Big Bend National Park Details
Big Bend National Park is a lesser known national park with unparalleled cultural, paleontological and geological values. The biodiversity in Big Bend is surprisingly varied mostly due to the climate contrasts of the river canyons, desert floor and high mountain terrain. There is a lot to explore and accomplish in this vast 801,163 acre playground. From time immemorial, before the various dinosaurs roamed the area that is now Big Bend National Park, the region was first an ocean teeming with invertebrates like coral, shelled organisms and trilobites resembling crustaceaous insects. Later it became a boggy marsh with large reptilian dinosaurs. When the dinosaurs became extinct, it was around the same time the land of Big Bend National Park uplifted with fierce earth-shattering volcanic activity. Mammals made their entrance soon after and began to dominate the landscape.
Most of this is evidenced in the various spectacular formations at Big Bend National Park. The abundant visible rock outcroppings have astonishing diversity and complexity. Diverse sedimentation and depositional patterns throughout the millions of years of history revealed on the earth's surface are a testament to the unique geology of Big Bend National Park. The park is chock-full of paleontologists and geologists studying this place that contains one of the only complete views of a prehistoric ecosystem on earth and is said to contain a complete geology text book. Big Bend National Park surpasses the rest of the national parks in Cretaceous Dinosaur species diversity and fossils are continually unearthed. Very few places rival Big Bend National Park's paleontological and geologic resources.
Paleo-Indian man began to roam the Big Bend National Park area approximately 10,500 years ago in search of megafauna. Artifacts around 9,000 years old have been discovered from human encampments. Humans found caves for shelter and regularly used open campsites in the prehistoric period. Archaic-period nomads formed a desert culture of hunting and gathering that remained unchanged over thousands of years. Archeological evidence of man's presence and occupation in the area encompasses the first inhabitants to the more recent Native American tribes who have played a role in the history of Big Bend National Park as well.
Tribes, such as the Comanche, Chisos and Mescalero Apache gave way to early Anglo-American settlers, Mexican settlers and Spanish conquistadors. Raids by Comanche bandits were everpresent and mostly focused on the Spanish presidios south of the Rio Grande. These marauders attacked so frequently that they eroded into the earth The Comanche Trail. The Mexican-American War ended in 1848, creating the international boundary in an area already occupied by both Anglo and Hispanic settlers. Ranching, farming and mining became a permanent way of life for the pioneers of the Big Bend National Park area. Several historic landscapes and buildings illustrate life at the turn of the century on the international border of Mexico and the United States. Surprisingly there are over 300 unmarked graves of unknown people who occupied the area during this time. The Castolon Historic District as well as the airfield at Johnson's Ranch are preserved views into the history of the early settlements.
Big Bend National Park boasts to be one of the most remote and ultimately least populated areas in the United States. The high mountains, deep river canyons and the desert floor in between make up three distinct micro-climates that together make Big Bend National Park one of the most biodiverse. The altitude differs from 1,804 feet at the Rio Grande up to 7,831 feet of Emory Peak in the high Chisos Mountains. This elevation spectrum creates great variation in temperature and available moisture which creates distinctive habitats and enables the exceptional biodiversity of Big Bend National Park.
The unique location of Big Bend National Park puts it right in the middle of an ecological crossroad from all directions. This is the place where eastern species meets western species, as well as northernmost and southernmost species overlapping. The unique overlap of the continent's habitats and species enables Big Bend National Park to have more species of cactus, birds, reptiles, bats, butterflies and scorpions than any other national park.
As many as 70 cacti species alone out of over 1,200 plant species are recorded to live in Big Bend National Park. 75 mammal species, 56 reptiles and well over 450 bird species are part of the complex ecosystem in the park. Birdwatching has become a significant attraction to Big Bend National Park as it lies within a greater migration path for migratory birds, as well as in the middle of the hub for species' extreme range limits.
Officially founded in 1944, Big Bend National Park is mostly a backcountry park. It contains more than 150 miles of hiking trails perfect for day hiking and backpacking adventures. The popular Marufo Vega Trail and the Outer Mountain Loop are ideal for overnight excursions. Primitive camping areas are scattered within the Chisos Mountain trails and along the roads of Big Bend National Park. There are over 100 miles of paved roads in Big Bend National Park and another 150 miles of primitive dirt roads. These roads connect the various monuments in the park. There are 72 basic car camping sites along these primitive dirt roads, which require a 4-wheel drive high clearance vehicle to navigate.
Big Bend National Park is the ideal landscape for mountain biking and also horseback riding. The road system throughout the park offers both bikers and riders access to the wonders of Big Bend National Park. Ride along the River Road above the mighty Rio Grande and visit the breathtaking Santa Elena Canyon. Look up to see the famous Mule Ears formation or explore a canyon with an age old tinaja, or natural well, at the bottom. Experience a piece of history and visit the ruins of an old spa resort where the Langford Hot Springs can still be enjoyed. The only place that a bike or a horse cannot take you is into the hiking trails of the Chisos Mountains. Feel free to BYOH (bring your own horse.)
The Rio Grande is a refreshing twist to the earthy explorations of the rest of the park. 118 miles of Rio Grande creates the border for Big Bend National Park. Most of this stretch is designated as a Wild and Scenic River corridor. Rafts, canoes and kayaks are a grand way of getting an up close and personal look at the several gorgeous canyons of Big Bend National Park. Canyon walls are up to 1,500 feet high at the most and are spectacular throughout. The geological sedimentation and exposed fossils are also highlights of a typical float down the Rio Grande.
Guided activities are extremely popular with Big Bend National Park visitors. Several visitors to the park bring their own gear, such as bicycles, rafts or camping gear. On the contrary, all of the activities the park has to offer have a guided tour dedicated to it. Guided hikes and backpacking trips add an educational element as well as an added assurance of safety in the backcountry. Backroad tours and guided ATV rentals are also an adventurous way to experience Big Bend National Park. Mountain biking and horseback riding tours make sure you get to the right place at the right time, such as to see the sunset from a notable vista. Guided trips down the Rio Grande are extremely popular and are often multi-day adventures with some short hikes and camping worked in. Special combination trips are also encouraged as well as themed horseback backpacking trips focusing on geology or archeology.
Big Bend National Park has so much to offer the adventurous visitor. Many free interpretive programs provided by park rangers can supplement the information you pick up along the way. The highlights of the park are its geology, archeology, paleontology, cultural significance, diversity of micro-climates and biodiversity. Big Bend National Park is also considered to have some of the darkest night skies thanks to the remoteness of the park and lack of light pollution. One might consider a trip to Big Bend National Park as a trip through time, exposing the earth's history up to 500 million years ago and also including the nostalgia of the wild wild west.