Big Bend National Park, Texas

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Chisos Mountains

Nick Parisse

It's easy to feel like the last person standing when you visit the desert abyss that is Big Bend National Park. So vast, quiet and wild are the park's 801,000 acres, it can be easy to ignore the life and natural activity that is at constant work in these environs. With an average yearly visitation of less than 300,000, Big Bend is one of the least visited national parks, and yet its diversity of plants, animals and geology make it one of the most fascinating.

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Every year, approximately 60,000 visitors visit the McDonald Observatory, located 140 miles northwest of Big Bend National Park. Attend a fun “star party” at night or take a guided tour during the day for a solar viewing, plus explore the exhibits and see the 362-inch Hobby-Eberly Telescope, the observatory’s largest telescope. 960 1280

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Big Bend National Park

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Big Bend National Park holds national significance as the largest protected area of desert, known as the Chihuahuan, in North America. This massive area, larger than Rhode Island, is home to more than 1,200 plant species, more than 450 bird species, 56 species of reptiles and 75 species of mammals. The area is also a hot spot for archeologists, who have discovered Native American artifacts estimated to be 9,000 years old. 960 1280

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Lajitas Golf Resort

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Mariachi bands are big in Texas thanks to the state’s large Mexican population. Midland’s Annual Mariachi Band Concert and Workshop attracts locals and tourists alike eager to learn techniques, style and music from mariachi band members who play the guitar, vihuela, guitarron and trumpet. 960 1280

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Horseback Riding

Commune with nature. Take a 2-hour Sunset Horseback trail ride to explore the awe-inspiring natural beauty of Big Bend. 960 1280

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Visit the childhood home of former President George W. Bush, located in Midland, TX, at 1412 W. Ohio Avenue. The house, unchanged since 1956, celebrates the lives of 2 presidents, 2 governors and 2 first ladies. 960 1280

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Covering over 275 square miles, White Sands National Monument is the world’s largest gypsum dune field. 960 1280

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Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park is a paradise for stargazers. The park is so remote that light pollution is among the lowest in the entire US. Here, you can clearly see the Milky Way and a shooting star! Visit photographer Nick Parisse’s website to see more of his photos. 960 1280

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Chisos Mountains

Chisos Mountains

High in the Chisos Mountains, a hiker surveys the land as he decides which trail to take. Big Bend is often referred to as “3 parks in one” because of its size and diverse environments -- mountains, desert and river. 960 1280

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Chihuahuan Desert

Chihuahuan Desert

The Chihuahuan Desert, one of the wettest in North America, has dense shrubbery that blankets the Chisos Basin. Here, the sun begins to set behind the mountains as a cold front moves in. 960 1280

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Backcountry Critter

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A tarantula makes its way across a backcountry trail in Big Bend National Park, TX. 960 1280

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Pinnacles Trail

Pinnacles Trail

Cacti cover a meadow along the Pinnacles trail in Big Bend National Park. Fall temperatures are mild, and colorful flora is still blooming in the winter. 960 1280

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Rio Grande

Rio Grande

A narrow stretch of the Rio Grande acts as a natural border between the US and Mexico. This view from Santa Elena Canyon, located in the southern region of the park, shows the US on the left and Mexico on the right. The Chisos Mountains are also visible in the distance. 960 1280

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Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive

Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive

Even on an overcast day, the sun still finds a way to illuminate the mountains. This photo was taken on Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. 960 1280

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The Big Room

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A cluster of stalactites hang from the ceiling of “The Big Room” in Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico. 960 1280

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Cozy Home for Bats

Cozy Home for Bats

With a little natural light, this is a view from inside Carlsbad Caverns. In the summer months the caverns are home to thousands of Brazilian free-tailed bats. 960 1280

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Stunning Stalagmites

Stunning Stalagmites

Light shines on the cavern floor and ceiling, providing visitors with a view of huge stalagmites that can take thousands of years to form. 960 1280

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Massive mineral deposits mushroom up from the floor of the caverns. 960 1280

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Natural Cavern Entrance

Natural Cavern Entrance

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Stargazer's Heaven

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Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Guadalupe Mountains National Park is one of America’s least-visited parks. It’s hard to understand why with unobstructed views like this. 960 1280

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Tejas Trail

Tejas Trail

Visible on the left, the sun lights up the switchbacks along the mountainside on Tejas Trail. The strenuous 10-mile, round-trip hike offers visitors some of the most beautiful views in the park. 960 1280

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Devil's Hall Hike

Devil's Hall Hike

The spectacular hike into “Devil’s Hall” brings visitors around mountains and through a dry river channel. In an effort not to unnecessarily detract from the natural views, rock cairns act as trail markers. 960 1280

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Devil's Hall

Devil's Hall

Here’s a view from “Devil’s Hall” as the path narrows. “Hiker’s Staircase” is visible in the foreground. 960 1280

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Epic Mountain View

Epic Mountain View

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White Sands National Monument

White Sands National Monument

White Sands National Monument offers visitors several recreational activities, including picnicking, hiking, camping, scenic drives and sledding. 960 1280

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Morning at Monument

Morning at Monument

The sun breaks through the clouds on an early morning in White Sands National Monument. 960 1280

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Capoeira on a Dune

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National Park Camping

National Park Camping

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Bordered on its southern edges by the Rio Grande River, comprised of 98% desert and dimpled with just enough mountains to keep things interesting, Big Bend is indeed a world of contrasts. In Big Bend, visitors find a geologic history that began some 300 million years ago when the area was an ocean trough, continued through the eras of tectonic collisions and mountain building to the days when a shallow sea covered the land, and resulted in the current state of desert and mountain. Big Bend was a different world back then, and fossils from these eras include a 50-foot-long crocodile and a flying reptile with a 35-foot wingspan. In fact, after the last ice age, nomadic hunters could be found chasing after the elephant, bison and camels that called this region home.

A varying climate and altitudes that range from 1,800 feet by the river to 7,800 feet in the Chisos Mountains help over 1,200 plant species and a range of animal species to thrive. More cacti (over 60 kinds), birds (at least 450 species) and reptiles (67 species -- more than the Everglades!) exist in Big Bend than in any other park. In the moister areas of the Chisos, it's even possible to find maple, aspen and Douglas firs. A closer look at the sprawling world of Big Bend will delight visitors in search of a wildly diverse adventure.

Geological History
Much of the natural landscape in Big Bend is composed of sedimentary rock formed when dust, sand, mud and animal skeletons hardened over millions of years, creating layers. The exposed rock of the park shows evidence of the Paleozoic, Mesozoic, Cenozoic and Cretaceous eras when sediment was being deposited and life beginning to thrive. Some 145 million years ago, a salty sea covered Big Bend and it was the accumulating skeletons and mud that formed the sediment layers and limestone walls of the Santa Elena and Boquilla Canyons. The Chisos Mountain Range is volcanic in nature, rising above surrounding sedimentary rock.

Park Activities
The Big Bend landscape can be easily explored by taking the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive past overlooks, through the Chihuahuan Desert and to Santa Elena Canyon, possibly the park's most scenic point. Popular hikes include the Window Trail in the Basin Area and Boquillas Canyon Trail, which leads hikers to a canyon overlook facing the Mexican town of Boquillas. Visitors spending a few days in the park can explore some of the unpaved roads and untamed backcountry. A dip in the hot springs near Rio Grande Village by night will grant visitors unforgettable views of the great Texas sky, exploding with stars.

Where to Stay
Because of the park's remote location, it is recommended that visitors take advantage of Big Bend National Park's campgrounds. Rio Grande Village lies within Big Bend's borders along the Rio Grande, and offers 100 sites suitable for both tents and RVs. Though no food service is available at the campsite, the Rio Grande Village Store offers groceries, gas, a laundromat and coin-operated showers. Evening programs are available at the Rio Grande Village Amphitheater. Camping in Big Bend is on a first-come, first-serve basis with no reservations.

Nearby Sights/Side Trips
The Rio Grande River snakes along the border of Texas' Big Bend region, slicing canyons into the landscape bordering Big Bend National Park. Big Bend River Tours is the area's oldest river tour outfitter and offers a variety of guided rafting trips along the river satisfying multiple skill levels. From peaceful, half-day tours to an intense 21-day river excursion, guests are sure to have an unforgettable experience.

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