“Once relatively unknown, Big Bend National Park is now experiencing a major increase in visitation…”says the National Park website. It is particularly busy between from mid-January to mid-April.
We know how lucky we have been when we look back at places we saw before “a major increase.”
In late April 2001, we headed for Big Bend hoping to see it before the weather got too hot. Even then, we were placed on the waiting list for the twenty-five-spot commercial campground which just lined RVs up in the sun. But we did get a site.
The park was full of birders. It was migratory season, and birds were plentiful. Every time I looked through binoculars, I was surrounded by others wanting to know what I was seeing. Even had I been looking at a bird, I wouldn’t have known what it was.
We recognized turkey vultures overhead. Alie said it was a poor comment on her cooking. Others told us when we were looking at the Greater Roadrunner, a Vermilion Flycatcher, a Yellow Headed Blackbird and a Lark Bunting. Hundreds of species could be seen. We like looking at them, but those were more names than we really cared about.
The .75-mile Rio Grande Village trail had great views of the valley, a Mexican village and farm beyond. At dawn, I saw snakes and turtles, and when Alie and I went later, we saw two Mexican fishermen on a horse and mule. The border was porous then, and people came and went. I doubt you would see them today or the boys swimming in the river.
We walked the Window Trail (.3 miles) and back .7 miles on the Laguna Meadow Trail in the Chisos Basin. The elevation was slightly higher, and spring wildflowers were much more abundant than near the campground.
On another day, we took the River Road through the desert. Each turn in the road revealed a new scene. Much of the road had small stones with occasional large stones, and it was pitted like an old-time washboard. But some places were smooth clay or flat stone.
We drove through wide valleys and across mesas, down through narrow arroyos and wide ones and finally through hilly country with narrow valleys. We saw mountains in the distance and the cliffs of the Black Dike in Mexico just across the river. Although we saw thick trees in the distance, we didn’t see the river until we were almost at the end of the road. Flowers seemed to be concentrated in patches: here a patch of yucca, here some sunflowers and there cactus of one type or another Except for jackrabbits and birds, we didn’t see wildlife.
We stopped at the Mariscal Mine for a picnic. From 1900 to 1943, cinnabar was periodically mined there and processed into mercury. We walked up the hill to look at the furnace and condensers and had a great view of the valley we had been through. The road was 53 miles long, and the drive took us about six and a half hours including a little over an hour spent at the mine during which we did not see anyone else. We stopped for a break at Castolon. The store keeper, who had no other customers, told us he had come for a visit six years before and while on a early morning walk in the Chisos Basin had seen a panther make a kill. He got a job with the concession and stayed.
The following day, we stopped at the Panther Junction Visitors’ Center and walked around their desert garden. Then we took the road to Study Butte and Terlingua. The old Terlingua Ghost Town cemetery was still in use by an obviously poor people and was interesting. Then we took the Maverick gravel road down to Santa Elena Canyon stopping on the way to see Terlingua Abaja, a ghost farming community near the Rio Grande that supplied the miners in the twenties and thirties. The Santa Elena trail was too hot and precipitous for Alie, but after a stop in Castolon, we walked back the Burro Mesa Pouroff trail. The pour-off is a big chute cut in hard lava in the rainy season. Some very large rocks were embedded close together in sandstone in places along the trail. After dark, I saw javelinas, a form of wild pig, in the campground.
Alie was not well the next day, so I hiked the Lost Mine Trail but hurried so probably did not get as much out of it as I might have. In the evening, the javelinas were out in force while it was still daylight. We also saw a coyote and a nice sunset.
On our last day, Alie stayed in the cool trailer while I went down into Boquillas Canyon. It is interesting that the river passes through a narrow canyon at each end of the park.
Click on photos to enlarge
P.S. Not everything was better in the “good old days.” To send email, I used a device called Pocketmail which I held up to the mouthpiece of a payphone. Smart phones were still ten years off in the future. But as mentioned above, much of the time we were the only tourists around. We are grateful for what we had; we are grateful for what we have.