Big Bend National Park
One of most remote parks in the lower 48 states.
Big Bend National Park is one of the largest and most remote national parks in the lower 48 states. It is the largest protected section of the Chihuahuan Desert in the United States. It is popular for hiking, backpacking, rafting, bird watching and astronomy. The Rio Grande flows through the park, which borders Mexico for 118 miles.
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The area has been used for thousands of years, leaving behind pictographs and archeological sites. In the last 500 years, the area of Texas has been claimed by six different nations! The area was only used by native peoples until the Spanish entered the area in the 16th and 17th centuries, searching for silver, gold, and land. Franciscan missionaries esablished centers to evangelize the natives, and forts, or presidios, were established to protext the northern frontier of New Spain. They proved ineffective at stopping Indian intrustions into Mexico, and suffered financial difficulties as well, so they were abandoned. Following the Mexican-American War in 1848, US Army forts were established along the border to protect settlers, and they also began surveying the uncharted land in the area of Big Bend. Mexican settlers began farming on the floodplains of the river around 1900, with Anglo-Americans joining in the 1920s. Mining operations and ranches persist.
In 1933, the Texas Legislature established the area as Texas Canyons State Park, which was redesignated as Big Bend State Park later that year. In 1935, US Congress acquired the land for a national park, and in 1944, Big Bend National Park was formally established. The park protects the largest area of Chihuahuan Desert topography in the United States, protecting 1200 species of plants, almost 500 species of birds, over 50 species of reptiles, and 75 species of mammals. The Rio Grande river serves as an international boundary, so the park’s territory extends to the deepest river channel (as the river flowed in 1848 when the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was established). To the south, in Mexican territory, the area is protected by Parque Nacional Cañon de Santa Elena, and Maderas Del Carmen.
An entrance fee of $20 for motorcycles and $25 for private, noncommercial vehicles is charged at entry. The passes are good for seven days. The park offers an annual pass for $50 that is good for 12 months from the purchase date. The national park pass ($80), senior pass ($10) and other national park passes are accepted at Big Bend National Park.
Busiest Months (Percentage of Annual Visits)
There are more than 100 miles of paved roads in the park to provide access to the gorgeous overlooks, desert, geology and wildlife. There are miles of improved dirt roads and primitive dirt roads as well. One popular drive is the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. There are a number of pullovers, scenic overlooks and trailheads for hikes along the route. The drive has one of the greatest varieties of geology and habitat among the paved sightseeing routes in the park.
The International Dark Sky Association named Big Bend National Park as an international dark-sky park, one of ten certified in the world for stargazing and the darkest measured skies in the lower 48 states. Thousands of stars as well as the outline of the Milky Way can be seen on clear nights.
Birdwatching and Wildlife
More than 450 bird species have been seen in the park, including the Colima warbler which is found in the Chisos Mountains from April to September. Rio Grande Village is a popular place to see some of the birds. Chisos Basin is another area with a great bird population. Other areas to look have access to water, such as Sam Nail Ranch, Lajitas Resort, La Kiva and Pena Colorado Park. The park has more bird species inhabiting it then any other national park in the United States.
The birds listed as common or abundant by the National Park Service include: Acorn Woodpecker, American Coot, American Kestrel, American Pipit, American Redstart, American Robin, American Wigeon, Anna’s Hummingbird, Ash-throated Flycatcher, Barn Swallow, Bell’s Vireo, Bewick’s Wren, Black Phoebe, Black Vulture, Black-and-white Warbler, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Black-chinned Sparrow, Black-crested Titmouse, Black-headed Grosbeak, Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, Black-throated Sparrow, Blue Grosbeak, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Blue-throated Hummingbird, Blue-winged Teal, Brewer’s Blackbird, Brewer’s Sparrow, Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Brown-headed Cowbird, Bufflehead, Bullock’s Oriole, Bushtit, Cactus Wren, Canyon Towhee, Canyon Wren, Cassin’s Kingbird, Cattle Egret, Chipping Sparrow, Cinnamon Teal, Cliff Swallow, Colima Warbler, Common Ground-Dove, Common Poorwill, Common Raven, Common Yellowthroat, Cooper’s Hawk, Cordilleran Flycatcher, Crissal Thrasher, Curve-billed Thrasher, Dark-eyed Junco, Dusky Flycatcher, Eastern Bluebird, Eastern Meadowlark, Eastern Phoebe, Elf Owl, Eurasian Collared-Dove, Gadwall, Golden-fronted Woodpecker, Gray Flycatcher, Gray Vireo, Great Blue Heron, Great Horned Owl, Greater Roadrunner, Green Heron, Green-tailed Towhee, Green-winged Teal, Hermit Thrush, Hooded Oriole, House Finch, House Sparrow, House Wren, Hutton’s Vireo, Inca Dove, Indigo Bunting, Killdeer, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Lark Bunting, Lark Sparrow, Least Flycatcher, Lesser Goldfinch, Lesser Nighthawk, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Loggerhead Shrike, MacGillivray’s Warbler, Marsh Wren, Mexican Jay, Mourning Dove, Nashville Warbler, Northern Cardinal, Northern Flicker, Northern Mockingbird, Northern Parula, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Northern Shoveler, Orange-crowned Warbler, Orchard Oriole, Painted Bunting, Painted Redstart, Peregrine Falcon, Pied-billed Grebe, Pine Siskin, Plumbeous Vireo, Pyrrhuloxia, Red-eyed Vireo, Red-naped Sapsucker, Red-tailed Hawk, Ring-necked Duck, Rock Wren, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Rufous Hummingbird, Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Say’s Phoebe, Scaled Quail, Scott’s Oriole, Sora, Spotted Sandpiper, Spotted Towhee, Summer Tanager, Swamp Sparrow, Townsend’s Solitaire, Townsend’s Warbler, Turkey Vulture, Varied Bunting, Verdin, Vermilion Flycatcher, Vesper Sparrow, Violet-green Swallow, Warbling Vireo, Western Kingbird, Western Tanager, Western Wood-Pewee, White-crowned Sparrow, White-faced Ibis, White-throated Swift, White-winged Dove, Wilson’s Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Yellow-breasted Chat, Yellow-headed Blackbird, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and Zone-tailed Hawk.
Other animals that have been seen in the park are cougar, coyote, Mexican black bears, black-tailed jackrabbits, among others.
There are several outfitters which offer guided rafting trips on the Rio Grande. Options extend from day trips on the river to multi-day float trips through the park. In low water periods, a raft may not be able to navigate the river and canoes are available.
Hiking and Backpacking:
Notable trails in Big Bend National Park include Chimneys Trail, the Marufo Vega Trail, the South Rim trail and the Outer Mountain Loop trail. The Chimneys (six miles roundtrip) is a moderate hike to a prominent volcanic dike formation with Indian rock art (petroglyphs) at the base.
Fishing Big Bend
The park isn’t a destination for fishing. Rio Grande contains catfish but the fishing regulations limit some of the standard methods of fishing for them elsewhere. If you are looking to fish on the drive to or from Big Bend, consider Lake Amistad near Del Rio for bass and catfish as well as catfish in the Rio Grande near Las Cruces, NM and El Paso, TX.
Current Astronomy Chart
Courtesy of the AstroViewer night sky map.
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Campsites are available (and reservable a portion of the year) at Rio Grande Village campground and the Chisos Basin campground. Individual sites are also available at Cottonwood Campground in the southwest corner of the park. The Rio Grande Village RV Park is the only campground in the national park with full hookups for RVs.