- Big Bend National Park
Infobox_protected_area | name = Big Bend National Park
iucn_category = II
locator_x = 103
locator_y = 150
Brewster County, Texas, USA
nearest_city = Alpine
lat_degrees = 29
lat_minutes = 15
lat_seconds = 0
lat_direction = N
long_degrees = 103
long_minutes = 15
long_seconds = 0
long_direction = W
area = convert|801163|acre
June 12, 1944
visitation_num = 364,856
visitation_year = 2007
National Park Service
Big Bend National Park is a
national parklocated in the U.S. state of Texas. For more than 1,000 miles (1600 km), the Rio Grande / Río Bravo forms the international boundary between Mexicoand the United States, and Big Bend National Park administers approximately convert|244|mi along that boundary.
Big Bend National Park has national significance as the largest protected area of
Chihuahuan Desert topographyand ecologyin the United States. The park covers convert|1251.8|sqmi. Few areas exceed the park's value for the protection and study of geologic and paleontologic resources. Cretaceousand Tertiary fossilorganisms exist in variety and abundance. Archeologists have discovered artifacts estimated to be 9,000 years old, and historic buildings and landscapes offer graphic illustration of life along the international border in the 1800s.
Because the Rio Grande serves as an international boundary, the park faces unusual constraints when administering and enforcing park rules, regulations, and policies. In accordance with the
Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the park has jurisdiction only to the center of the deepest river channel as the river flowed in 1848. The rest of the land south of that channel, and the river, lies within Mexican territory.
Geography and climate
The park exhibits dramatic contrasts; its climate may be characterized as one of extremes. Dry and hot late spring and summer days often exceed convert|100|F in the lower elevations. Winters are normally mild throughout the park, but sub-freezing temperatures occasionally occur. Because of the range in altitude from approximately convert|1800|ft along the river to convert|7800|ft in the Chisos Mountains, a wide variation in available moisture and in temperature exists throughout the park. These variations contribute to an exceptional diversity in plant and animal habitats. Some species in the park, such as the
Chisos Oak, are found nowhere else in the United States. The highest point in the Chisos Mountains is Emory Peak(elevation convert|7832|ft|disp=/).
The convert|118|mi of river that form the southern park boundary include the spectacular canyons of Santa Elena, Mariscal, and Boquillas. The Rio Grande, meandering through this portion of the
Chihuahuan Desert, has cut deep canyons with nearly vertical walls through three uplifts comprised primarily of limestone. Throughout the open desertareas, the highly productive Rio Grande riparianzone includes numerous plant and animal species and significant cultural resources. The vegetative belt extends into the desert along creeks and arroyos.
South of the border lie the Mexican states of
Chihuahuaand Coahuilaand the new protected areas for flora and fauna, which are regions known as the Maderas del Carmen and the Cañón de Santa Elena.
Cultural resources in the park range from the Paleo-Indian period 10,500 years ago through the historic period represented by Native American groups, such as the Chisos,
Mescaleros, and Comanche. More recently, Spanish, Mexican, Anglo and Irish settlers farmed, ranched, and mined in the area.
Throughout the prehistoric period, humans found shelter and maintained open campsites throughout the park. The archeological record reveals an Archaic-period desert culture, whose inhabitants developed a nomadic hunting and gathering lifestyle that remained virtually unchanged for several thousand years.
The historic cultural landscape centers upon various subsistence or commercial land uses. The riparian and tributary environments were used for subsistence and irrigation farming. Transportation networks, irrigation structures, simple domestic residences and outbuildings, and planed and terraced farm land lining the stream banks characterize these landscapes.
During the early historic period (pre-1535) several Indian groups were recorded as inhabiting the Big Bend. The Chisos Indians were a loosely organized group of nomadic hunters and gatherers who probably practiced limited agriculture on a seasonal basis. The origin of the Chisos Indians is not known. Linguistically, they were associated with the Conchos Indians of northern Chihuahua and northwestern Coahuila. Their language group spoke a variation of
Uto-Aztecan, a language whose speakers ranged from central Mexico to the Great Basinof the U.S.
Jumanowas a nomadic group that travelled and traded throughout west Texas and southeastern New Mexico, but some historic records indicate that they were enemies of the Chisos. Around the beginning of the 18th century, the Mescalero Apaches began to invade the Big Bend region and displaced the Chisos Indians. One of the last Native American groups to use the Big Bend was the Comanches, who passed through the park along the Great Comanche Trail on their way to and from periodic raids into the Mexican interior. These raids continued until the mid 19th century. The last of the great military leaders of the native peoples of the region was an Apache of Spanish ancestry named Alzate, who was active as late as the late 1860s.
The European presence in the region begins circa 1535 A.D. with the first Spanish explorations into this portion of North America. The expedition of
Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vacapassed near the Big Bend and was followed by other expeditions. Some of these expeditions were searching for gold and silver, and farm and ranch land. Others, such as those by the Franciscan missionaries, were intended to establish centers in which the natives could be evangelized. In an attempt to protect the northern frontier of the New Spain, from which emerged present day Mexico, a line of "presidios", or forts, was established along the Rio Grande in the late 1700s. The Presidio de San Vicente was built near present-day San Vicente, Coahuila, and the Presidio de San Carlos was built near present-day Manuel Benavides, Chihuahua. Some of these presidios were soon abandoned, because of financial difficulties and because they could not effectively stop Indian intrusions into Mexico. The soldiers and settlers of these presidios moved to other, newer, presidios in the vicinity of the region, from where the interests of the Spanish Empirewere more defensible. Such was the case of Santa Rosa Maria del Sacramento, now Muzquiz, Coahuila.Very little study has been made of the Spanish occupation of the Big Bend following the abandonment of the Presidios. In 1805, the Spanish settlement called Altares existed convert|30|mi south of the Rio Grande. The region became a part of Mexico when this republic consummated its independence from Spain in 1821. Mexican families lived in the area when Anglo settlers began moving in following the secession of Texas during the latter half of the 19th century.
Mexican-American War, which ended in 1848, military surveys were made of the uncharted land of the Big Bend. Military forts and outposts were established across Trans Pecos Texas to protect migrating settlers from the Indians. A significant proportion of these soldiers were of African Americanancestry and came to be known as the " buffalo soldiers," a name apparently given to them by the Native Americans of the region. Lieutenant Henry Flipper, the first American of African ancestry to graduate from West Point, served in Shafter, Texas toward the late 19th century. Shafter is just west of the Big Bend along the highway that goes from Presidio to Marfa. Around 1880, ranchers began to migrate into the Big Bend, and by 1900, sheep, goat, and cattleranches occupied a majority of the landscape. The delicate desert environment, however, was soon overgrazed.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, the discovery of valuable
mineraldeposits brought more settlers who worked in the mines or supported the mines by farming or by cutting timberfor use in the mines and smelters. Communities sprang up around the mines; development of Boquillas and Terlingua directly resulted from mining operations. During this period, the Rio Grande flood plain was settled by farmers. Settlements developed with names like Terlingua Abajo, San Vicente, La Coyota and Castolon. These were often no more than clusters of families living and farming in the same area, and they were successful only to the degree that the land was able to support them.
In the 1930s, many people who loved the Big Bend country saw that it was a land of unique contrast and beauty that was worth preserving for future generations. In 1933, the
Texas Legislaturepassed legislation to establish Texas Canyons State Park. Later that year, the park was redesignated Big Bend State Park. In 1935, the United States Congresspassed legislation that would enable the acquisition of the land for a national park. The State of Texas deeded the land that it had acquired to the Federal government of the United States, and on June 12, 1944, Big Bend National Park became a reality. The park opened to visitors on July 1, 1944.
Flora and fauna
Given its harsh environment, Big Bend has an amazing variety and number of plant and animal species. It has more than 1200 species of plants (including 60 different cacti species), more than 600 animal species, and about 3600 insect species. The diversity of life is largely due to the diverse ecology and changes in elevation, ranging from the dry, hot desert to the cool mountains to the fertile river valley.
Most of the animals are not visible in the day, particularly in the desert. The park comes alive at night, with many of the animals foraging for food. About 150
mountain lionsightings are reported per year, despite the fact that there are only a total of two dozen mountain lions [cite web
last = Uhler
first = John William
title = Big Bend National Park Hiking Guide
publisher = Hillclimb Media
url = http://www.big.bend.national-park.com/hike.htm
accessdate = 2008-07-22] . Other species that inhabit the park include
jackrabbit, kangaroo rat, roadrunner, Golden Eagle, and coyote. Black bears are also present in the mountain areas.
The variety of cactus and other plant life add color to the Big Bend region. Cactus species in the park include
prickly pear, claret cupand pitaya. In the spring, the wildflowers are in full bloom and the yuccaflowers display bright colors. Bluebonnetsare prevalent in Big Bend, and white and pink bluebonnets are sometimes visible by the road. Other flowering plants such as the desert marigold, desert willow, ocotillo, rock nettle and lechuguillaabound in Big Bend.
The first U.S. record of the
Tufted Flycatcher, a Central American species, was from this site in November 1991. Birders also flock to the park as it is home to the only area in the United States within the breeding range of the Colima Warbler.
Big Bend is one of the largest, most remote, and least-visited national parks in the lower 48 United States [ [http://encarta.msn.com/encnet/Features/Lists/?article=LessTraveledNationalParks Encarta] ] . In recent years only 300,000-350,000 visitors have entered the park annually compared to 9-11 million for
Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Big Bend's primary attraction is its
hikingand backpacking trails. Particularly notable among these are the Chimneys Trail, which visits a rock formation in the desert, the Marufo Vega trail, a loop trail that passes through scenic canyons on the way to and from the Rio Grande, and the Outer Mountain Loop trail in the Chisos, which begins in the Chisos Basin, climbs into the high mountains, descends into the desert along the Dodson Trail, and then returns to the Chisos Basin, completing a thirty mile loop. Other notable locations include Santa Elena Canyon and the Mule Ears, two imposing rock towers in the middle of the desert.
The park administers 245 miles of the Rio Grande for recreational use. There are professional river
outfitters that provide tours of the river. Use of a personal boat is permitted but a free river float permit is required. Until 2002 visitors often crossed the Rio Grande to visit the Mexican village of Boquillas, but the Department of Homeland Security has now closed the border crossing.
Another popular activity is
birdwatchingwith more than 450 species of birds recorded in the park. Many species stop in the park during their migrations.
There are five paved roads in Big Bend. Persimmon Gap to Panther Junction is a convert|28|mi|adj=on road from the north entrance of the park to park headquarters at Panther Junction. Panther Junction to Rio Grande Village is a convert|21|mi|adj=on road that descends convert|2000|ft from the park headquarters at Panther Junction to the Rio Grande River. Maverick Entrance Station to Panther Junction is a convert|23|mi|adj=on route from the western entrance of the park to the park headquarters. Chisos Basin Road is 6 miles (10 km) long and climbs to convert|5679|ft above sea level at Panther Pass before descending into the Chisos Basin. The thirty-mile (48 km) Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive leads to the Castolon Historic District and Santa Elena Canyon.
*Gómez, Arthur R. (1990) A Most Singular Country: A History of Occupation in the Big Bend. Charles Redd Center for Western Studies; Brigham Young University.
*Jameson, John R. (1996) The Story of Big Bend National Park. University of Texas Press.
*Maxwell, Ross A. (1968) The Big Bend of the Rio Grande: A Guide to the Rocks, Landscape, Geologic History, and Settlers of the Area of Big Bend National Park. Bureau of Economic Geology; University of Texas.
Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River
List of areas in the National Park System of the United States
* [http://www.nps.gov/bibe/home.htm Big Bend National Park website]
* [http://www.desertusa.com/who/PDF/BIBEmap1.pdf Big Bend National Park map (568 KB PDF file)]
* [http://www.americansouthwest.net/texas/big_bend/national_park.html Extensive travel information at American Southwest]
* [http://encarta.msn.com/encnet/Features/Lists/?article=LessTraveledNationalParks 10 Less-Traveled National Parks]
* [http://www.nps.gov/history/nr/travel/tx/ South and West Texas, a National Park Service "Discover Our Shared Heritage" Travel Itinerary]
* [http://www.hikejournal.com/Story/390 Hike Journal] of trip into the Chicos Mountains includes pictures
* [http://www.nps.gov/history/NR/twhp/wwwlps/lessons/17castolon/17castolon.htm Castolon: A Meeting Place of Two Cultures,a National Park Service Teaching with Historic Places (TwHP) lesson plan]
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