"Where is the Big Bend?", a traveler once asked of a Mexican vaquero. Pondering the question the old man responded:

"You go south from Fort Davis where the rainbow waits for the rain, where the river is kept in a stone box, and the water runs up hill, and the mountains tower into the sky..."

A place like the Big Bend has always existed in our dreams, or at the edge of our consciousness, or in legends such as El Dorado. Not so much as a tangible place but perhaps more as an avatar of the old west. Yet it does exist and can be found at the confluence of the Rio Grande and the Conchos rivers in the extreme southwestern corner of Texas. The Rio Grande, as it flows down from its headwaters in the Colorado Rockies on its way to the Gulf of Mexico, carves a great arc through some of the most spectacular and isolated wilderness remaining in North America. A wilderness filled with vast canyons, high desert and jagged mountains. These natural wonders are just part of what makes the Big Bend such a special place to visit, it is also a haunted land filled with accumulated stories and legends that stretch back over the centuries. Centuries that have seen the arrival of the first Americans over 10,000 years ago, the rise and fall of empires, the establishment of great cattle ranches and finally the return to wilderness. To the Spanish it was the heart of "El Despoblado", the uninhabited land, to the Chisos Apaches it was the center of the world.

In 1933 legislation was introduced in the Texas State Legislature to create a Texas Canyons State Park, later the name would be changed to the Big Bend State Park with the addition of the Chisos Mountains region. Two years afterwards, the United States Congress would pass legislation creating the Big Bend National Park which was officially established on the 12th of June, 1944. In recognition of its unique qualities, the Big Bend National Park was designated an International Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations in 1976. Today, the Big Bend is the 6th largest in the national park system but is among the least visited attracting fewer than 341,000 visitors per year. The big Bend National Park has been augmented in recent years by the creation of the Big Bend Ranch State Park and The Chinati Mountains State Natural Area. Together these three public parks, constituting over a million acres, will help preserve the beauty and untamed character of this "last frontier" in Texas for generations of Americans yet unborn.

Indian legends hold that after the Great Spirit finished the creation of the world he took all the rocks, trees, plants and animals that remained and dumped them in the Big Bend. It is an easy legend to believe once you have had the opportunity to see the jumbled landscapes, as well as the unusual animals and plants that shape so much of this area. The Big Bend is a study in contrasts, on one hand it has some of the most severe desert conditions to be be found in North America, on the other hand, only a few miles away, you can find perhaps the wettest desert environment in the world in the heart of the Chisos Mountains. This contrast is evident in pictures that show delicate maidenhair ferns growing along side of cactus of every variety. The human impact on this forbidding country has been brief but at times devastating. Jim Bones in his book, "Texas West of the Pecos" said it most eloquently:

"Human history gathered here like a seasonal storm, raged for a moment, then largely dissappeared, leaving only a trace of impoverished soil."

Perhaps the age of exploitation of this fragile environment is coming to a close and a new age of stewardship and preservation has begun. The Big Bend National Park and its sister parks in the area are a giant step in that direction. This is not an easy land to get to know, but it richly rewards any efforts put forth into understanding it. And it only takes one trip to the south rim of the Chisos Mountains with its beautiful views and overpowering silence or a star filled night haunted by the mournful cry of the coyote for this country to begin to work its way into your heart. Visit the Big Bend and experience it for yourself.

Casa Grande
The Window
Eastern view of the Chisos Mountains
Strawberry Hedgehog cactus
View of the Sierra Del Carmen from Rio Grande Village

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