Beauty and Solitude in Big Bend
Driving through the brown and barren land of west Texas it's hard to imagine that much more than an oil rig or cattle ranch can exist out there. Even as you begin to see markers indicating Big Bend National Park ahead there are still no signs of life or of the beauty that lies ahead.
Pull up to the ranger station to pay the entrance fee and you may be asking yourself "are we really here?" In a world where national parks have their own Instagram and Facebook accounts it's not uncommon to see a line of cars waiting to get into a park. I remember waiting over an hour to get into Zion in Utah. Slouched over my steering wheel inching forward at a snail's pace along with the mile long string of brake lights in front of me; I felt like I was at an amusement park not a place where people go to celebrate the great outdoors.
Luckily Big Bend is different than most parks. The closest major cities are eight hours away. The park encompasses more than eight hundred thousand acres, and even once you enter, it is more than an hour's drive before you get to the visitors center. Needless to say, even during its busy season you could easily only see a handful of people during an entire weekend at Big Bend.
Many times I'll go explore a park for a single geographic feature. Maybe it's a mountain, a canyon, or a body of water; Big Bend has them all. You can spend the morning walking through the arid Chihuahuan desert trying to find tarantulas, hike all afternoon to the top of Emory Peak and dangle your feet high above the Chisos mountain range below, and finally watch the sunset over Mexico while taking a relaxing soak in the hot springs along the Rio Grande River. Never before have I seen so many ecosystems come together in such perfect symbiosis. And once the sun goes down another part of the park quite literally shines: the night sky. With no cities or towns nearby there is near zero light pollution to drown out the stars and Milky Way above. I often sleep without a fly on my tent just so I can marvel at the stars shooting overhead.
They say that everything is bigger in Texas and as you drive down the miles and miles of dirt roads that run through the park it's easy to say that Big Bend is no exception. Come here to get away, come here to sight see, come here to hike, and most importantly come here to feel dwarfed by the wonders of the natural world that surround us.