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Big Bend National Park in Texas offers a range of surprises, and many plants and animal end – or begin – their native ranges here, ranges that extend in all directions transgressing into different ecological worlds. Anyone of the three assortments of habitats here – desert, river, and mountains – could easily justify the trip to one of the nations most remote national parks.
Bound by the Santiago Mountains on the north and the Rio Grande River and Mexico on the southern side, portions of the northern Chihuahua Desert lie within the park’s 800,000 acres of territory. The jagged peaks of the Chisos Mountains cut across the heart of Big Bend territory and are where much of the attractions lie, but honestly, there’s tremendous appeal all throughout the park.
The Vibrant History of Big Bend National Park
Artifacts including Tertiary and Cretaceous fossil organisms have been discovered within Big Bend dating back 10,500 years, and the park is highly valued for its archaeological and paleontological resources. The earliest evidence of human inhabitants indicates that many Native American groups once roamed and hunted these lands including the Chisos, Jumano, Mescalero, and the Comanche.
The Chisos were nomadic hunter-gatherers who came here seasonally to enjoy the large bison, cattle, and other land mammals of the era. The last natives in Big Bend were the Comanche, who began frequently encountering Spanish people crossing the Rio Grande in the 16th and 17th centuries. These Spaniards were in search of fertile lands in the valleys and riches in areas such as what is known today as Mariscal Mine. The Comanche fought back by running periodic raids into the Mexican territories until the mid-19th century, and the path they took is now a popular park attraction aptly called the Great Comanche Trail.
Today, driving this trail allows visitors to stop by old La Harmonia Store in Castalon, where locals procure goods like they have for nearly a century there. Castalon is also home to the oldest known adobe structure in the nation, and the Great Comanche Trail is a must-do visitor excursion.
The establishment of Big Bend National Park was a heroic achievement finally realized in 1944 – but getting there was destined to take quite awhile because Texas had previously been a republic; hence lacking federal land to set aside no matter how deserving. First established as Texas Canyons State Park in 1933, it was re-designated as Big Bend State Park later that same year. In 1935, the US Congress crafted legislation permitting the formal acquisition of these lands, but it still took another decade to have Big Bend National Park become a reality in 1944.
The Geography, Climate, and Wildlife of Big Bend
Dramatic contrasts in climates exist at Big Bend due to its various ecological regions and the climates, which can range from 1800 feet along the Rio Grande River up to the Emory Peak’s 7832-foot summit. In general, late spring and summer days can range from mild to downright steamy at over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and winters can range from mild to sub-freezing in high altitudes. However, most park activities and roads are accessible year round.
With more than 20 distinct plant communities and more than 1200 species of flora in Big Bend, there’s a surprise around every corner. There are at least 70 varieties of cactus, more than in any other park, and the river and mountainous regions flourish with wildflowers in the springtime. There are almost as many reptilian species here than in the Everglades, and birding enthusiasts flock to Big Bend to spot more than 450 bird species amid the various landscapes.
Activities at Big Bend National Park – Stargazing, Bird Watching, & Scenic Drives
Stargazing – Designated an “International Dark Sky Park,” Big Bend National Park activities include world-class stargazing, particularly from near the Historic Hot Springs District near the Rio Grande Village. Clear nights and no city lights make Big Bend arguably the best national park for stargazing.
Southern Park Canyons & River Activities – Keep in mind, that floating and river rafting down the Rio Grand now requires a passport because of the shared international border with Mexico, so arrive prepared. With 118 miles of river to traverse, river trekkers are also rewarded with amazing views of Santa Elena Canyon, Mariscal Canyon, and Boquillas Canyon.
Bird Watching – Numerous species spend time at the park during their migrations, and the season is always ideal to catch several unique and endangered bird species stopping by Big Bend.
Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive – This 30-mile scenic route leads visitors to the Castolon Historic District where views of Santa Elena Canyon await.
Hiking Trails in Big Bend– River Hikes, Mountain Hikes, & Desert Hikes
Without hesitation, hiking in Big Bend National Park is unsurpassed as it boasts the most expansive area of roadless public lands in the Lone Star State. Over 150 miles of pristine backwoods and groomed trails provide backpackers and hikers with endless options regardless of the season. The biggest challenge for travelers may be deciding whether to hike the mountains, river, or the desert.
Whatever endeavor sightseers choose, there will be outfitters, guides, and a Visitor Center Nearby. Fortunately, there are five paved roads to get travelers where they need to be. Persimmons Gap to Panther Junctions begins at the northern park, and The Panther Junction to Rio Grande Village stretch descends nearly 2000 feet down to the Rio Grande. The Maverick Entrance Station leads to Panther Junction and begins at the western entrance of Big Bend. The Chisos Basin Road climbs up to Panther Pass and then delves into the Chisos Basin. All roads led to hiking paradise and options for mountain hikes, desert hikes, and river hiking trails in Big Bend National Park.
Big Bend National Park Lodges
Lodging in Big Bend National park is limited to the Chisos Mountain Lodge. The only lodge in Big Bend, this comfortable lodge rests at the base of the Chisos Mountain range. Those seeking lodging near Big Bend National park on the southern reaches will relish in the luxurious, yet pet-friendly, Lajitas Golf Resort & Spa cradling the Mexican border and the Rio Grande. Another fine lodging in Big Bend National Park on the south side to consider is the lovely Ten Bits Ranch, which sits high within the Chihuahuan Desert and offers memorable views of the region.
Big Bend Resort and Adventures offers two motel-style accommodations and ample opportunities for park adventures on the western side of Big Bend. Those looking for Big Bend National Park lodges to the north can enjoy a western experience at the historic Gage Hotel in Marathon, about 90 minutes north of Big Bend.
Big Bend Resort & Adventures is loc...
As the only available lodging facility w...
Few other historic hotels offer a more u...
Lajitas Golf Resort - perfectly situated...
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