“The Big Bend country is an ‘oversized pocket of imponderables,’ wherein several of our Eastern states could rattle around like marbles. Yet, this small section of Texas covers only two of her 254 counties. Shaped something like a pocket, the Big Bend is that multi-million-acre piece of Texas which juts down into the Mexican states of Chihuahua and Coahuila. It is the Rio Grande’s gift to Texas, for it was the river, excavating on its circuitous course, that gave Texas its Big Bend country.” — Virginia Madsen, Big Bend Country of Texas
“Big Bend National Park is the long view — stark, lonely, and soul saving.” — Terry Tempest Williams, The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks
We met up with my brother and sister-in-law, both wildlife biologists and birders, in Big Bend National Park. We spent four days together, camping under the majestic presence of Casa Grande peak. For all four of us, this was our first trip to this remote national park. It gets fewer than 400,000 visitors per year.
Big Bend is situated along the Rio Grande River and shares a 118-mile border with Mexico. The Chihuahua Desert covers part of the park.
“There’s no denying that compared to many other kinds of environments, deserts are landscapes of exposures and extremes: heat and cold; wind, space, and bare rock; rain that vanishes long before it reaches the ground and canyon-carving flash floods; starlight bright enough to read by and blinding sunlight; nuclear bomb tests and spiritual quests; proximity to divinity and a version of hell.” — Sue Ellen Campbell, The Face of the Earth
However, parts of Big Bend NP are mountainous, reaching elevations of over 7,000 feet. “In the American West and northern Mexico, some mountain ranges rise more than seven thousand feet above the surrounding desert, creating ‘sky islands,’ isolated landscapes of much wetter and cooler climate surrounded by a sea of desert.” — Sue Ellen Campbell, The Face of the Earth
Our campground in the Chisos Basin was at this higher elevation, and temperatures were quite comfortable. “From the desert pavement of evenly spaced creosote and mats of prickly pear and ocotillo, and the broad dagger yuccas and sotol, the Chisos Mountains bring geographic relief — shade from piñon and juniper forests and pockets of yellow pine.” — Terry Tempest Williams, The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks
White-winged doves were the roosters of our campground, announcing the dawning day with their repetitive coos. (My sister-in-law believes they are saying, “Too hot for youuuu; too hot for youuuu!”)
“The Chisos are a force in progress, changing hourly in shadow and light.” — Terry Tempest Williams, The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks
The sunrises were generally a gradual arrival, with soft pink and lavender skies. The day was already well on its way to light when the sun finally rose over the Casa Grande peak on the horizon of our campground. The sunsets, in contrast, were brilliantly colored.
“[Big Bend] is a brilliant land, flaming and impudent in its wildness and freedom. The sun sets in a burst of color, which fades to return briefly in an afterglow, as if the sun had laid a fluorescent mantle over the land. That, too, is drawn away, revealing twilight.” — Virginia Madsen, Big Bend Country of Texas
Big Bend is a certified International Dark Sky Park, and after dark it is a remarkable place for star-gazing. We saw the Milky Way!
“It would not have been preposterous for one to tip-toe and essay to touch the stars, they hung so bright and eminent.” — O. Henry, “The Missing Chord,” from Heart of the West