight inside the boundaries of this vast parkland, and spend several days exploring here. Boy, was I mistaken. I learned there were no camping spaces available, so I drove to a location I’d read about that wasn’t very far from the main gateways into the park. 

The site I visited is called the Sam Nail Ranch, and when I read of the wind-driven well that provided a steady source of water, I knew it was a promising stop I must investigate. Surface water in an arid desert attracts a wealth of wildlife, including birds. I only spent a few hours there, but those hours were exceptional. When I left, I was disappointed that I couldn’t explore more of the birding hotspots inside the park, but grateful for the birds I met at the Sam Nail Ranch.

In early January 2021, I returned to Big Bend, intent on exploring more of the park. Even in the depth of winter, the park was near capacity, but I found a single night’s opening at a campsite called Cottonwood at the southwestern edge of the park, and close to the Rio Grande. It was about a week before my visit that I booked my reservation. I drove through the Davis Mountains and passed through Alpine on my way to Marathon. While I stayed in Marathon, I booked a few days at an RV camp just outside the park in a place called Study Butte. A freak snow storm blew through the region and closed the roads ahead, and delayed my departure for 24 hours. When the roads opened, and I was headed south, I noticed several caravans of RV’s headed north, so when I reached Study Butte, I called the Rio Grande Village to see if there were any openings because of faint-hearted campers abandoning their vacation plans. I was in luck, so I booked several more days to explore the southeastern reaches of Big Bend.

Between my forays into the park from Study Butte, my two days and one-night stay at Cottonwood, and the few days at the Rio Grande Village, I got to spend time and sample more of the park’s treasures than I hoped when I set my sights on visit #2. My explorations did not include the Chisos Mountains, where rare birds such as the Colima Warbler breed. Even had I the ambition to take on a long hike into the higher elevations, January was not the season to find much bird-life there. More to the point, the snowpack prevented any access to those trails.

Even with this extended stay, I feel there are many more opportunities for sightseeing and wildlife encounters yet to be had in Big Bend. I look forward to a visit again someday, and I highly recommend a tour to all nature lovers. Be sure to plan ahead. Many folks book reservations six months in advance. Interested readers might enjoy reading the following blogs: <2020-03-07: Bird Adventures In Big Bend>,<2021-01-02 Big Bend’s Ross Maxwell Drive>, and <2021-01-06, Winding Up My Stay in Big Bend>.

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