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Big Bend National Park - Texas   by Rick Chapo

Big Bend National Park is a land of borders. Situated on the boundary with Mexico along the Rio Grande, it is a place where countries and cultures meet. It is also a place that merges natural environments, from desert to mountains. It is a place where south meets north and east meets west, creating a great diversity of plants and animals. The park covers more than 801,000 acres of west Texas where the Rio Grande makes a sharp turn - the Big Bend.

Once called "a carpet of interacting plants and animals deftly woven on a geologic loom," the description conjures up images of looming mountains and stark desert landscapes with a ribbon of water slicing through it all. Indeed, this characterizes the Big Bend and its surrounding area. The Park is a diverse natural area of river, desert and mountains, as well as a land of extremes - hot and cold, wet and dry, high and low. To wander the shimmering desert flats, to ascend the rimrocks of the desert mountains, to float the canyons of the Rio Grande, to be "on the border," is to experience sights and sounds and solitude unmatched elsewhere.

It's been said that if the Chisos Mountains are the heart of Big Bend. If that is so, then the desert floor is its soul. Ninety-eight percent of the park is desert, and like the mountains, the desert is a land of contrasts-a place where you can touch 400-million-year-old rocks with one hand, and a day-old flower with the other, where extremes of temperatures of 50 degrees or more between dawn and mid-day are not uncommon.

Big Bend's desert landscape is a study in contrasts - mesas, mountains, and dikes formed by volcanic activity 100 - 200 million years ago when shallow seas covered the area. Dry most of the year, the Park is subject to violent flash flooding during summer rains. Water is truly the "architect" of the desert, as its presence or absence determines the way the desert looks and the way humans have been able to use it through time.

Lest you feel a pang of pity for the roadrunners, coyotes, or javelinas you may encounter living in this harsh land, don't - the adaptations that allow these creatures to live here are no less than amazing, and, in fact, even allow them to thrive. Instead, think of the land not as burdened by its lack (or in some months, abundance) of water, but rather as blessed. It is this cycle of wet and dry that creates spectacular displays of bluebonnets, yucca blossoms, and other spectacular wildflowers.

The one location you can count on seeing water in Big Bend is along the Rio Grande - a linear oasis that's been called the "lifeblood" of Big Bend. To drift through the majestic canyons of the Rio Grande, with your oars touching two countries at the same time, is to span time and space.

Although the river, as the boundary between the United States and Mexico, looks like a solid line on the maps of the area, it is always changing. On a trip down the river, you're eyes will be opened to a panorama of towering cliffs, brilliant bird life, and grassy beaches. You may see both the expected and the unexpected - the black phoebe, Big Bend slider, swallows darting into their mud-nest "apartments," or a Peregrine falcon hunting for prey. At night, the sky is a majestic painting of awe.

A visit to Big Bend is an opportunity to escape to isolation seldom found in daily life. Big Bend has been described as harsh, isolated, lonely, parched, and desolate. But for some people, in the remoteness and isolation, lies the fascination of the Chihuahuan desert.

From the earliest days of human occupation, people have recognized the value of this rugged land that the Spanish called "El Despoblado." As a result, the people and the land have had a long partnership in Big Bend National Park.

About the Author

Rick Chapo is with Nomad Journals - makers of outdoor writing journals. Visit to read more.

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