In 2019, Big Bend National Park, a truly remarkable wonder of nature, celebrates its 75th birthday and in true Texas fashion the celebration will be extraordinary.
Along with its neighboring Big Bend Ranch State Park, the Big Bend region contains the largest contiguous protected area of the Chihuahuan Desert in the continental United States. This amazing Park also contains the three massive canyons of the Rio Grande and the entire Chisos Mountain range. Big Bend National Park has more species of birds, plants, cactus, butterflies, bats and reptiles than any other US National Park. Even with these grand distinctions, Big Bend remains one of the least visited National Parks in the country, so crowds and long lines are not a problem.
A wide range of events and activities will take place all year long to celebrate Big Bend’s Birthday not only in the Park and the surrounding communities of Marathon, Terlingua, Study Butte and Lajitas but across the entire Lone Star State. On March 23rd, Revolution Spirits in Austin will hold a “Big Bend On The Rocks” birthday bash from 3p-6p that will include imagery from the Big Bend along with plenty of refreshments. The Bullock Texas State History Museum, also in Austin, will have a free Sunday event on April 7th in honor of the Big Bend Anniversary. Closer to the actual Big Bend Region, Sul Ross State University in Alpine will have an official 75th Anniversary Birthday Party for the Park on October 11th that is certain to be an event to remember.
Named for a deep sweep in the Rio Grande River that divides United States and Mexico, the Big Bend country of West Texas is a land of striking beauty – of vast desert expanses, craggy mountains forested with pine and aspen, topped with some of the bluest skies and clearest nights of any place in North America.
Far from any major city, the Big Bend is truly one of the world’s last frontiers, a relatively untouched corner of the American West, and an ideal place to rediscover the simple pleasures of silence, solitude and open space. The crown jewel of the Big Bend region is Big Bend National Park, which preserves more than 1,100 square miles of rugged desert, the three massive canyons of the Rio Grande and the entire Chisos Mountain range.
The park invites exploration from many angles: raft or canoe down the Rio Grande, take a hike with over 200 miles of wilderness trail to choose from, ride a horse into the sunset, take a jeep tour on the Park’s extensive back-road system, or simply drive the paved and improved roads to many easily accessible scenic viewpoints and interpretive turn-outs. While Big Bend National Park is among the largest national parks in the continental United States, it is also among the least visited, and finding a private corner in this wild, remote country is easy, even during popular seasons.
Climbing into the heart of the Chisos Mountains, the road up Green Gulch dead-ends at the Chisos Basin at about 5000’ above sea level. Surrounded by peaks towering over 7500 feet in elevation, the Basin has a campground with 62 sites, as well as a ranger station, interpretive exhibits and a convenience store. The Chisos Mountains Lodge offers comfortable overnight accommodations and their dining room wins the prize hands down for best restaurant view in Texas as the sun sets over the desert through a jagged opening in the mountains known as “The Window”. The Basin’s high elevation and its shaded paths create a spring-like oasis even in the dead of summer
The Big Bend’s Chihuahuan Desert boasts the greatest number of cacti of any North American desert, as well as plentiful vegetation of all varieties: Big Bend National Park records over 1200 plant species. Every March and April, the desert explodes into bloom, and many species only need a good rain to put on a show. The low desert also reveals the tremendous geological diversity of Big Bend, be it the gnarled pinnacles of the Chimneys Trail marked with Native American rock art, or the surreal landscape and balanced rocks of the Grapevine Hills. Big Bend has great hiking opportunities for every season and for every skill level.
Flowing through Big Bend National Park, and the adjacent US Wild and Scenic River, the Rio Grande traverses 5 major canyons in 275 miles of navigable wilderness waterway. Although each canyon is unique in its own spectacular fashion, every canyon is typified by soaring vertical cliffs, which dwarf visitors fortunate enough to experience these sublime regions. Once within the towering walls, a river party finds the natural sounds and sights mysteriously enhanced, almost like inside a vast cathedral. As one author noted about Santa Elena Canyon, if light were sound, Santa Elena would be a symphony.
Service providers near the park rent boats and equipment to experienced river runners to explore the canyons on their own, or visitors may book a full service guided trip, where the outfitter provides all equipment, guides, meals, and local ground transportation in one simple package. These excursions are available from a few hours to several days in length, and be prepared to have more fun that you ever thought possible. In addition to the expertise that guides bring to safe navigation, local guides are knowledgeable in the flora, fauna, geology and history of the region. Special services can even include gourmet meals and live acoustic music, introducing an unexpected element of luxury to an activity most first think of as an entirely Spartan undertaking.
Some visitors explore the Big Bend the way that the early pioneers did – on horseback. Big Bend Stables, a local outfitter, offers a range of horseback adventures – from one-hour rides around the mountain to five-day outings into Mexico. Their premier trip however, is the annual longhorn round-up at Big Bend Ranch State Park, where a limited number of participants help drive the steers during the day, and enjoying outfitted amenities and camp cooking. Big Bend Stables welcomes riders of all levels of experience, even those who have never been on horseback before.
Along with the traditional, there comes the new. Big Bend is a soon to be discovered location for world class bicycling, both on and off road. Some 60 miles of mountain bike trails are currently open to the public in the Big Bend Ranch State Park and Lajitas Resort areas. Terlingua Ranch Lodge offers accommodations and access to many miles of little used backcountry roads.
While natural beauty may be the main attraction, the small communities and villages of the Big Bend often provide as much pleasure as the region’s landscape, especially after dark. With accommodations that range from the rustic to the luxurious, the Big Bend’s towns exemplify a lively mix of Western traditions, friendly Texas atmosphere and burgeoning artistic activity.
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