Overview of Big Bend National Park

January 25, 2007 -- Marathon, TX

Hi everyone. I'm back at the PC and pecking away to catch up on the Sabbatical Blog. I'm learning to not like these big breaks in the blog... it's been something like 5 days since my last post. It's far easier to do 5 small daily post than to organize and write one that tries to span 5 days. But the past few days I've had little time to write and I'll just get you all caught up with our goings-on.

This past Monday morning, after talking with some people at breakfast here at Marathon Motel and RV Park, we made the command decision to leave the camper here, right where it sits in Marathon, and "commute" down into the park for our visits. We had planned to move the camper down to the park but we heard places to camp are limited in the park and a couple other nearby options aren't ideal for a number of reasons. So Marathon became our base of operations for the week.

Big Bend National Park, about 40 miles south from here, is a big park at 1,252 square miles. This makes it just a little bigger than Yosemite in California but less than half the size of Yellowstone. It stretches about 50 miles from north to south and about the same from east to west. At the center of the park is a ring of mountains, the Chisos Mountains, that peak at over 7,000 feet. In the center of that ring is a basin with a floor that's at 5,400 feet. Most of these peaks are volcanic in origin and quite dramatic, with many high vertical faces.

Along the southern border of the park is the Rio Grande River. Once a might river with the power to cut through a thousand vertical feet of solid rock, it's now a mere shell of it's former self. According to some sources, it's considered an over-appropriated river -- which means there are more users for the water (irrigation, industrial, and drinking water) than there is water in the river. A Ranger told us it's now carries only one-sixth or less the water it once did. This is not hyperbole... I've seen my little ol' home-town Beaver Dam River carry more water than I observed flowing down the Rio Grande this past week. It was probably illegal, but I personally threw a good sized stone from the bank on the USA side and cleared the water by 20 feet or more. The Rio Grande is not very grand anymore.

In the spaces between all the mountain peaks and the river is desert. Miles and miles of desert containing all sorts of wildlife... javalinas, deer, coyotes, bobcats, all of which we actually saw. There are also active communities of black bear and mountain lion which we didn't see. (Park poster advice: "If confronted by a Mountain Lion, act aggressive, wave your arms, yell... but do not run." -- got that?). The desert is also full of an abundance of plant life... grasses and cacti of all sorts.

Coming from the Midwest and having visited some of the great National Parks in the North, the one thing I missed at first was trees. There aren't any -- except on the sides of a few of the mountain peaks scattered throughout the Park. But I grew to like the open-ness of the Park and the ability to see for 20, 30, even 40 miles in every direction. The desert has a beauty of it's own. It's always changing.

We spent a day at Stillwell Ranch and the Rio Grande Village area, another day in the Chisos Mountain basin, and the third day on a long scenic drive to the Santa Elena Canyon, where we hiked a half-mile or so into the canyon where the nearly vertical walls are 1,500 feet high -- and we were the only ones there at the time. I want to do an additional post or two, a little more in-depth than this one, on a couple experiences we had at the park. They'll have to wait for another day however.

Besides our Park visits, we had to deal with some weather this week, not to mention a cold virus that both of us caught. But the rain eventually subsided and we're on the road to full recovery from that bug.

Tomorrow, Saturday, we're moving a little northwest to the Fort Davis area of Texas, a distance of about 60 miles. The McDonald Observatory is nearby and if we get settled early enough we plan to attend a "star party" they have every Saturday night. If I don't post something tomorrow, I will Sunday for sure.

More later.



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