SocraticGadfly: Celebrating 75 years of Big Bend National Park

June 12, 2019

Celebrating 75 years of Big Bend National Park

Yes, Big Bend National Park officially achieved that federal status 75 years ago today. Texas Monthly released a special issue earlier this year; here is a selection from it.

Unfortunately, work changes and other things have interrupted what was, last decade, a string of enough visits, usually around Thanksgiving, to make me a "regular."

Mainly through photos, and just a few links, like that dead century plant silhouetted at sunset. I hope to show you why I was a regular. That included a couple of visits to the neighboring Big Bend Ranch State Park, to Terlingua, to Marfa, to Judge Roy Bean history and other spots in the area. And, driving from a place like the Metroplex, I also stopped a couple of times at San Angelo on the way back, when taking back roads. Fort Concho is always worth a visit there. But I digress.

Let's start here with this link of some of the best hikes, and this link with more easy and moderate hikes. The official National Park Service main map will give you more ideas of what's available.

Lost Mine Trail is a moderate difficulty trail with easy access on the way in to the Chisos Basin. It ends with a great overview of the east side of the Chisos Mountains and a canyon besides them, and even into Mexico.

This is a moderate-level hike. For people coming out from sea level, the challenge is increased by the altitude. You're at over 5,000 feet. Pace yourself. And, you're in mountains in a desert area, so dry air along with thinner air. Have some water on your hike.

Also note that I've seen a bear here once. So have many other visitors to the park. Runoff creeks from the Chisos are naturally good areas for shrubs and bushes with heavy fruit production as well as wildlife besides bears when they want meat.

At the top of the trail, you're essentially above the top of the "box" of the box canyon of Ponderosa Canyon. That's one of the few places in Big Bend you can see ponderosas. The trailhead is at the end of a rocky unpaved road that can be taken by 2WD cars, but at no more than 15 mph. If you don't mind the slow drive, it's a great hike.

Next? The Chisos Rim trail.

First, what I said about altitude and dryness apply here. You'll be over 6,000 feet once you get very far up the trail. But the views are more than worth it, especially when you work around more to the south.

That's seeing not just all the way into Mexico, but well, well into Mexico. As part of international cooperation that Trump doesn't get, that's national park land over there, too.

Emory Peak isn't the Rockies, but it does climb to over 7,800 feet. The trail to the peak itself is a spur off the rim trail.

It's a scramble, and literally. It's handhold climbing to the top of the peak itself, as shown at right.

Even if you don't go to the peak, the Rim trail, as shown by the view above, is still worth a hike for sure.

You climb from junipers into pines. You'll find piñons and other species here. Often, they'll have fresh sap, which smells so aromatic, especially in fall and winter, and will unplug any stuffed nose.

Besides the pines and mountain grasses, you may see many other things.

Like a century plant just about ready to bloom.

The trail is several miles, so, again, if you're not used to altitude, allow yourself plenty of time to climb.

Bears may be here on occasion. Ditto on mountain lions, though Grapevine Springs is the most common location in the park, it seems. (Unfortunately, I've never seen one.)

But, the flora is great even without the fauna.

Santa Elena Canyon can be beautiful near sunset. The sunset views take in both Texas and Mexico. The Rio Grande also reflects, in its width or lack thereof, both issues of climate change and seasonal drought within that.

The Windows Trail is fairly rugged, but the Oak Creek Canyon pouroff at end is a great view, also good near sunset.

The South Rim? Get up into the Chisos. Climb Emory Peak if you're game for a scramble near the end.

A nice early morning hike is the Lower Burro Mesa trail.

The inverse? The Upper Burro Mesa Pouroff trail can be nice in late afternoon. When you come back out, you can turn around and enjoy the sunset, as pictured.

The Chihuahuan Desert isn't as pretty at times, to some eyes, as the Sonoran or Mojave deserts, perhaps. But, it has its own sense of beauty, as reflected in pictures like this.

And, in a spot like here, a lesser-hiked trail, the existentialism of the park is good, too. You're alone.

Boquillas Canyon? I was fortunate enough to make the crossing to Boquillas, Mexico, before the park originally shut it down. It's open again, but not every day, and it's under human monitoring.

Mule Ears? Get up close to two volcanic plugs.

The whole old Ore Road area, whether you get to Ernst Tinaja or not, is great.

And, while Thanksgiving is my favorite time of year, spring is great, too. Yucca and wildflowers will both be in bloom by early April. That said, it can already heat up then: When I was once out there in mid-April, Presidio hit 100 my last day in the Big Bend Country.

Remember that it can also push 100 in late October. Have adequate amounts of water. If you're not used to altitude, pace yourself if you're hiking even at the lower portions of the Chisos Mountains themselves, near the Basin visitor center and hotel area.

Beyond the black bears, there's plenty of other wildlife in the area.

Grapevine Hills is the top spot for mountain lion, though, sadly, I have never seen one there.

Almost any place of high human traffic, especially at lower elevation, will have javelinas. Protect your food supplies from them as thoroughly as from black bear.

Rattlers of various species live in this country, as do scorpions. If you're camped out, always check your shoes or boots at the start of a new day.

Besides the poisonous ones, you'll find interesting fun critters like the lubber at left. (They're cousins of grasshoppers.)

And, if you're there in fall, not spring? Cottonwoods will be yellowing on stream beds, with bigtooth maples and sumac turning orange in the mountains.

Besides moves and other things causing some interruptions, I don't hike in general as much as I did years ago. My first 20-plus mile hike (dayhike, not backpack!) was in Big Bend. I did a few others since then. I've hiked at least a little bit in just about every section of the park other than the river except where non-4WDs can get to. As Ed Abbey found out about 70 years ago, you don't take a car on interior roads at Big Bend if the map tells you that you shouldn't. Not that that would have stopped Cactus Ed anyway.

Finally, a bit of a sad note. The Park Service itself, and third-party charities, talk about undervisited parks. Yet, as of noon, neither the National Park Foundation nor the National Parks Conservation Association had anything on Twitter. (The foundation eventually retweeted an Interior tweet, but nothing on its own.) The Sierra Club had something; the Lone Star Chapter for Texas didn't. Center for Biological Diversity didn't — and with its mix of montane, desert and riparian environments, including things like relict populations of bigtooth maples and many songbirds, it is an area of biological diversity. THe first two are the biggies, though, as they're specifically in support of national parks.


And, going by matters of "focus" on some Twitter accounts I checked, that's it ... it's a matter of focus. It's like someone said several years ago about the ACLU; it had moved from being a civil liberties org into being more of a general liberal activist group.

That's why #GangGreen enviros — or, in the case of the NPF, corporate capitalist bagmen who neoliberalized the centennial of the National Park Service with the shambolic help of Dear Leader — don't get my money.

1 comment:

Charles Turner said...

Thank you. I have always wanted to go there myself.