Resting comfortably in Southwest Texas along the Rio Grande, Big Bend National Park provides a glimpse into America’s geological and evolutionary past. Mine shafts abandoned long ago and dilapidated dwellings whisper echoes of the taming of the Wild West. Just a quick perusal of the terrain, however, informs the viewer that the land was never fully tamed. The sparse vegetation, rugged rock formations, and ancient lava flows have left many at a loss for words ever since settlers and explorers first began delving into this part of the country. How then did this seemingly incongruous section of the United States become an integral part of the National Parks System?
The region itself has long been of interest to human beings, and evidence suggests that occupation began around 6,000 BC. Much of the human presence up to that point had simply been due to people passing through on their quest to find more welcoming land. The earliest occupants were hunter-gatherers who did little farming but lived off what the land provided naturally. The yucca, prickly pear, acacia beans, and lechuguilla provided nutrition and medicine for the earliest inhabitants. Indigenous rabbits, deer, and other wildlife also provided sustenance. Eventually, by the turn of the 13th Century, the La Junta had cultivated the land and begun farming. Spanish explorers searching for gold and silver found their way into the Big Bend territory in the 16th Century and made slaves of many of the Native Americans living there.
Already a contested region, clashes between the Apaches and Comanches forced the former into Big Bend in the 18th Century and the Spanish began to loosen their grip on the area. Homesteaders from the East complicated matters further, and the discovery of mercury in the nearby hills as well as an abundance of gold in California created a throughway that crossed Big Bend.
A military presence materialized to attempt to help maintain order and guard the border with Mexico. It was during the Mexican Revolution, during the early 1900’s, that soldiers along the Rio Grande began to tout the Big Bend as a beautiful area worthy of recognition. As word spread upon their return home and by way of newspapers the soldiers themselves published, tourism emerged in Big Bend in the 1920’s. But even this increase in visitation, praise from military men, and the region’s own storied history could not achieve national park status for this slice of the Chihuahuan Desert in southwest Texas.
Texas Canyons State Park had been established in 1933, and desperate to obtain the state’s first national park, an editorial ran in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram asking that one million Texas citizens donate one dollar to the aim of turning it into a national park. Other newspapers joined the effort and ran features publicizing Texas Canyons’ attractions. Governor Allred himself kick started the drive and the campaign began. Unfortunately, donations quickly curtailed and supporters of the drive became concerned.
All was not lost, however, and hope soon rose anew when land was added to Texas Canyons State Park after non-payment of taxes of the proprietary entities. In 1935, after much local campaigning and the acquisition of the additional land, Texas Canyons received a name change and on June 20, Franklin Delano Roosevelt authorized the creation of Big Bend National Park. President Roosevelt formally received the deed for the park’s nearly 700,000 acres on June 6, 1944. This ended up being secondary news and was relegated to the back pages of the papers due to the Allied Forces storming the beaches of Normandy during World War II. On June 12, President Roosevelt signed the Congressional Act that officially established Big Bend National Park.
Texas finally had a national park over 70 years after the establishment of Yellowstone, the country’s first. Though several other national parks receive more visitors, the landscape of Big Bend National Park is beyond compare. Hardened lava flows, remnants of mining camps, and cultural keepsakes hearken back to a time when nature ran unchecked and humanity was still finding its way. Big Bend’s harsh conditions should not be shunned by the public, they should be embraced and explored. Big Bend National Park is more than simply a piece of the country designated as a park and preserve. It is a window into America’s history and beyond.
There are some views you just can't take in all at once. Like a dazzling sunset or breathtaking field of wildflowers—you just can't appreciate such beauty in the moment, a moment that is often over before you realize it, the forms and colors of that marvelous vista already fading in your memory. Perhaps it was with the goal of preserving such scenes that the first camera was invented, a goal that you may still share when you visit a place as beautiful as Big Bend and the surrounding area. Why not take a look through our new and improved photo galleries to see what amazing sights have been preserved by astounded visitors and appreciative locals? When you see the mountains, plains, flora, and fauna displayed in those images, you'll be glad the gallery contributors took their camera along.
Among the many activities available in Big Bend National Park that highlight the region's diversity of wildlife, birding can be enjoyable and promising. Big Bend engulfs a vast area, bounded by the the rushing Rio Grande valley to the south, containing high peaks in the Chisos Mountains, and boasting both desert and forest climates between the two. It embodies the very diversity that makes America great, providing countless opportunities to spot more than 450 birds in one area.
What are your new year's resolutions for 2012? Did you keep your resolutions for 2011? While the top resolutions each year include losing weight, learning something new, traveling, or getting out of debt, here's a new challenge you can take on this year: spot all the bird species in Big Bend National Park.
Big Bend has some of the most spectacular scenery in Texas, if not the entire US. Our big sky country rivals any other state and our night skies are as dark as anywhere for excellent star gazing. The beautiful light and great scenery make for a photographer’s paradise.
There are many things you may love to do in Big Bend National Park in the heat of summer, but running or jogging is probably not one of them. With 90+ degree temperatures, there simply is no such thing as a nice July run in West Texas. With the dry weather we've had this year, you have truly hostile workout conditions. That all changes this time of year, though, as temperatures drop and the sun gives us a break for a few months. What a great time to get out on some trails in Big Bend!