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Title: Big Bend National Park, Texas
Author: Anonymous
Language: English
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Handbook 119    Big Bend


Division of Publications
National Park Service

U.S. Department of the Interior
Washington, D.C. 1983

                         _Using This Handbook_

The major attractions at Big Bend National Park in west Texas are the
Rio Grande and its canyons, the Chisos Mountains, and the Chihuahuan
Desert. Part 1 of the handbook gives a brief introduction to the park
and its history; Part 2 takes a close look at the area’s natural
history; and Part 3 presents concise travel guide and reference

National Park Handbooks, compact introductions to the great natural and
historic places administered by the National Park Service, are published
to support the National Park Service’s management programs at the parks
and to promote understanding and enjoyment of the parks. Each is
intended to be informative reading and a useful guide before, during,
and after a park visit. More than 100 titles are in print. This is
Handbook 119. You may purchase the handbooks through the mail by writing
to Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office,
Washington, DC 20402.

          _Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data_

  Main entry under title:
  Big Bend.
  (National park handbook; 119)
  Includes index.
  1. Big Bend National Park (Tex.).
    I. United States. National Park Service. Division of Publications.
    II. Title.
    III. Series: Handbook (United States. National Park Service.
              Division of Publications); 119.
    F392.B53B49    917.64’932    82-600156    AACR2


  Part 1 Welcome to Big Bend Country                                    4
      Where Rainbows Wait for Rain                                      6

  Part 2 From the Rio to the Chisos                                    24
      _Text by Helen Moss_
      A World of Difference                                            27
      Waterholes, Springs, and the Fifth Season                        43
      As the Wild River Runs                                           59
      Along the Greenbelt and Among the Grasses                        73
      Where Mountains Float in the Air                                 93

  Part 3 Guide and Adviser                                            110
      Map of the Park                                                 112
      Approaching Big Bend                                            114
      Facilities and Services                                         117
      Walking Trips and Hiking                                        119
      Birding                                                         120
      Floating the River                                              122
      Fishing                                                         123
      Tips for Desert Travelers                                       124
      Park Regulations                                                125
      Armchair Explorations                                           126

      Index                                                           127

                    1    Welcome to Big Bend Country

    [Illustration: Indians held that after making the Earth the Great
    Spirit dumped leftover rocks on the Big Bend. “The unknown land,”
    Spanish explorers labeled it. Its mythic topography inspired quests
    for lost mines and instant wealth in gold and silver. A rainbow over
    Cerro Castellan implies its own pot of gold.]

                      Where Rainbows Wait for Rain

Far down on the Mexican border the Rio Grande makes a great U-turn.
Inside this mighty curve lies a national park and the special and
spectacular section of southwest Texas known as “Big Bend Country.” More
than a century ago a Mexican cowboy described Big Bend as “Where the
rainbows wait for the rain, and the big river is kept in a stone box,
and water runs uphill and mountains float in the air, except at night
when they go away to play with other mountains....” This land is so vast
and so wild that you can feel your human smallness and frailty. Silence
takes on the quality of sound, and isolation can bring you face to face
with the interdependence of all life forms.

Paradox abounds. There is killing heat and freezing cold; deadly drought
and flash flood; arid lowland and moist mountain woodland; and a living
river winding its way across the desert.

Spanish explorers called Big Bend the “unknown land,” and for hundreds
of years civilization passed it by on either side. Entrenched behind
deep river canyons and walled in by rough and rugged mountains, this
vast country remains today a world apart. Fewer than 13,000 people
occupy an area about the size of Maryland, mostly in two or three towns
strung along the highway to the north. Only three paved roads run south
into Big Bend, and whatever route you take, you’ll find yourself in
country that looks less and less familiar the farther you penetrate it.
Here are the landscapes, plants, and animals typical of the Chihuahuan
Desert, a high dry wilderness that spills northward out of Mexico into
far west Texas and southern New Mexico.

Basically, Big Bend’s desert is a rolling land of creosotebush and bunch
grass. But it grows gorgeous forests of giant yucca and solid stands of
lechuguilla, a barbed and bladed plant found only in the Chihuahuan
Desert. Big Bend’s desert has living sand dunes, painted badlands, and
petrified trees, and since it is a geologically young desert, its
landforms stand in rugged relief. Igneous dikes march across plain and
mountain like so many man-made stone walls. Chimney-tall stacks thrust
up from barren flats as from a ruin. Volcanic ash heaps, white as snow,
lean their concrete shoulders against maroon hills.

The Indians used to say that after making the Earth, the Great Spirit
dumped the leftover rocks on Big Bend. Heaped up, scattered wide, and
piled into mountains, they lie here to this day. Since vegetation is so
scant, Big Bend mountains take their shape and color from the rocks of
which they are made. They loom castellated, cathedral-domed, flattopped,
and razor-backed. They look red, yellow, gray, black, white, and all the
shades of brown, empurpled by distance or misted over after rain in a
gauzy film of green. You don’t know which is more awe-inspiring, looking
up or looking down, since the mountains rise with striking suddenness
between the vaulted sky and the open plain. Approaching the Chisos
Mountains for the first time, you can’t believe that cars can breach
those bastions, or that high inside there actually is a Basin where
travelers have camped since people first gazed on these mountains.
Undulating foothills fling themselves like breakers against the sheer
rock cliffs. Standing atop the escarpment that walls up the Chisos South
Rim, you see hills and mountains rolling like ocean waves far, far
below, with here and there a gleam of silver where the river runs.

Big Bend’s Rio Grande takes its moods from the weather, the season, the
time of day, and the changing nature of its bed and banks. The river
runs lavender-rose at sunset, brown between frost-reddened shrubs,
shining like a tin roof under hazy skies, white as chopped ice where
rapids churn, olive-green beneath the brooding cliffs of Old Mexico.
Nobody knows which came first, the mountains or a through-flowing river,
but for hundreds of river kilometers the Rio dodges and doubles, and
where it cannot go around it rasps its way across the mountains.
Deep-cut canyons alternate with narrow valleys walled in by towering
cliffs. You can’t get across except at a handful of fords, or up steep
trails at favorable stages of water. These canyons and escarpments lend
Big Bend its monumental character, for as it digs, the river lays bare
millions of years of Earth history. To run a desert river canyon is to
penetrate the long, tortuous corridor from everlasting to everlasting:
Time is here turned to stone. Imprisoned, yet wild and free, the Rio
runs the ages down inside a rock-ribbed vault.

    [Illustration: Inside the gorgeous gorges of the Big Bend of the Rio
    Grande, the river’s flow determines real time. Canoeists in fast
    water work the Eternal Now.]

    [Illustration: Other moods abound. Changing light conditions paint
    Santa Elena Canyon with subdued hues (opposite), then splash it with
    bold and saturated colors (following).]

    [Illustration: Santa Elena Canyon.]

Human beings have lived in the Big Bend area for ten to twelve thousand
years. The first to come were probably nomadic hunters following the big
game that drifted south ahead of the last great continental ice sheet.
They hunted elephant, camel, bison, pronghorn, and horses, as indicated
by their kill sites discovered in the mesa and Pecos River country to
the north and east of the park. But as the Earth warmed up and glaciers
melted, a deadly dryness crept eastward from Mexico’s Sierra Madre
Occidental and engulfed Big Bend. Moisture-loving plants died out or
were driven out by drought-resistant species, and as the climate and
vegetation changed, so did the animals. Many Ice Age mammals perished
forever and the hunters themselves seem to have disappeared.

Not surprisingly, the next people to infiltrate Big Bend were nomadic
Indians adapted to desert life. Theirs was a follow-the-food economy,
and they camped in caves and rock shelters close to such water sources
as the Rio Grande and its tributaries, springs, and rock wells. They
hunted desert animals for meat and skins, ate juniper berries,
pricklypears, century plant hearts, yucca blossoms, and mesquite beans.
They made baskets, nets, mats, and sandals from basketgrass and the long
slim leaves of the yucca. Today, thousands of years later, remnants of
these may still be found in dry caves. These prehistoric nomads also
disappeared, perhaps killed or absorbed by the Jumanos, a semi-pueblo
people who came to occupy the river valleys west of the park.

Cabeza de Vaca and his companions are thought to have been the first
Spaniards to reach Big Bend. In 1535 they were astonished to find a
farming people—probably the Jumanos at Presidio—living in actual houses
at the junction of two rivers. Many years were to pass before the
_conquistadores_ scouted this far country. Driven by their lust for gold
and silver and zealous to Christianize the Indians, the Spaniards
ignored Big Bend because they thought this unpeopled desert held no
riches. The only Indians then living in the park were the Chisos, a
tribe from north central Mexico that passed its summers in the mountains
north of the Rio Grande. The Spaniards had the habit of enslaving
Indians to work their mines, and the Chisos retaliated by coming down
from Big Bend to raid the Spaniards. In 1644 the Chisos won a great
victory, but in the end, they were driven out by a new group of Indians
who filtered down the Rio Grande from New Mexico. These were the
Mescalero Apaches, so-called because they ate the heart of the “mescal”
or century plant. So fierce and skilled in battle were they that even
the Spaniards fled before them. By 1720 they dominated Big Bend,
becoming known as Chisos Apaches. Regarding themselves as mountain folk,
the Apaches became the most successful desert dwellers and guerrilla
fighters this country has ever known. What nature did not provide they
took by raiding. Belatedly the Spaniards tried to stop the raids by
building forts near major Rio Grande fords. One of these, a combination
mission and presidio, was built about 1770 on the Mexican side at the
park’s San Vicente crossing. But the Apaches kept up the pressure, the
Spaniards fled, and the fort soon lay in decay.

    [Illustration: Strawberry pitaya cactus blossoms and articulated
    spines pose delicate counterpoints to sweeping desert, mountain, and
    canyon grandeur.]

About this same time a new group of raiders, the Comanches, appeared in
Big Bend. These nomadic buffalo hunters may have been the finest
horsemen the world has ever seen. They ruled the south plains from
Oklahoma to Texas and used Big Bend as a highroad to Mexico. For more
than a hundred years, at the full of the September moon, the painted
warriors crossed the Pecos and swept down past the flattopped hills and
on up the long, empty, gently sloping desert floor toward the blue
mountains, threading the Santiagos at Persimmon Gap where U.S. 385 now
enters the park. They forded the Rio Grande at present-day Lajitas,
picked Mexico clean as far south as Durango, and turned home at the end
of the year. Driving captives and herds of horses and cattle northward,
they probably recrossed the Rio at Paso de Chisos just to the west of
Mariscal Canyon. We are told that for decades after the last Comanche
left Big Bend, the great War Trail burned like a white scar across the
landscape, scuffed bare by countless hooves.

    [Illustration: Distinctive pads of pricklypear cactus make this most
    ubiquitous of cactuses readily recognizable across its extensive
    range, which encompasses Southwest deserts and the Potomac River
    banks near Washington, D.C.]

Anglo-Americans took no interest in Big Bend until the Mexican War of
1848 fixed the border along the Rio Grande. In the 1850s, two U.S.
Boundary Survey teams traveled downriver by boat and mule train, and
their published reports give the first scientific look at Big Bend
country and its plants and wildlife. But for the next quarter-century
Big Bend belonged to the Indians, and to the U.S. troopers who pushed
endless patrols across its everlasting wilderness, facing sun, thirst,
alkali dust, danger, and sometimes death, for $13 a month. The
Mescaleros knew the country. They knew how to use its mountains, caves,
canyons, and arroyos, and where to find water, wood, grass, and game.
But tracked at last into their most secret and remote retreats, nothing
remained for them but the reservation. As for the Chisos Apaches, they
were tricked into Mexico by a promise of asylum, only to be captured and
killed or dispersed across Mexico.

Although Big Bend Indians had long used cinnabar red in their war paint
and rock paintings, not until the end of the last century did commercial
mining of cinnabar ore begin. To look at the ruins of Terlingua and
Study Butte today, it is hard to imagine that 2,000 souls lived and
worked just west of the park. Yet the Chisos Mining Company was once the
world’s second largest quicksilver mine, producing 100,000 flasks of
mercury between 1900 and 1941. The park’s own Mariscal Mine had a
relatively short life and never really made money. All of the mines
finally succumbed when the rich ore veins played out and the price of
quicksilver fell. Similar fates overtook the copper, zinc, and lead
mines that drew a couple thousand people to both sides of the river near
present-day Boquillas. These mines were located in Mexico’s Sierra del
Carmen and the ore crossed the river to the U.S. side via a steam-driven
aerial tramway. Mule-drawn wagons and trucks then hauled it over the Old
Ore Road to railhead at Marathon 160 kilometers (100 miles) away.

    [Illustration: The Chisos Mountains loom as an island rising above
    an arid Chihuahuan Desert.]

To feed the miners, Anglos and Mexicans set up irrigated farms near
Boquillas, along Castolon valley, and at Terlingua Abaja. These
activities took an enormous toll on Big Bend’s natural resources.
Woodsmen scoured the country far and wide for timber for buildings and
for firing mine furnaces. Ore train mules fed heavily on the chino grama
grass. And when the mines failed and the farmers abandoned their fields,
they left the land so bare that much time went by before the desert
shrubs began taking over.

Ranching did not really come to Big Bend until after the Indian Wars.
But once surveying parties began to locate and survey sections, cattle,
sheep, goats, and horses came by trail and rail to feed upon the virgin
grasslands. First-comers took up lands with permanent water; from the
earliest days ranchmen headquartered at Oak Spring in the Chisos. Later
arrivals had to dig wells and install windmills as Sam Nail did at the
Old Ranch. The 1930s saw the end of “open range” ranching, and fencing
became a prime concern for such ranchers as the Burnhams at Government
Spring and Homer Wilson in the Chisos. Other ever-present problems
involved water resources, drought, livestock losses from disease and
predators, and remoteness from markets, schools, and doctors. Most
ranchers understood the land and many loved it. They used their pastures
to capacity, but they did not overstock the range until the 1940s. Then,
just before the national park came into being, ruinous overgrazing all
but wiped out the grasslands.

Today, Big Bend National Park sprawls across 3,205 square kilometers
(1,252 square miles) inside the southernmost tip of the Bend. Even with
interstate highways, park headquarters is a long way off. It is 660
kilometers (410 miles) from San Antonio to Panther Junction, 520
kilometers (323 miles) from El Paso, 173 kilometers (108 miles) from
Alpine’s meals and motels, 110 kilometers (68 miles) from the last
community, Marathon. But the journey is well worth the effort, because
the park preserves some of the nation’s most dramatic land forms and
rarest life forms.

The main body of the park is a great 65-kilometer (40-mile) wide trough
or “sunken block” that began to subside millions of years ago, when Mesa
de Anguila and Sierra del Carmen cracked off and slowly tilted up to the
west and east. The Rio Grande draws the park’s southern boundary,
slicing through three mountain ranges to form Santa Elena, Mariscal, and
Boquillas Canyons. And right in the middle of the sunken block, rising
higher than all the other mountains, the Chisos hang above the desert
like a blue mirage.

    [Illustration: Mule deer graze along the Grapevine Hills Road. As
    climate continues drying here, these denizens of the desert range
    ever higher into the Chisos Mountains, sole homeland in the United
    States for the Sierra del Carmen whitetail deer.]

    [Illustration: A gnarled alligator juniper suggests the timeworn
    landscape spread below the South Rim of the Chisos.]

What makes a desert, of course, is scanty precipitation. And because of
the great range in altitude—from 550 meters (1,800 feet) along the river
to 2,400 meters (7,800 feet) atop the Chisos—there is a wide variation
in available moisture and in temperature throughout the park. This has
produced an exceptional diversity in plant and animal habitats.
Receiving less than 25 centimeters (10 inches) of rainfall in a year,
almost half the park is shrub desert. This plant community begins right
next to the river and runs on up to about 1,050 meters (3,500 feet).
Another 49 percent of the park is desert grassland, a somewhat less dry
environment that you will encounter on mesa tops and foothills to about
1,700 meters (5,500 feet). From there on up, mountain canyons and slopes
may sustain typical southwestern woodlands with pinyons, junipers, and
oak trees. The Chisos heights receive some 46 centimeters (18 inches) of
rain per year and are considerably cooler than the desert. Consequently
you will even find 325 hectares (800 acres) of forest in two or three
high canyons, where towering Rocky Mountain-type trees persist from
cooler, moister times. And that is not all: A lush green jungle grows in
a narrow belt along each bank of the Rio Grande and pushes out across
the desert along creeks and arroyos. And in the river itself live
creatures you wouldn’t expect to find in the middle of the desert!

Big Bend National Park is home to more than 70 species of mammals,
almost as many species of reptiles and amphibians, a score or more
fishes, and a fascinating host of insects and other arthropods. The wide
choice of habitats makes Big Bend a birder’s paradise that offers more
different resident and migrant birds than any other U.S. national park.
Thanks to its location, the park marks the southernmost reach of some
U.S. plant and animal species, and the northernmost reach of some
Mexican species. Some plants and animals found here occur nowhere else
in the world.

Since its establishment in 1944, the national park has developed
programs and facilities in line with its two-fold purpose of preserving
and protecting natural and historic values while also enriching the
lives of its visitors. Santa Elena Canyon and historic Castolon form an
important sight-seeing area in the southwestern corner of the park, and
the road from Panther Junction to Santa Elena is probably the most
scenic in the park. The Basin lies in the heart of the Chisos Mountains.
This beautiful valley has complete motel, dining, and camping
facilities, and an amphitheater where park naturalists give evening
programs. The Rio Grande Village-Boquillas area on the southeast side of
the park offers delightful camping, a visit to the nearby Mexican
village of Boquillas, and a view of Boquillas Canyon’s magnificent
portal. More than 175 kilometers (110 miles) of paved park roads link
major sites and well-kept hiking, horse, and nature trails will take you
to other spectacular areas. For properly equipped desert buffs,
primitive backcountry roads and trails offer exciting opportunities for
true wilderness adventure.

But whether you come to the park for a weekend or a week, for vistas and
views, or for a close-up look at nature and its mysteries, you will find
that Big Bend is more than the sum of its parts. When the setting sun
paints the Sierra del Carmen red and blue and purple, you feel both Big
Bend’s unity with all Earth processes and its wonderful uniqueness. In
those many-colored cliffs hung above the desert, you see rainbows
waiting ripe with promise for the miracle of rain.

                    2    From the Rio to the Chisos

                          _Text by Helen Moss_

    [Illustration: Try to make it to the Window in the Chisos for the
    archetypal Big Bend sunset!]

    [Illustration: Adapting to desert dryness, creosotebushes space
    themselves to exploit available moisture. Their roots produce root
    toxins that may discourage competition from other plants.]

                         A World of Difference

Stand on the bald knob of Emory Peak and you’ll see the Chihuahuan
Desert rolled out below you with wave upon wave of mesas and mountains
reaching out to the rim of the world. You can see for hundreds of
kilometers in all directions. Not a house, not another human being, no
living thing moves. Big Bend looks round, complete, as timeless and
permanent as planet Earth itself and as beautiful and barren as the
Moon. But Big Bend isn’t just one world, and it isn’t lifeless. It is
many different worlds inhabited by countless creatures both great and
small pursuing an extraordinary variety of lifestyles. These worlds may
be as narrow as the mosquitofish’s spring-fed pool, as wide as the
cougar’s hunting range, as dry as the pocket mouse’s burrow, as wet as
the beaver’s pond, as open as the mule deer’s golden grassland, or as
canopied as the Colima warbler’s forested canyon.

And the Big Bend world is not as changeless as it seems. Over an
unthinkably long span of geologic time, and sometimes overnight, Big
Bend has experienced sweeping changes that carried off whole communities
of plants and animals. The great order of dinosaurs died out, and no one
knows why, yet the scorpion and turtle have lived on here virtually
unchanged through countless ages. Other plants and animals have staked
survival on the long, slow process of adaptation to a changing
environment. While one ancient lily evolved into grass, for example,
another became the giant dagger we see today. Cholla cactus shades
itself with thorns and the kangaroo rat manages never to take a drink.

In Big Bend as elsewhere, what animals live where is largely determined
by what plants grow where. This in turn depends on such variables as the
type and condition of the soil, elevation, climate, temperature,
humidity, amount of cloud cover and direct sunlight, exposure to the
wind, availability of water, and the drastic changes for bad and for
good wrought by man. Yet there is nothing clear-cut or fixed about the
edges of the different plant communities. The floodplain goes green or
returns to dust depending on the river’s rise or fall. The shrub desert,
the grasslands, and the woodlands all crawl uphill or down, putting out
skirmishers along their lines of march. Within the national park natural
forces are once again free to shape and reshape Big Bend’s different
worlds. The battle seesaws back and forth between drought and ponderosa
pine, tarbush and tabosa-grass, the eater and the eaten, the river and
the rock, and the sun and the ageless land.

    [Illustration: Broadly speaking there are four North American
    deserts: the Great Basin, Mohave, Sonoran, and Chihuahuan. The park
    lies within the Chihuahuan. This desert is bordered on three sides
    by mountains; the fourth abuts vast semi-arid plains. The Sierra
    Madre Oriental (East Mother Range) blocks winds from the Gulf of
    Mexico, except as spinoffs of summer hurricanes. The Sierra Madre
    Occidental (West Mother Range) blocks the westerlies. How can you
    recognize Chihuahuan Desert? By the lechuguilla plant (see page 32),
    which grows only in this desert.]

In Big Bend you can turn back your personal clock to a time when mankind
was still very obviously part of nature. You can walk in the desert and
drink solitude as sweet as spring water or sit on the edge of a mountain
meadow knee-deep in grass. You can watch the whitetail deer drift
through the forest in a silence as perfect and ethereal as song,
watching you but expressing no fear. For in the park you are just one
more of nature’s creatures free to live and to grow in Big Bend’s
self-healing, life-renewing world.

For many people the spirit of the desert is embodied in the vulture
tirelessly circling empty skies above a bleak and barren land, the
harvester of death keeping watch over desolation. But the desert is far
from lifeless or the vulture wouldn’t be on patrol. The meager shrubs
are miracles of adaptation and those seeming barren wastes rustle under
the feet of countless busy creatures. Across the eons evolutionary
selection has produced a different design for living within each
species, yet all are subject to the same law.

Heat and aridity are the chief factors controlling all Chihuahuan Desert
life. Most desert creatures stay in hiding during the day, keeping out
of the sun in underground burrows, under rocks, or in the shrubs’ sparse
shade. Many birds and most larger mammals don’t even visit the desert
during the heat of the day. And although plants cannot crawl out from
under the sun, nature has protected them by different means.

Probably the best way to see the living desert is to get out and walk
and look. Study a plot of shrub desert in a single day and night. The
most obvious desert dwellers, and sometimes the only living things you
will see, are the plants. These vary from one stretch of desert to
another because different species prefer different living conditions.
But you will likely find plants in several categories, including woody
and fibrous shrubs, cactuses, and other succulents. All have their own
ways of resisting heat and drought, and all provide food or shelter to
one or another special animal.

If success can be judged by sheer numbers, then the most successful
desert shrub must be creosotebush, an evergreen bush that can make a
living on the poorest and driest soils. You cannot mistake it for any
other. The ground around it is apt to be bare and the individual bushes
so evenly spaced that they look hand planted. This characteristic
creosotebush pattern is probably caused by root competition for scant
moisture. Each creosotebush has a long taproot reaching down maybe 9
meters (30 feet) to find underground water, while a network of shallow
roots spreads far and wide to capture every drop of surface moisture.
The plant protects itself from moisture loss by giving its dark green
leaves a light-reflecting coat of resin. In the springtime, and often
after rain, it bursts into brief yellow flower. It fruits in fuzzy
little white balls, and you sometimes see a plant bearing both fruits
and flowers.

Fortunately for the creosotebush, its taste is so unpleasant that few
large animals care to eat it. But the little creosotebush grasshopper
spends his whole life living and nibbling on the shrub. You’ll hear him
chirping away in a creosotebush, but unless he jumps you may never find
him. He’s a great ventriloquist who across countless generations has
evolved protective coloring, the same dark green as creosote leaves,
marked with the same red and white of its little stems and fruits. You
may never see the mottled gray and black walking-stick insect either,
who sticks his front legs straight out in front of him to look exactly
like a woody creosotebush twig. Creosotebush holds the desert soil as
blowing sands heap hummocks around its stems, and these make favorite
burrowing sites for all sorts of little desert rodents and reptiles.
Look under almost any creosotebush, and you will see their holes. You
may even see a busy line of ants taking bits of creosote leaf and fruit
to an underground nest.

    [Illustration: The ocotillo also goes by the name coachwhip because
    it so often looks like a bunch of buggy whips stuck in the ground.
    However, in the springtime following a wet winter, those
    dead-looking stalks are adorned with green leaves and topped by
    brilliant red flower clusters. The ocotillo is common throughout
    both the Chihuahuan and Sonoran Deserts.]

Another curious woody shrub resembles a sheaf of coachwhips. If you see
ocotillo after rain, it will look like a green fountain. If you see it
during a dry spell, you may think it is dead. Not so. Ocotillo puts on a
fresh close-fitting suit of green leaves whenever it rains. Then as soil
and air dry out, it sheds its leaves right down to the bare brown stems.
This cuts back on the plant’s water needs. Moisture loss is further
reduced by resinous cells that form the inner bark. In springtime the
tip of each ocotillo wand burns with a cluster of scarlet flowers.

Cactuses have done away with leaves altogether, thus reducing their
surface area and cutting down on moisture loss. Although they look dry
and forbidding, inside that harsh exterior their flesh is moist and
succulent. The food-making function has been taken over by the thick,
green, wax-covered stems. And since the stems are also used to store
water, they have ballooned into a weird and wonderful assortment of
shapes and sizes. You’ll find the mound-building strawberry cactus with
its mass of finger-like heads, the Texas rainbow cactus with its small
group of cylindrical heads topped by bright yellow flowers, the
tuber-like living rock, the dog and cane cholla, and the great sprawling
pricklypear that lifts its beavertails from desert flat to mountaintop.

Cactuses come heavily armed with spines so cleverly shaped that they are
called “fish-hook,” “eagle’s claw,” and “horse crippler.” These spines
serve a double purpose: By building a lattice work around the stem of a
cactus they shade it from the sun, and in many cases they make the
cactus too prickly for animals to eat. Some animals have learned to use
cactus spines for their own protection. The big, ratchet-voiced cactus
wren likes to build its nest in the densely spined cholla, and the
packrat often piles pricklypear pads in its nest area.

Pricklypear is the commonest cactus in the park and also the easiest to
identify. Purple-tinged pricklypear is just what its name suggests, and
so is the brown-spine pricklypear. Blind pricklypear looks as if it has
no thorns, but if you touch one of the velvety buttons on a pad, you
will pick up a fingerful of almost invisible, but highly irritating
little spines. Engelmann pricklypear is the most abundant species. And
to human taste its fruits are delicious, although the tiny glochids,
barbed spines, can hurt the mouth. Many desert creatures eat
pricklypear: Flies, bees, and butterflies come to feast at the showy
blossoms; birds, coyotes, peccaries, and deer eat the reddish fruits;
small rodents reach between the spines to nibble on the juicy pads. In
times of drought ranchers burn off the spines and feed the pads to
cattle. And people lost in the desert can do as the Indians did—peel,
cut, or roast the skin off the pads and the flesh yields both food and
moisture. Some pricklypears are too bitter to eat, however.


    [Illustration: Fish-hook cactus]

    [Illustration: Button cactus]

    [Illustration: Strawberry pitaya]

    [Illustration: Claret cup]

    [Illustration: Cholla]

    [Illustration: Pricklypear]

    [Illustration: Eagle’s claw]

    [Illustration: Rainbow cactus]

    [Illustration: Coarse strong fibers of the lechuguilla plant (top)
    were extracted by machine (bottom) for use in matting, ropes, bags,
    and household items.]

    [Illustration: Machinery]

    [Illustration: The candelilla or wax plant (middle) has been used in
    manufacturing waxes, polishes, chewing gum, phonograph records, and
    candles. In the rainy season the stem fills with milky sap. In the
    dry season this sap coats the stem as wax by evaporation. The wax
    protects the plant from drought.]

One of the most interesting plants in the Chihuahuan Desert is a sturdy
bunch of blades called lechuguilla. This fiercely spined agave lives
nowhere else in the world. When Cabeza de Vaca crossed Big Bend in 1535,
the lechuguilla grew so thick that he didn’t dare walk at night. Today
you find it growing singly or in colonies from the shrub desert clear up
into the Chisos woodlands, its needle points still menacing hikers,
horses, and deer.

Lechuguilla is a fiber plant that keeps its juicy parts underground
until it blooms, which it does only once a lifetime, after ten to
fifteen years. The bloom stalk shoots up like a giant asparagus spear
maybe four meters (15 feet) tall, flowering from the bottom up in
close-packed purplish or yellowish blooms. Then the whole plant perishes
by degrees. You may find a lechuguilla whose blades have died and dried
while the bloomstalk is still moist and green. Eventually the
bloomstalk, too, will turn into wood strong enough for a deer to lean
against when rubbing velvet from his antlers.

Lechuguilla reproduces both by seeds and by rhizomes, and you sometimes
find tiny new rosettes breaking ground on the runners of a mature plant.
Peccaries often root up the juicy lechuguilla rhizomes, while mule deer
relish the tender bloomstalk, munching it much as a cow chews a stalk of
corn. Pocket gophers eat the core right out of a standing plant by
tunneling underground.

The kinds of animals you meet in the desert will differ with the time of
day and the time of year. They must find food and moisture, mate, and
raise their young without exposing themselves to killing heat and the
risk of dehydration. Insects, spiders, scorpions, and reptiles all
derive their body temperature from their surroundings. This is why they
stiffen up to the point of helplessness when it’s cold, and why crawling
on a super-hot surface will kill them in short order. Their temperature
regulation problems are compounded by conditions in the desert, and most
of them cope by modifying their behavior.

In the early morning you may see grasshoppers sunning themselves on a
rock as rattlesnakes will do. They line up broadside to the sun’s rays,
raising their wings and lowering their legs to expose their abdomens
directly to the sun’s warmth. By noonday they line up parallel to the
sun’s rays to minimize heat absorption, and they will seek shade. Also,
instead of hopping over the ground, many Big Bend grasshoppers live in
and fly from bush to bush. The surface of the desert may be 20 to 25
degrees Celsius (40 to 50°F) hotter than is the air just over a meter (4
feet) above the ground. This is why in the daytime you will mostly see
only flying insects, such as butterflies, grasshoppers, true bugs, true
flies, and bees, and why so many crawling insects stay hidden during the
heat of the day. However, there are some curious exceptions: The
darkling beetle scurries about over the sand throughout the day. An
air-filled space under its hard outer wing-covers acts as a kind of
insulation between the back and abdomen. Some darkling beetles also
raise the abdomen at an angle of about 45 degrees. Speed is of the
essence for this little scavenger as it scurries from cover to shade.

Some grasshoppers are ground dwellers that have lived on the desert
pavement so long that they even look like stones. Many come in
conventional grasshopper shape but are mottled in shades of gray and
mauve. The toadhopper that inhabits wash bottoms and rocky areas has
taken on the color, shape, and texture of rock. Fat and squatty, he will
camouflage himself, tucking his antenna right down in front of his face
and pulling his legs in close to his body. You can’t even see him when
you know he is there. By comparison, the lubber grasshopper advertises
his presence. He is a large black beast gaudily marked in coral-snake
red and yellow. Apparently these colors warn predators that the lubber
is distasteful. He is out and about from late morning on.

    [Illustration: Whiptail scorpions, which are not true scorpions,
    have no stinger. They pursue insects and other invertebrates and
    kill them with powerful pincers.]

    [Illustration: Eleven species of stinging scorpions live in the
    park. Coloration varies from dull-cream through brown to shiny

Also seen in broad daylight is the worm-like millipede rippling its way
across the desert pavement. This maroon-colored plant eater has up to
200 legs arranged in short double pairs along a 13-centimeter (5-inch),
many-segmented body. He isn’t poisonous and won’t sting or bite, but he
may emit a substance lethal enough to kill other insects in a confined

Of course, the chief daily events of life in the desert are eating and
being eaten, and predators that favor a certain diet make it their
business to be out when their kind of dinner is around. Thus the
grasshopper-eating lizards brave the daytime heat to do their hunting.
Most often seen is the quick moving western whiptail. The greenish
collared lizard may be seen racing along on his hind legs like a
miniature dinosaur. Lizards are about the biggest ground dwellers you
scare up on a noonday walk—unless you happen on a lizard-eater like the
big, pink western coachwhip snake.

At twilight you become most aware of the desert’s residents. The
coolness brings them out. Some must hurry and eat before it gets full
dark, while others have the whole night ahead of them. At first you may
sense the desert’s coming-to-life more by listening than by looking. You
hear the lesser nighthawk trilling like a toad. Then, without warning,
the whole desert begins to sing, as katydids, grasshoppers, and crickets
join in a tapestry of sound so rich you can almost touch it.

Soon the desert cottontail creeps from his thicket to nibble pricklypear
fruit. He stays close to home and prefers brushy terrain. The
blacktailed jackrabbit passes the day in a form, a basin scratched out
beneath some bush. He can cover the ground in enormous jumps, and his
megaphone ears help cool him by dissipating body heat. The desert mule
deer, another blacktailed, long-eared browser, may also appear at dusk
to forage mesquite and lechuguilla. And a band of peccaries—or javelinas
as they are also called—may rattle through the brush. They have a great
fondness for pricklypear and their mouths are so tough they eat roots,
fruits, pads, spines, and all. The ferocity of these wild pig relatives
is more fiction than fact. If you meet one face to face, he may take a
few steps toward you, but not out of meanness. He’s nearsighted!

Evening can linger a long time in the desert and night can strike
quickly as a cat’s paw. You watch the sun go down, turning the clouds
above the Chisos red, painting Sierra del Carmen crimson, while a single
golden shaft breaks through the clouds and hits El Pico like a
spotlight. Then the sky goes smoky blue and mauve over the eastern
mountains, and the clouds to the west turn ashen as burned out coals.


    [Illustration: Collared lizard (male)]

    [Illustration: Texas banded gecko (adult)]

    [Illustration: Texas alligator lizard]

    [Illustration: Twin-spotted spiny lizard]

    [Illustration: Collared lizard (pregnant female)]

    [Illustration: Texas banded gecko (young)]

    [Illustration: Marbled whiptail]

    [Illustration: Big Bend gecko]


    [Illustration: Western hognose snake]

    [Illustration: Mexican milk snake]

    [Illustration: Blacktail rattlesnake]

    [Illustration: Trans-Pecos blind snake]

    [Illustration: Western coachwhip snake]

    [Illustration: Trans-Pecos rat snake]

    [Illustration: Western diamondback rattlesnake]

    [Illustration: Blackneck garter snake]

    [Illustration: Baird’s rat snake]

    [Illustration: Big Bend patchnose snake]

    [Illustration: Texas lyre snake]

    [Illustration: Glossy snake]

    [Illustration: Mohave rattlesnake]

    [Illustration: Longnose snake]

    [Illustration: Black-hooded snake]

    [Illustration: Bullsnake]

                            Two Non-Drinkers

    [Illustration: The kangaroo rat and roadrunner exemplify adaptations
    for desert living. Neither drinks water, as a rule. The roadrunner
    gets its moisture largely from its omnivorous diet, which includes
    lizards and small rattlesnakes. It kills them with stunning blows of
    its beak. Its characteristic X-track provides good traction in sand.
    Agile and nimble, this 60-centimeter- (2-foot) long bird can fly,
    but it prefers to run, at up to 32 kph (20 mph). Mexicans call the
    roadrunner _paisano_, “fellow countryman.”

    The kangaroo rat metabolizes both energy and moisture from seeds
    that contain less than 4 percent water. It has no sweat glands and
    cools itself by breathing. Its nasal passages, cooler than the rest
    of its body, condense breath moisture for retention. Its kidneys,
    among the most efficient in the animal world, excrete uric wastes as
    a concentrated paste, not as liquid, saving further precious water.
    Its deep burrow has a year-round relative humidity between 30 and 50
    percent. These rodents sometimes fight with each other, leaping high
    into the air and striking at each other with their strong hind

You can see the nighthawk now against the pale and pearly afterlight,
and a star pops out, then another and another. Suddenly, more stars seem
to be twinkling than can possibly exist in the universe. In the absence
of man-made light they are an overwhelming presence. The Milky Way
stretches from horizon to horizon. Who can believe that our Sun is just
a middle-sized star, and planet Earth a mere speck spinning on the
fringes of that gorgeous luminosity?

On a night of no moon, in the mist of starlight, the mule deer may stay
active until dawn. On mild, windless nights the hunters and the hunted
come out in full force: insect-eating scorpions, tarantulas, and wolf
spiders; seed-eating pocket mice and kangaroo rats; rodent-eating
snakes, badgers, and owls. What a hurrying and scurrying, what popping
up from holes and burrows, what slithering and digging, what squeaks and
shrieks, what patient waiting in ambush. And by what ingenious means do
the hunters find the hunted in the dark! Beep-beeping bats locate
insects and avoid obstacles by bouncing sound waves, imperceptible to
humans, off objects as they fly. The female katydid wears her ears on
her knees; by waving her front legs she zeroes in on the male’s mating
call. Cold-blooded rattlers heat-sense warm-blooded rats and mice. And
just as an astronomer opens the aperture on his telescope, so the owl at
night widens his enormous eyes for light from far off stars.

Toward dawn the morning star burns like a lamp in the east, and
gradually, a pale flush spreads upward from the crest of the Sierra del
Carmen. A bank of clouds hangs off the Fronteriza, and as the overhead
stars wink out and the morning star burns on, the pale glow turns peach
and seeps higher. Just enough air stirs to shake the mesquite. A waking
bird emits one cluck. Soon the clouds below the Fronteriza go salmon
pink and flare with internal fire. As the sun tops the Sierra del Carmen
and spills a glare sharp as ice shards over the desert, you hear a
distant bark. One yap, two, a soprano howl, an alto tremulo, then chord
upon chord in wild and worshipful sounding chorus. Somewhere in the
ruddy hills a pack of coyotes seems to sing the sun up.

    [Illustration: Desert flowering plants adorn a mudflat almost as
    metaphors of patience. The secret lies with seeds that have adapted
    to remain dormant for years, if necessary, until enough rain falls
    to bypass their germination inhibitors.]

    [Illustration: When rains raise the water level, animals drink from
    natural tanks such as Ernst Tinaja. Tinajas can also be death traps
    when the water level falls so low that animals can’t climb back out.
    Mountain lion claws have etched desperation into the rims of some.]

               Waterholes, Springs, and the Fifth Season

One of the most astonishing sounds in the desert is that of trickling
water. One of the happiest desert sights is a pool dancing with aquatic
creatures. Who can believe it: Tadpoles darting about, water striders
dimpling the surface, blue darners stitching zig-zags through the air
and dipping the tips of their abdomens into the water? What a
celebration of life in the midst of apparent lifelessness.

Water is the single most important need of almost all life forms in the
desert. The larger mammals, many birds, and some insects must drink
daily to survive. Some amphibians and arthropods must spend at least
part of their lives in the water. Each waterhole is a little oasis
supporting its community of plants and animals, and drawing from the
outside world a thirsty parade of creatures that comes to it to sustain

Apart from the river, there are at least 180 springs, seeps, and wells
in the park that serve as wildlife watering places. Most of these are
springs located within the grasslands on the lower slopes of the Chisos
Mountains. Springs differ greatly, ranging from a seep with 0.5
centimeters (0.25 inches) of water standing in the grass, to a
25-centimeter (10-inch) deep pool the size of a table top, to a string
of pools connected by a flowing stream. Since springs depend for their
flow on water seeping through the ground, and since this in turn depends
on rainfall, the amount of water found at a spring may vary greatly from
season to season and from year to year. Other crucial factors are
evaporation and the water consumption and retention properties of the
spring’s plant life.

You can see most springs a long way off. They stand out like timbered
islands in an ocean, with tall cottonwoods, willows, and honey mesquite,
and man-high thickets of thorny acacia festooned in silver showers of
virgin’s bower. Dozens of little rodent holes perforate the ground among
the roots and the tall grasses quiver with furtive comings and goings.
Life at such a spring follows a regular pattern from dawn to dusk,
although it may actually be busiest at night when most desert creatures
are abroad.

At first daylight four or five redheaded turkey vultures stir in the
cottonwoods where they have spent the night. They shrug their black
shoulders and wait for the sun and the thermals to rise. An early
blacktailed gnatcatcher chases a late moth, but the moth proves the
better acrobat and makes it to safety in the thicket. Doves leave the
ground with a flutter of white-barred wings and level off across the
desert. By following the game trails to water, you can read the sign of
nighttime visitors: The cloven-hoofed track of peccaries imprinted in
the ooze, cigar-shaped coyote scat complete with fur, the flat-footed
print of a striped skunk, and the larger cloven hoofprints of mule deer.

    [Illustration: Desert amphibians? Leopard frogs live along the river
    and near ponds and springs.]

    [Illustration: Couch’s spadefoot toad evades drought by burrowing
    with specially adapted hind feet (bottom). When rains come, the
    toads move to the nearest puddle and mate. Their eggs hatch six
    times faster than those of garden toads and the tadpoles quadruple
    their birth weight by the second evening of life. With luck some
    mature before the puddle evaporates—and dig in to await another wet

    [Illustration: Hind feet of toad.]

Soon it is full morning with flies biting, lizards scuttling, and
butterflies feeding in jackass clover. By noonday a brisk breeze is
shaking the cottonwood leaves, producing a sound like rushing water, and
two ravens have come to croak in a little mesquite. Now they fly, with
the sun striking silver from jet feathers. They circle the oasis,
flapping and soaring, driving their shadows below them over the ground.

Here on a willow trunk is a life-and-death contest. Rubbed raw by the
branch of a neighboring tree, the willow is exuding sap from a
saucer-sized wound. Drawn to the sap, six butterflies stand on the damp
spot peacefully feeding, slowly opening and closing their wings. All at
once a mantidfly pounces from ambush and grabs at a butterfly with his
clawed front legs. The butterfly leaps like a scared horse, and in
reaction the whole group takes to the air. But in a moment they settle
back down, roll out their tongues like party toys, and begin to sip.
Another fierce lunge by the mantidfly, another scattering of
butterflies. And all the time you can hear the tick-tick-tick of a
beetle boring a burrow in the diseased wood.

As evening comes on, the doves come in from the desert, flying low along
the line of seepage. The vultures return to roost, lazily circling the
cottonwood’s crown. While it is still light the butterflies seek cover
in the cottonwood leaves. As it gets dark the moths come out, and after
them the bats, beep-beeping as they cut erratic patterns through the
dusky air. Soon the breeze will die down, and the starlit night will
throb with the long drawn trill of tree crickets. In the wee small hours
there will be no sound, no breath of air or outward sign of life. Then
suddenly along a sandy trail moves a blackness shaped like a high-backed
child’s chair. It is a striped skunk, tail-high, come to take its turn
at the waterhole.

    [Illustration: The javelina, or peccary, smells like a skunk. This
    nighttime wanderer uses the scent for territorial marking, not
    defense. Curious and shortsighted, javelinas might approach a
    hiker—not to attack, but to investigate.]

Few and far between are the springs with sufficient flow to send a brook
singing down a ravine. But such a place is Glenn Spring, the chief
spring along a dry draw that starts in the Chisos and cuts deeply
through many-colored clays as it crosses the desert. Historic photos
show Glenn Spring enclosed within a man-made rock wall. Today you cannot
even find the source, so thick is the tangle of tules and cane grown up
around it. The flow from Glenn Spring trickles down the draw about 1.5
kilometers (1 mile), collecting in pools and gurgling over rocks before
it goes underground. Some of the pools are crystal clear, and some are
black with the acids of plant decay. Deeper pools are fern-green with
algae. Little black snails harvest algae on the rocks and leopard frogs
croak and plop, so quick to hide among the reeds that you can hardly
find them. These slim, spotted amphibians, insect feeders, mate in
water. Their larval young, free-swimming tadpoles, must live in water,
feeding on microscopic organisms until they grow lungs and legs for life

The tadpole itself falls prey to giant water bugs, air-breathing water
dwellers that are also strong fliers. The water boatman is a vegetarian
who sculls about from one underwater plant to another. You can hardly
tell him from the backswimmer except that the latter swings his oars
upside down and spends much time on the surface hanging head down, the
better to spy the aquatic insects upon which he feeds. The water strider
is another hunter, but this spider-legged semi-aquatic skates atop the
water, seeking terrestrial insects that have dropped onto the surface.
Just as the birds and bats eat different foods at different feeding
levels, so do the creatures that inhabit a pool, be it only centimeters

And the creatures above the pool: The damselfly alights on a reed and
rests with its transparent, netlike wings closed above its slim body.
The stouter-bodied dragonfly rests with its wings outstretched and likes
to fly in tandem. Both of these aerial beauties must lay their eggs in
water, and their larvae are fully aquatic predators that breathe with
gills like fish.

    [Illustration: This flash flood (above) washed out a portion of the
    Maverick Road. Flash floods can be killers to the unwary. They can
    sweep down on you from storms you never saw or heard.]

    [Illustration: Cottonwood Creek’s wide bed suggests that it, too,
    knows rage. Low water levels favor algae growths whose colors mirror
    the cottonwoods’ refreshing verdure overhead.]

Many of the same water insects inhabit yet another type of waterhole,
the tinaja, a natural pothole that traps rain or runoff in solid rock.
Dependent on rainfall, tinajas often dry up, yet they may be the only
water source over a large area. If a tinaja is deep enough it may
survive evaporation, but the water may shrink back so far below the lip
of the bowl that animals cannot reach it. A cougar once drowned in a
tinaja here because it could not climb out again. Tinajas may also turn
into death traps for the plants and insects that inhabit them. In a
well-balanced pool the algae create the oxygen and food that aquatic
creatures need, but as the pool dries up there is less and less oxygen
and the products of decay become concentrated. At last these become so
poisonous that the reproductive engine cuts off and the pool is
literally dead. But even a dead pool may be a source of life to outside

Ernst Tinaja is a good site for watching desert wildlife. It lies in a
rocky, canyon-like drainage near the Old Ore Road. Though the upper tank
measures 6 by 9 meters (20 by 30 feet) animals may not be able to use it
because when the water is 3 meters (10 feet) deep it lies more than
one-half meter (2 feet) below the edge. But mule deer and javelina
frequent the smaller pools, which likely hold algae and a roster of
aquatic life.

Other important tinajas may be found on Mesa de Anguila. The mesa top
has a maze of trails leading to and from tinajas that have served as a
focus of life across countless centuries. You can find Indian shelters
in the form of overhanging cliffs up and down a canyon, with a permanent
tinaja right in the middle.

Like the so-called lower animals mankind has long been dependent on
waterholes. Since the first prehistoric Indians came to Big Bend, people
have lived beside springs and tinajas. And what a pleasant prospect you
still find from the sooted rock shelters above Croton Springs as you
look out across the grasslands and the tules at the spring, toward the
crenelated wall of the Chisos. Rounded red boulders beside the spring
contain age-old mortar holes, ground so deep you can stick your arm in
up to your elbow.

Before the day of automobiles, all the peoples who traveled through Big
Bend routed their trails from water to water. On the way to Oak Spring
you can sit in the shade of a Comanche marker tree, a great oak bent in
a bow with all its branches growing upright. Comanches marked a good
campsite by tying a sapling down; with maturity it naturally assumed a
horizontal or bowed position.

    [Illustration: Who said the desert’s palette must be dull? Desert
    locusts show vivid greens and yellows.]

As Big Bend opened to ranching, the need for more watering places grew.
Ranchers drilled wells, put up windmills, and scraped out stock tanks.
Some of these waterholes remain to this day. The wells at Dugout Wells
and the Sam Nail Ranch are still maintained. Without regular care such
improvements would soon disappear in the desert.

One of man’s inadvertent “improvements,” the tamarisk or salt cedar, has
proved an unwelcome water guzzler. The tree is about the size of an
ordinary apple tree, but it loses to the atmosphere about five times as
much moisture as an apple tree does. In desert country where water is so
scarce, tamarisks pose a serious problem. Brought to this country from
the Mediterranean area for use as a windbreak, salt cedar escaped
cultivation and spread like wildfire across the Southwest, invading
river bottoms, drainage ways, and waterholes in unbelievable numbers.

The tamarisk spreads by runners and apparently reaches isolated springs
when mammals and birds bring seeds in on their fur and feathers. Growing
at the rate of nearly 2 meters (8 feet) in a summer, the deep-rooted
tamarisk uses up a disproportionate amount of water and actually lowers
the water table. It is useless to man, and wildlife does not browse it
because it tastes so salty.

Big Bend National Park conducts a tamarisk eradication program as a
water conservation measure centered about the springs. It is hot, dirty,
time-consuming work because tamarisks are almost impossible to kill. No
known creature can be used for control, and if you leave so much as a
root hair, another tree will grow. You have to saw the tree off and
paint the stump with a special approved chemical that does not harm
other plants or wildlife and will not contaminate the spring. This
effort to save the precious amounts of moisture stored in the Big Bend
landscape requires constant vigilance and back-breaking effort.

                         Big Bend Ranching Days

  Cattle ranching in the Big Bend began about 1870 when Milton Faver set
  himself up as ‘Don’ Milton not far from today’s Marfa. He eventually
  built five spreads, including the region’s first sheep ranch. As his
  headquarters he built a fort at Cibolo (Buffalo) Creek Ranch. The Army
  gave him a cannon for it and even garrisoned soldiers there under his
  command. During one difficult period, Indian raids wiped out all
  Faver’s livestock except 40 calves confined in the fort. With superb
  swapping he rebuilt his herds from the Indians new largesse. By 1880
  more and more ranching was pushed west into the Big Bend by range
  shortages and overgrazing east of the Pecos River. Formal leasing and
  land purchases followed. The much sought-after lands had springs.
  Fencing soon put an end to the free range policy, but as late as 1890
  cooperative roundups, branding, and drives were still required to sort
  out whose stock was whose. Stock was stolen by altering a legitimate
  brand. This came to an end with the introduction of barbed wire, which
  changed ranching considerably. Most of the grasslands have never
  recovered from overgrazing.

    [Illustration: Branding.]

    [Illustration: A cattle drive.]

    [Illustration: Longhorns.]

    [Illustration: A roped yearling submits to inoculation.]

    [Illustration: Imported from the Mediterranean area for use as
    windbreaks, tamarisk spread quickly across the Southwest. This water
    guzzler—it loses five times more water to the atmosphere than an
    apple tree does—can actually lower the water table.]

Big Bend has five seasons—winter, spring, summer, fall, and that extra
blooming season that bursts out any time you have a good rain and other
conditions are right. The more rain, the more spectacular the display,
with flowers, buzzing insects, croaking toads, and nesting birds in a
complete new cycle of regeneration. Imagine the gravel wastes of the
Castolon floodplain awash with flowers—solid carpets of little white and
yellow and purple blossoms on either side of the road. Running back from
it are desert baileyas and grasses, with orange caltrop blowing like
orange butterflies in the wind. Picture Cerro Castellan’s red flanks
green, with pockets of ochre blossoms amid white heaps of volcanic ash.
Imagine Mesa de Anguila’s talus slopes misted with grass, Santa Elena
Overlook smelling garden sweet and so matted with little low-lying
flowers that you cannot put your foot down without crushing dozens. You
have never seen their like before and may not soon again, for this is
the floral profusion that follows desert rains.

Most Big Bend rains come during the six warm months from May through
October, but the expected rainfall may vary greatly with location and
with elevation. Thus the super-dry desert between Mariscal Mountain and
Castolon averages only 13 centimeters (5 inches) of rain in a year,
while the Chisos mountaintops may get more than 50 centimeters (20
inches). Of course some years see more than the average, some years much
less. Falling as it mostly does in torrents, very little rain penetrates
the thirsty soil. The water just rolls down the slopes, rumbles through
mountain canyons, gushes over a pour-off, roars along dry washes, and
spreads out over lowland flats in fast-moving sheets heavy with mud. A
flash flood can root up and carry off trees and other plants, animals in
their burrows, automobiles and their occupants, rocks, and the very
earth itself. Then almost as quickly as it came, it may go, leaving
gouged and gullied desolation in its wake. Yet in a matter of days,
these cracked and peeling mudflats may blossom like a garden.

The reason is that millions and billions of wildflower seeds lie dormant
here, waiting for just the right combination of soil temperature and
moisture to germinate and burst into bloom. Desert annuals do not store
up water as the cactuses do. They do not put down deep taproots as the
creosotebush does. Nor do they dress themselves in thorny, waxy, or
woody shields as do the desert shrubs. Desert annuals look for all the
world like their counterparts in more temperate country. They are just
as colorful, just as lavish with leaves, and just as spendthrift with
moisture. They live a brief, gaudy life in a hurry, completing the cycle
from germination to seed production in a few, short, water-wasting weeks
before the desert dries out once again. Then they pass months or even
years in the seed stage, waiting for another rain and another burst of
luxuriant life. This system works because the flowers produce so many
seeds, and because the seeds themselves are marvelously drought
resistant and programmed to sprout only at the right time and in the
right place.

Each annual and perennial species has its own preferred blooming season
and favored locale. The long-legged Big Bend bluebonnet may start
flowering in December and keep on blooming until June. Sometimes this
rangy relative of the Texas bluebonnet will bloom in such masses that
the lowlands look like they have been painted blue. The daisy-shaped
nicollet also likes gravelly soils, while the desert verbena does best
in disturbed areas. This lavender-pink sweet william, a spring bloomer
in the lowlands, appears later at higher elevations as springtime
ascends the mountains. As a rule the spring bloom peaks in the lowlands
in April, and species that prefer higher elevations flower a little
later. Thus the bracted paintbrush begins to flaunt its red flags in
June grasslands, and beautiful, deep blue tube-flowers may be seen from
May to July on snapdragon vines in the Chisos woodlands. Usually the
luxuriance of the spring bloom will depend on the amount of rain that
fell during the preceding fall and winter, and the months of June and
July are apt to show few flowers at lower, drier elevations. But with
summer rains in August and September, many springtime flowers bloom
again, sometimes more spectacularly. These rains also produce a bright
first flowering from such summer and fall species as the low-lying,
sweet-smelling limoncillo, and the broomweed that gold-plates Basin
hillsides right through October and November.


    [Illustration: Orange caltrop]

    [Illustration: Desert baileya]

    [Illustration: Silverleaf]

    [Illustration: Thistle]

    [Illustration: Prickly poppy]

    [Illustration: Evening primrose]

    [Illustration: Dayflower]

    [Illustration: Cardinal flower]

Many insects pass the dry months as the seeds do, lying dormant in eggs
or cocoons. The same life-giving rains that waken the seeds quicken the
insects. And as the flowers come into their own there is a mass
emergence of flying, crawling, and creeping creatures. The timing of
this double emergence is no accident. While the plant-eating insects
feed, they also pollinate the flowers.

So beautifully coordinated are these adaptations that specialized
flowers attract the very insects that do them the most good. Bees
perceive color in the range of the spectrum from yellow through
ultraviolet, and you will find them on the many yellow flowers of the
pea family, blue larkspur, and lavender ruellias. Bees don’t distinguish
red and orange, so they pass up the brilliant paintbrush which does
attract hosts of butterflies. Flies, beetles, and other insects
pollinate relatively unspecialized plants like the sunflowers. And
night-flying moths respond to the whites and yellows that almost glow in
the dark. In its caterpillar stage, the sphinx moth eats the leaves of
the night-blooming evening primrose. When it matures the sphinx moth
returns to the primrose and, hovering like a hummingbird, unrolls its
retractable tongue and takes up nectar, thus paying its debt to the
primrose by pollinating the flowers.

Insect-eating and seed-eating birds capitalize on each rain-induced
harvest. The mourning dove, a common park resident, usually nests in the
spring, but it may also nest again later in wet years. The scaled quail
may produce as many as four broods in wet years, and you may see little
brown chicks in mid-October. You may even happen on a young brown towhee
high in the Chisos as late as November. Barn swallows and cliff
swallows, both summer residents, nest as soon as they arrive in the
spring, and breed again in wet years during August. The blackthroated
sparrow may nest in both spring and summer if rains have produced a good
crop of seeds, while the rufous crowned sparrow is actually busier
nesting in wet summers than in dry springs. The black-chinned sparrow
apparently waits for summer’s rainy season to nest.

Some mammal populations also rise and fall with the rains. Ord kangaroo
rats may not breed at all during long periods of drought, but when a
good rainy season produces an abundance of seed, most females soon
become pregnant and produce two litters. Females of the first litter may
even bear young of their own in the same breeding season.

    [Illustration: Rock-nettle graces the limestone cliffs along the
    river, one of few plants to do so. You may also find it in the lower
    mountain canyons. Watch for its blossoms from November through May.]

    [Illustration: Ethereal canyon reflections on quiescent waters
    beckon you toward the timelessness many experience within these
    vault-like Rio Grande gorges.]

                         As the Wild River Runs

At 3,000 meters (10,000 feet) the golden eagle glides on outspread
wings, his head cocked down so he can watch for signs of life upon that
motionless desert rolled out like a relief map below him. Largest of Big
Bend’s airborne predators, the eagle needs an enormous hunting range,
and riding the warm air currents high above the border, he can see it
all: the flattopped and arched mountains, the sun-bleached lowland, and
the silver Rio Grande disappearing and reappearing as it runs downstairs
through steep canyons and open valleys. Tilting his two-meter (7-foot)
wings, the eagle slipslides for a closer look into a canyon, spots the
wake of a surface-swimming snake, folds his wings, and dives like a
fighter jet. Before the snake even senses its peril, it is snatched
aloft and hangs wriggling in the eagle’s talons as the great bird,
feathered to the toes, lifts and flies up the canyon with mighty,
measured wingbeats.

The waters dripping from the hapless snake’s body come from mountains
far to the south and north. The Rio Grande begins in springs and snows
high in Colorado’s Rockies, but backed into reservoirs and doled out to
irrigate New Mexico and Texas farmlands, it may hardly even flow below
El Paso. What gives the river a new lease on life is the Rio Conchos.
This beautiful stream rises in the western Sierra Madres and flows
northeastward across Mexico, cutting canyons of its own and joining the
Rio Grande at Presidio, 160 river-kilometers (100 river-miles) above the
park. Some geologists say it was the Rio Conchos, and not the Rio
Grande, that cut those gorgeous canyons in the park. No one knows for
sure. But once the river trapped itself, all it could do was dig deeper
and deeper by processes that are still at work today.

A walk along a sandbar will show you that the river functions as a
practical sorting machine. The water rolling by is so laden with
sediment that you cannot even see rocks 13 centimeters (5 inches) below
the surface. On the bar itself a layer of curling and flaking mud lies
on top of the larger stones and gravel, which have fine sand deposited
between them. The heaviest rocks settle out first, then the sand, and
finally the finest particles. Water is a powerful lifting and pushing
tool, but these water-borne abrasives do much of the river’s work,
wearing out the rock, undercutting cliffs, deepening and widening the
canyons. It goes on at normal stages of water where the river runs less
than a meter (2-3 feet) deep, during floods when it crests at more than
6 meters (20 feet), and even during droughts when in many places the
river is too shallow to float a boat. So in the slow course of geologic
time the mountains are worn away, spread across the valleys, and carried
out to sea.

The only streams that have a chance of leaving the desert alive are
those whose water sources lie outside the desert. There are few such
rivers in the world: the Nile, the Indus, the Tigris and Euphrates, the
Colorado, and the Rio Grande. And what a wealth of water-loving life the
wild river brings to the Big Bend desert. You can hang big catfish by
the gills from your saddlehorn and have your horse walk off with
fishtail dragging the ground. So the fishermen tell you.

    [Illustration: Cotton and food crops grew during the first half of
    this century at Castolon (top) and Rio Grande Village. Both
    floodplain settlements are popular stops for park travelers today.]

    [Illustration: A third riparian settlement, Hot Springs, offered
    resort accommodations in the 1940s.]

Life in this watery world is sustained by a food pyramid based on a
super-abundant supply of tiny bottom organisms. A third-meter (1-foot)
square of riffle bottom has been found to contain more than 100
organisms. Most are larvae of flying insects: stoneflies, mayflies,
dragonflies, damselflies, water and terrestrial bugs, various kinds of
flies, midges, and dobsonflies. These curious little creatures have
evolved ingenious ways of living, breathing, and eating underwater. Some
worm-like caddisfly nymphs build protective cases around themselves,
gluing pebbles, bits of shells, and plants together with saliva. They
have three pairs of legs up front sticking out of the case and a pair of
hooks holding on to it behind, so they can drag their houses with them
as they feed. Damselfly larvae breathe through three leaflike gills that
project from the hind end of the abdomen, and when warm weather comes
they crawl ashore, split their skins, and emerge as gossamer-winged
adults. The gills on stonefly larvae extend from the head and thorax,
while mayfly nymphs have seven pairs of gills standing out like feathers
along the sides of the abdomen. When oxygen is in short supply, mayfly
larvae vibrate their gills rapidly so as to quicken the flow of water
along their bodies. Some aquatic larvae build nets to catch dinner; a
caddisfly nymph may spin a kind of silken windsock that he hangs
underwater with the narrow end downstream, using the pressure of the
current to keep his prey trapped. Some aquatic larvae eat microscopic
plants, some eat insects, and some eat each other. Large dragonfly
nymphs may even catch and eat small fish. Larvae are consumed by fishes,
frogs, and turtles.

    [Illustration: A rafter hauls out on a sandbank inside Mariscal
    Canyon, the middle—and most sheer-walled—of Big Bend’s big three
    canyons. River runners thrill to Tight Squeeze, in Mariscal Canyon,
    where a rock slab as big as a car compresses the river into a tricky

Probably the best way to get to know the river is to get out on it. An
easy run is through Hot Springs Canyon, by 90-meter (300-foot) cliffs
and over nice little rapids. You put in at the site of the old Hot
Springs spa, and take out at Rio Grande Village, having to paddle only
at riffles.

Suppose it’s early on a fine October morning and you’re floating along
with the current, watching the sky, clouds, cliffs, and river cane
reflecting blue, white, tan, and green on the glossy brown surface of
the water. The river is too muddy for you to see what lives in it, but
you can see the signs: a spreading circle where a fish has snatched an
insect from the surface; mysterious little dimples that look like
miniature whirlpools; the beaked head and long neck of a Texas softshell
poked up like a periscope. This big turtle’s shell is really hard except
along the edges, but it is smooth and doesn’t have the plates you see on
other Rio Grande turtles. The Big Bend slider feeds primarily on plants,
while the yellow mud turtle enjoys water insect larvae. And ready to
oblige is a cloud of mayflies whirling in mad nuptial flight a meter or
two (3-7 feet) above the water. They only live one day and exist as
adults simply to mate, but they will sow the river with numberless eggs.

As you round a bend, a pair of great blue herons lifts from the shallows
where they’ve been standing stilt-legged. Now with necks folded and long
legs dangling they flap across to the farther shore. Ahead of you a
blue-winged teal keeps lifting and settling further downstream. Ducks
are seldom seen on the river in summer, but a dozen different species
put down as migrants, and some even winter on the river. Now a slim pair
of inca doves crosses overhead; you see the flash of rufous wings and
white tail feathers. On a sandbar stands a spotted sandpiper, head low
and tail high. He takes a step, stops, teeters up and down, and then

The sandbar itself snugs in against the cliffside with greenery growing
in three distinct tiers. River cane and mature salt cedar stand 4.5
meters (15 feet) tall against the flagstones. And stairstepped in front
of these are seepwillows—not a willow at all, but a kind of sunflower
that pioneers sandbars—and a younger, shorter stand of salt cedar. The
canebrakes fairly crackle with wintering birds: black phoebes,
cardinals, brown-headed cowbirds, and a migrating yellow warbler,
perhaps. There is plenty for them to eat in that thicket. You yourself
discover a nursery of orange true bugs beautifully crossed with olive
green, all crowded together in every stage of development on two or
three willow leaves. But the most intriguing thing about that sandbar is
the record left by its visitors: a lizard’s five-toed track with the
long unbroken mark made by its tail, and the great blue heron’s
left-and-right footprints striding along almost in a straight line. You
find the cat-like tracks of the ringtail, the dog-like tracks of the
gray fox, and the flat-footed print of the hog-nosed skunk, pear-shaped
as a bear’s. At the water’s edge honey bees are collecting moisture to
water-cool their hive. One by one they sip and lift off, making a
beeline for a cliff.

In the canyons where water flows from wall to wall, you find shore life
restricted to those few plants and animals that can make a home on a
cliff face. A spindly tamarisk has established a roothold in a
thimble-sized deposit of soil just above waterline, and in cracks and
crevices higher up, ocotillo and pricklypear are working down from the
desert that tops the wall. Empty cliff swallow nests cluster on the
undersides of overhangs. In spring you might see baby birds poking their
heads from the colony’s doorways.

Along the border, people call the Rio Grande by its Mexican name, _Rio
Bravo del Norte_. Nowhere does the river seem more wild, more powerful
than inside Santa Elena, Mariscal, and Boquillas Canyons. To enter one
of these mighty limestone vaults is to understand why mankind has always
had to skirt canyon country, and why to this day, except for its
historic fords, the river is all but impassable. If you go in by boat
the only way out is through. The adventure calls for preparation,
knowledge, hardiness, and considerable skill.

    [Illustration: Cliff swallows colonize with as many as 50 nests in
    close order. How the adult birds pick out their own condominium from
    among such clusters remains a mystery.]

But even a landlubber can stand in the canyon’s primeval presence. All
you must do is make it up the ramps and steps that climb the cliff face
at the mouth of Santa Elena, then follow the foot trail down again into
the canyon. Looking up from the base of these 450-meter (1,500-foot)
walls, you see a vulture and a raven soaring side by side along the
canyon’s rim. To them you must seem small and as foolishly occupied as
the ants drawn up in opposing lines across the sandy path. One step and
you could crush the horde. One rock fallen from that height and you are
gone. One wild storm upstream and you, the ants, and the sandbar are all
washed away forever. Yet you are somehow drawn farther and deeper into
the canyon, into this jungle of dark green tamarisk and emerald bermuda
grass, through this labyrinth of water-polished boulders, to land’s end
and water’s edge, to the very Beginning that laid these fossil oyster
shells in this fierce rock.

Here in the canyon’s deep, vault-like isolation the sense of time, that
ominous, inhuman distance of the Earth’s past, may come over you as the
imagined shadow of the wings of a prehistoric reptile, the Pterosaur,
perhaps, from 65 million years ago. This was the biggest flying animal
ever known to have lived. Picture a 70-kilo (150-pound) flying reptile
with a wing spread of up to 11 meters (36 feet), a foolishly long neck,
and large head with a long, slender, toothless jaw. Add long legs, and
short toes armed with sharp, hooked claws, and a body covered with
fur-like material. And figure that each of those long, narrow,
glider-type wings was a thin membrane supported by a single overgrown
finger, and attached to the body, bat-style, right down to the knee. How
could such a huge, ungainly thing ever lift off or fly?

A species does not survive unless it can compete for food and escape its
predators, and Pterosaurs, both large and small, existed alongside
aggressive, meat-eating dinosaurs for 140 million years. Unlike some
smaller species found elsewhere, the Big Bend Pterosaur does not seem to
have fished the ocean. At that time, Big Bend offered a river and
floodplain environment far from the sea. No one knows how this giant
Pterosaur made its living.

                      How the Canyons Were Formed

  Some 200 million years ago this region lay under a sea whose sediments
  formed the structural, limestone bedrock patterns of the Big Bend. The
  basic landscape configurations of today’s park were set in motion 75
  to 100 million years ago as the landscape emerged, folded, and
  faulted. Then erosion set in.

  The ancestral river that carved Santa Elena, Mariscal, and Boquillas
  Canyons through bedrock was the Rio Conchos. (The present Rio Conchos
  contributes most of the water flowing through today’s Big Bend. It
  flows into the Rio Grande just upstream of the park.) When the
  ancestral river hit the limestone mountain uplifts, it had no
  alternative but to cut its way through. Steep-walled, narrow canyons
  resulted. Santa Elena Canyon is cut through the Mesa de Anguila.
  Mariscal Canyon severs its namesake mountains. Boquillas Canyon, the
  longest, cuts through the massive limestone Sierra del Carmen. You can
  see how steep these canyons are by taking a river trip (see page 122)
  or hiking park trails (see page 119) to the river or to canyon rims.

  The region was once much higher in elevation than it is today, but
  erosion has taken its toll. Mountains and mesas are landscape
  formations whose rock erodes more slowly than surrounding materials
  do. Castle-like peaks and high, sharp-rimmed mesas stand as weathered
  monuments to earlier times when elevations were higher. Such stranded
  vestiges of geologic eras punctuate the stark Chihuahuan Desert
  landscape with eerie architecture. Astronauts have used Big Bend
  terrain to simulate moonscapes.

  The sequence of geologic diagrams shows how the Big Bend canyons
  formed and what their future would be if slow processes of erosion

    [Illustration: ① Faulting uplifts bedrock to form the mountain

    [Illustration: ② Streams erode the mountains and begin to deposit
    sediments in the valley.]

    [Illustration: ③ Streams continue depositing valley sediments eroded
    from the mountain mass.]

    [Illustration: ④ Streams have now cut clear through the sharply
    eroded mountains and formed steep-walled canyons.]

    [Illustration: ⑤ All but isolated mesa remnants of the mountains
    have eroded and weathered away. The riverbed rests in the deep layer
    of sediments.]

    [Illustration: ⑥ In a future stage the bedrock mountain uplift might
    be entirely eroded away to become a deep layer of sediments.]

When you think that the Earth is perhaps 4.5 billion years old, that
complex organisms have existed for no more than about 700 million years,
that the oldest rocks exposed in the park are 300 million years old, and
that fossils of backboned animals in the park cover a time span of 70
million years, you can realize how fragmentary the fossil record really
is. You get few glimpses of the relatively recent past, but these are

For example, geologists know that back in the dim dark distances of
Earth time, Big Bend lay repeatedly at the bottom of the sea.
Convulsions within the Earth repeatedly raised these sea floors to the
tops of mountains, and time after time these mountains wore away. One of
the ancient ocean beds can be seen at Persimmon Gap where, in remnants
of the park’s oldest mountains, fossil sponges, brachiopods, and other
simple marine organisms lie exposed. For hundreds of millions of years
the three-lobed trilobite was among the most prolific animals in the
world, but it had long been extinct when the last great ocean, the
so-called Cretaceous sea, washed across Big Bend. Most of Mexico lay
submerged and a sort of mid-continent seaway cut North America in two
about on the line of the Rocky Mountains. In its early stages this sea
harbored ancestral clams, oysters, snails, corals, and a coiled
shellfish called an ammonite. You can see these animals preserved in the
limestone walls of Santa Elena Canyon. Giant clam shells a meter (3
feet) across and fossil fishes preserved in the round between Boquillas
and Mariscal Mountain tell us what lived in later seas. Sea turtles,
sharks, and a 9-meter (30-foot) marine lizard that swam in the open
ocean have left their remains in the yellowish badlands near the park’s
western entrance.

Late in this oceanic period the Rocky Mountains began to rise to the
north of Big Bend, the Sierra Madre to the south. The park’s own
Santiago, del Carmen, and Mariscal ranges, and the first upward thrust
of the Chisos also occurred at this time. As the mountains rose and
started to wear away, delta deposits began to build out farther and
farther into the seaway, forming barrier bars and tidal shelves where
turtles, snails, oysters, and sharks lived and died. Gradually the
near-shore, subtidal environment changed to a tidal flat. This in turn
changed to marsh, to beach, to brackish and freshwater lagoons, and
finally to an estuary and river floodplain environment. Such was the Big
Bend world to which the dinosaurs came. They had been ruling the Earth
for eons, but they did not reach the park until the Cretaceous sea

    [Illustration: Ammonite impressions (top) and fossil clams reveal
    the era in which the Big Bend area repeatedly lay beneath a shallow
    sea. Fossil finds show that today’s mountaintops were once sea

    [Illustration: Fossil clams.]

Sloshing about in the freshwater were amphibious and semi-aquatic
species. Probably commonest was the duckbill dinosaur, an enormous
reptile that walked on huge hind legs. It had as many as 2,000 teeth.
Specially adapted for grubbing up and munching freshwater plants, these
flat grinders occurred in batteries in the duckbill’s jaw. As a tooth
wore out, another popped into place.

Tramping about on all fours and peaceably cropping land plants were
bizarre looking horned dinosaurs with turtle-like beaks. For their
weight they must have had the most powerful jaws of any backboned animal
that ever lived. Armored species included one that looked like a horned
toad the size of a dump truck. Another sported a huge lump of bone on
the end of its tail, still another a thick lump of bone above a brain no
bigger than the end of your little finger. The world’s largest
crocodile, a 15-meter (50-foot) creature with 15-centimeter (6-inch)
teeth, turned up in the park, but remarkably few bones of meat-eating
dinosaurs have ever been found. One of the Earth’s great mysteries is
why, at the top of their terrific form, the dominant dinosaurs died out?
This happened in a geologically short time all around the globe. Perhaps
it was because the highly specialized reptiles couldn’t cope with
changes in their environment as the world climate grew cooler and more
continental. No one really knows.

When the Age of Mammals began some 64 million years ago, Big Bend lay on
an alluvial floodplain where summers were moist and winters were mild.
Shallow rivers meandered between natural levees wooded with flowering
plants, sycamore, stinking cedar, and tree ferns. Garfish swam in rivers
and isolated ponds, while small lakes and swamps lingered on in meander
cutoffs and abandoned river channels. It was a land where seasonal
floods alternated with dry periods and where, during protracted dry
spells, treeless areas invaded the forest.

                           The Fossil Record

  Garfish and turtles in the Rio Grande give us a hint about life here
  50 million years ago. Then they swam in waters haunted by crocodiles
  and visited by the modern horse’s earliest ancestor, Hyracotherium;
  the hippo-like Coryhodon; and Phenacodus, an early species of ungulate
  related to both hoofed and clawed mammals.

  Fossils of these and other animals belie dry and barren Tornillo
  Flat’s earlier Eocene life as a lushly vegetated landscape, as
  depicted in this reconstruction.

  At the time of this scene the dinosaurs (“terrible lizards”) had been
  extinct for 15 million years. Their fossils occur here too. Remains of
  the giant Pterosaur have been found. These “winged lizards” were
  flying reptiles whose 11-meter (36-foot) wingspan exceeded that of
  small jet fighters. The wing was a featherless membrane stretched out
  from the reptile’s body to the tip of its greatly enlarged fourth
  digit. Fossil remains of Brontosaurus, Allosaurus, Icthyosaur, and
  others have been found. Fossil Ammonites (see page 67), related to
  today’s sea-dwelling chambered nautilus, represent the even earlier
  period when today’s Big Bend was covered by a shallow inland sea.
  Sample fossils are displayed in a shelter off the Marathon entrance
  road near Tornillo Creek bridge.

    [Illustration: Pterosaur]

    [Illustration: Extinct mammals.]

With such a wealth of habitats a whole new host of animals took over Big
Bend. Crocodiles and turtles hung on from the Age of Reptiles, but
nature’s evolutionary torch passed to the warm-blooded mammals who
increased rapidly in numbers, size, and diversity. Remains of 29 species
of early, extinct forest-dwelling mammals have been discovered near the
Fossil Bone Exhibit site on Tornillo Flat. This same floodplain later
accommodated a hippo-like plant-eater, a browsing collie-sized mammal, a
panther-like cat, and the little ancestral horse, Eohippus. No bigger
than a fox terrier, Eohippus had not yet developed the typical horse
hoof and still had four toes on his front feet and three on his hind. He
browsed among low forest plants, because nature hadn’t yet invented

Some 20 million years ago, when we get our next glimpse of the Big Bend,
grasses were well established and the Earth began to witness the rapid
rise of grazing animals. In the park, Castolon had a savanna-type
environment, with a sub-humid to semi-arid climate. Rabbits and camel-
and sheep-like mammals flourished. Plant eaters ranged in size from a
tiny mouse to an enormous rhinoceros. This giant was about 3 meters
(10 feet) long, stood 2 meters (7 feet) high at the shoulder, and had
massive, bony horns on its head. There were also carnivores to fatten on
the herbivores.

In the middle of the Age of Mammals, Big Bend country became the seat of
widespread and repeated volcanic disturbances, with lava flows, ash
falls, and mountains bulging up like blisters as they filled with molten
rock. Here, most of these events centered on the Chisos, where the signs
can be seen in mountain peaks to this day. Much of what happened since
has not even left a shadow; the record and the rocks have both been
erased by millions of years of weathering and erosion. But you can see
“living fossils” in the high Chisos canyons. These are the ponderosa
pines, Arizona cypress, and Douglas-fir trees descended from the moist
woodland species that populated this region during the last Ice Age.
Occasional remains of the great Ice Age mammoths have also come from
gravels in deeply eroded ravines. And you can see all around you the
evidence of two latecomers who seem to have reached Big Bend around the
same time: Man and the Desert. But here, deep in the river’s canyon,
both are apparently as remote from you as your own daily world.

    [Illustration: University of Texas paleontologist Wann Langston
    excavates the sacrum of an extinct sauropod dinosaur. These bones
    were excavated near Tornillo Creek.]

    [Illustration: This huge cottonwood tree casts its shade along
    Terlingua Creek. Early settlers of Big Bend greenbelts used the
    cottonwood for roofbeams. Later, the trunks shored up mine shafts.]

               Along the Greenbelt and Among the Grasses

Even in the dead of night it smells green beside the silt pond at Rio
Grande Village. Well, _dusty_ green perhaps, but redolent with reeds and
shrubs, trees and grass, with the very jungle breath of the floodplain.
On the other side of the river a lone cock crows and close at hand
there’s a rustling of leaves, a crackling of reeds, the lap-lap of some
animal drinking. Leopard frogs croak on in unconcerned bass and baritone
burps, sounding like someone’s stomach talking. But all at once
something has a frog for dinner and the unwilling meal keeps pumping out
shrieks, faster and faster and louder and shriller, to the last breath.
Then silence. The frog chorus grumbles on.

In the morning you find the flat-footed tracks, long-fingered as a human
hand, of that nocturnal hunter. The raccoon is an omnivore, an
opportunist with a taste for whatever it can find: amphibians,
shellfish, mesquite beans, acorns, cactus fruits, rodents, garbage. The
little masked bandit can in fact make himself a campground pest. His
dependence on water keeps him a prisoner of the floodplain, but the
river, the springs, the sloughs, and the ponds provide abundance in a
narrow green world unrolled like a ribbon across the desert. Sometimes
this greenbelt, as it is called, is no wider than a bush; in places it
may measure three-quarters of a kilometer (half a mile). And it keeps
changing, widening with floods, narrowing in droughts, altering course
with the river itself.

Just such a change of channels apparently created the bench of
bottomland where Rio Grande Village lies today. People have been camping
here for thousands of years, as shown by the many deep mortar holes
where meal was ground in the limestone ledges near the pumping station.
Certainly the place had much to recommend it: wood and water, abundant
game, rich soils, an agreeable winter climate, and beautiful views of
river and mountains. After the white man came to stay in the early 1900s
most of the native flora changed. Farmers cleared the bottomland to
plant cotton and grains, cut down the lanceleaf cottonwoods for
roofbeams, dredged ponds and ditches, and enclosed springs. Nowadays,
the plants you see are often exotics brought in from outside to create
shade and lawns.

Such are the eastern cottonwoods with their heart-shaped leaves, the
evergreen live oaks and smooth sycamores, the sweet-smelling honey
locust and eucalyptus trees, and that fine green carpet of Bermuda
grass. Like the farmers’ field crops, these interlopers cannot flourish
without irrigation and sometimes even that is not enough. Dozens of
eastern cottonwoods have died in recent years.

A good place to see native plants and animals is along the Rio Grande
Village Nature Trail, which starts at the campground and leads to a hill
above the river. A walk along this trail is doubly interesting because
it shows greenbelt and shrub desert side by side, the two habitats often
separated by less than a vertical or horizontal meter. The jungle starts
at the edge of the clearing and almost at once you come upon a warm
spring run. This may be where the rare little Big Bend mosquitofish,
_Gambusia gaigei_, originated, but all you see today is a larger
relative, _Gambusia affinis_. These five-centimeter (two-inch)
predators, little as they are, soon take over. They apparently are
invaders from the Rio Grande.

In wet weather this whole spring area becomes a swamp and even in dry
times moisture-loving plants crowd the trail. You pick your way beneath
black willow trees and grapevines festooned with wild grapes, stop to
admire the yellow tube-flowers on the tree tobacco, stoop to avoid a
spear slanting from the solid wall of common and giant cane. These two
tall woody grasses stand 4.5 meters (15 feet) high and put out great,
plume-like flowering heads that shine silver in the sun. Indians used
the stems for arrow shafts and ate the roots raw, roasted, or boiled.
Many an early settler roofed and even walled his house with cane. Today
the reeds supply deer and cattle with attractive browse, and the
thickets serve both as home and hunting ground for birds, small mammals,
and reptiles.

Here is the cleverly constructed nest of a gray wood rat. And there,
crouched beneath a bush like some storybook monster is an enormous spiny
lizard. Rosy and gray, he peers back unblinking, still as a stone, then
melts away so quickly he is gone before you see him move.

A little further on the trail climbs a short rise, topping out on
Chihuahuan Desert complete with creosotebush, dog cholla, ocotillo, and
the standard collection of cactuses. If you take the trail in spring or
summer, the mound-building strawberry cactus will be covered with hot
pink blossoms and delicious fruit. By fall the fiercely barbed blades of
the false-agave, or hechtia, will have taken on a reddish tinge. In
wintertime the tasajillo cactus will be dressed like a tiny Christmas
tree in long green spines and bright red fruits. But at any season this
water-starved scene stands in sharp contrast to the marsh, rank with
reeds and bulrushes, that lies just below.

Unlikely as it may seem you are looking at a beaver pond backed up
behind an actual beaver dam hidden in the reeds. The wary, nocturnal
beaver is seldom seen and you will look in vain for the familiar beaver
lodge, because Big Bend beavers make do with what the floodplain has to
offer. Instead of building wooden houses, these rodents dig burrows in
the river bank, foraying from there to feed on willow, cottonwood,
seepwillow, and river cane. Around the turn of the century the Rio
Grande and its main tributaries abounded with beaver, but fur traders
trapped them to the brink of extinction, woodcutters and farmers
destroyed their food supply, and cattle feeding in the canebrakes
trampled their burrows.

It is hard to imagine just what destroying the trees and ground cover
can do to fertile land and to a living stream, but a visit to Terlingua
Abaja shows you. James B. Gillett, foreman of the famous G-4 Ranch,
recalled that in 1885 “the Terlingua was a bold running stream, studded
with cottonwood timber and was alive with beaver.” There was one grove
of trees where he had seen at least 1,000 head of cattle enjoying the
shade. But after the Terlingua mines opened, Mexican farmers established
a community at Terlingua Abaja, a few kilometers up the creek from its
junction with the Rio Grande. All the cottonwoods up and down the creek
fell to construction and hungry mine furnaces and the virgin earth
turned bottom up beneath the plow and grubbing hoe. Today this once
fertile valley is a wasteland.

                     The Rare Big Bend Mosquitofish

  The Big Bend mosquitofish (_Gambusia gaigei_) has a miniscule
  geographic range. Not only is it restricted to the park, as some other
  species are, but it is also restricted to one pond. The fish was first
  identified in 1928 in Boquillas Spring. Unfortunately, the spring soon
  dried up and for some 20 years the fish was thought extinct. In 1954
  more were found near Rio Grande Village. This group was later
  threatened, and a pond was built especially for the fish. But people
  dumped into the pond other fish that ate this tiny mosquitofish. At
  one point the world’s only survivors were two males and a female, Rio
  Grande Villagers that biologists had removed to a laboratory aquarium
  at the University of Texas at Austin. A cold winter again killed
  nearly the whole park population, and again the Austin-raised stock
  replenished it. _Gambusia gaigei_ gives birth to live offspring and
  has been around as a species since mastodons. They feed largely on
  mosquito larvae.

    [Illustration: Actual size]

Since the coming of the park, cottonwoods have returned to the
floodplain, especially at Castolon. A stately colonnade of eastern
cottonwoods lures ladderback woodpeckers and yellow-bellied sapsuckers
to Cottonwood Campground. More than 100 lanceleaf cottonwoods may be
seen along the road that leads to Santa Elena, Mexico. Standing as much
as 30-meters (100-feet) tall, refreshingly green in summer and gorgeous
gold in fall, cottonwoods seek water by spreading horizontal roots far
and wide, and by sending taproots deep down to the water table. They
propagate in early summer by shaking millions of cottony seeds upon the
wind. These fuzzy white parachutes may lie in windrows or cover the
ground downwind like new fallen snow.

Along the River Road from Castolon to Santa Elena Canyon, you get
another glimpse of what water means in the desert. The road winds along
the edge of an alluvial bench from 15 to 30 meters (50-100 feet) high.
Atop this terrace you have the widely spaced shrubs of the Chihuahuan
Desert, but peer over the edge and you find a dense green wilderness
crowded between the benchface and the river. All that separates lifeless
sand from green jungle is the vertical distance that stops the water.
Down there salt cedars have packed themselves thickly into the narrow

Another water-loving plant prevalent along the river and dry washes is
honey mesquite, a feathery, thorned shrub- or tree-sized member of the
pea family. Its root system, with a deep tap root, is so extensive that
more wood lies underground than shows above ground, and natives say you
must “dig for wood” here. Mesquite trees multiply as persistently as
salt cedar, but are highly useful to man and to wildlife. Honey bees and
butterflies visit the yellow mesquite flowers, quail roost in the
branches, and wood rats collect mesquite beans in tremendous numbers.
Deer, horses, and cattle also relish the beans, while Indians and early
settlers made a nutritious bread from mesquite bean flour. Honey
mesquite carries the standard Kentucky-wonder type of bean. But the
screwbean mesquite or _tornillo_—for which Tornillo Creek was named—puts
out a curious cluster of corkscrew-shaped fruit pods. Mesquites often
mass together in thickets, and they do very well in the drier soils of
arroyos, often rubbing thorns with acacias, a family of sweet-smelling,
flowering trees and shrubs attractive to honey bees and hummingbirds.
The roots of these thickets provide apartments for scores of floodplain
pocket gophers, kangaroo rats, and hispid cotton rats.

    [Illustration: A greenbelt along a wash contrasts sharply with
    surrounding desert habitat.]

Despite the luxuriance and rapid growth of floodplain flora, life along
the greenbelt rests in precarious balance. The floodplain is the one
place in the park from which domestic cattle have never been
successfully removed. The problem is that Mexican cows, horses, and
burros do not recognize international boundaries.

There was a day when cows grazed grasslands at higher elevations, and
before the cows could be seen herds of pronghorns, golden, graceful,
large-eyed, with black horns and white rump patches. Imagine if you can
how Tornillo Flat must have looked at the turn of the century with fine
grasses bending under the wind and the pronghorns flashing their rump
patches in sudden semaphore. Depending on speedy flight for protection,
pronghorns seek wide-open places where they can see a long way off.
Today, Tornillo Flat is a bald shrub desert. The pronghorns vanished
long ago. The small band sometimes seen north of Tornillo Creek is the
remnant of a herd reintroduced in the 1940s.

The grass that flourished on Tornillo Flat in its heyday was a very good
clump-forming grass called tobosa. To the first settlers it looked as
though there was more grass along Tornillo Creek than could ever be
eaten off. Yet the tobosa soon disappeared, falling first to mowing
machines and finally to the domestic herds that cropped it out of
existence. Hay balers plied Tornillo Flat into the 1930s.

Grasses spread through seed germination, and in some cases by
underground and aboveground stems. As a general rule, root depth equals
the height of the grass, but half of the root system dies back each
year. This is natural and even desirable since the dead roots create new
soil and you still have a sound root system if the grass isn’t topped
too much. But heavy overgrazing causes grass roots to die back even more
and creates an abnormally shallow root system. This is doubly dangerous
in desert country where heat and the need to search out water pose
crucial problems for all plants. Nor is this all, because other good
things come—and other good things go—with a healthy ground cover. As
each year’s grasses die back they fertilize the soil and insulate
seedlings and roots from the sun’s killing heat, but when this cover is
reduced, good grasses disappear and poorer grasses take over. Surface
conditions are finally so changed that neither grasses nor grassland
forbs and shrubs can grow. Seedlings may burst into brief life with a
rain but when the sun bears down again day after day the unprotected
plants perish. With nothing to hold it the soft topsoil blows and washes
away. Desert downpours soon gully the ground, changing drainage patterns
and lowering the water table beyond the reach of short grass roots.
Longer rooted desert shrubs move in, first the shortlived tarbush, and
finally creosotebush. The result is seen on Tornillo Flat today: typical
Chihuahuan shrub desert with sparsely scattered creosotebush and

What happened at Tornillo Flat also happened to other park grasslands.
Chino grama, ignored by cattle and goats, but relished by sheep and
horses, is and was the dominant grass of the Big Bend foothills. By
1944, overuse had so stripped the grasslands near Government Spring that
you could hardly find a bunch of chino on the bare beige hills. Even in
the mountains proper the grasses had all but disappeared, and biologists
conducting an ecological survey found that the South Rim looked and
smelled like a goat paddock.

Once the park was established and domestic animals were removed, native
grasses got the chance to reestablish themselves. At first nature itself
blocked recovery. For seven long years drought ruled all life in Texas.
When the rains finally did come, grasses improved at different rates in
different places. They had the most difficult time at lower elevations
where heat and aridity are greatest. Several attempts to seed Tornillo
Flat have been made, but it may take decades for these once bountiful
bottomlands to green again. Grasses in the grassland belt surrounding
the Chisos have made a remarkable comeback, however. In ten short years
ground cover increased 30 percent. Grasses at the higher elevations are
now probably as rich as ever.

                             The Fur Trade

  Furs were an active commodity in the Big Bend until about 1940. Beaver
  once abounded along the river and its tributaries. Both fur bearers
  and predators were taken. The bighorn sheep was largely extirpated,
  selling for a time as “Mexican goat.” Wolves were extirpated before
  the park could provide refuge. Not all species were trapped. The
  javelina was hunted during World War I, for use in gloves, coats, and
  suitcases. The bristles went into brushes. Elmo Johnson (photo) bought
  furs from trappers at his trading post. Good profits required a good
  eye for raw furs, which Johnson possessed. Furs not trapped during the
  animal’s winter prime were nearly worthless, and values depended on
  their condition generally. No fur market existed in Mexico, so furs
  trapped there were sold at Texas trading posts, destined for the fur
  houses in St. Louis, Missouri. Only a portion of Johnson’s fur stocks
  shows in this 1929 photograph. Furs were a good business for him,
  because trappers took their value in goods, his first profit in the
  transaction. He then sold the furs for his second profit. Later,
  salaried government trappers worked this area to control predators.
  Today, all wildlife in the park is protected.

    [Illustration: Gray fox]

    [Illustration: Mule Deer]

    [Illustration: Bobcat]

    [Illustration: Kit fox]

    [Illustration: Coyote]

    [Illustration: Badger]

    [Illustration: Elmo Johnson and furs.]

Different kinds of grasses have adapted themselves to different soils
and altitudes and grow in company with different co-dominant plants. In
colorful sequence the grasses create a three-dimensional mosaic that
begins on the edges of the shrub desert, covering the foothills and
running up through the woodlands out onto mountaintop meadows. You can
see these differences quite easily.

    [Illustration: The U.S. Boundary Survey trekking the Big Bend
    country in 1852 encountered this Lipan Apache warrior. His portrait
    came to adorn the survey report.]

Let’s say it’s ten o’clock on a fine fall morning, and you are driving
from Rio Grande Village up to the Basin. You find shrub desert all
around you at first, with the usual creosotebush, ocotillo, and
pricklypear. The only grass you see grows in a buff-colored strip on
either side of the road, where runoff from infrequent rains creates a
habitat moist enough for grasses to germinate and reach maturity. But
after you pass 900 meters (3,000 feet) of elevation you begin to see the
first sparse bunches of chino grama spotted here and there across the
desert. Somewhere just below the Dugout Wells turnoff you find quite a
bit of bunch grass among the bushes. Almost imperceptibly the chino
thickens until at 1,000 meters (3,500 feet) the hillsides appear cobbled
over with lumps the color of gray rock. It appears that you couldn’t
step down without stubbing your toe against a clump of gray-green grass
or lechuguilla. Soon all the slopes are patterned yellow and gray-green
as solid stands of lechuguilla crowd into the chino grama. The grass is
so thick now that scaled quail hunt seeds along the roadside and
cottontail rabbits bounce jauntily across in the mid-morning sunlight.

The colors you see owe much to the angle of the sun, but at about 1,200
meters (4,000 feet), near Panther Junction, the plants themselves add a
soft new hue, the beautiful silver-blue of ceniza shrubs. Bunches of
vivid green grass crop up amid the tawny three-awns by the roadside, and
the tops of the tarbush are brushed with yellow. Rock, gravel, grass,
and shrub blend together in shades of tan, gray, green, and blue
pinpointed by Christmas-red fruits on the guayacan, with once again vast
gardens of chartreuse lechuguilla and skeleton-leaf goldeneye shrubs.
These rolling grasslands have much less pricklypear and creosotebush,
and they have a lower profile than the shrub desert. Here and there the
Torrey yucca lifts its shaggy head high, but the whole land surface
looks somehow smoother, less hob-nailed than before.

When you start the 11-kilometer (7-mile) climb toward the Basin, chino
grama gives way to a variety of grasses, blue, black, hairy, and side
oats grama, and the straw-colored grass aptly named tanglehead. The
whole color scheme changes with the grass from shades of gray to reddish
brown and yellow, and the tops of these good grasses have the heavy
headed look of grain. The lechuguilla becomes less obvious. Gradually
the moisture-loving mountain shrubs push the grasses back from the
roadside, but the golden gramas grow with wonderful abundance on the
drier slopes beyond. Still higher, the still good grasslands are studded
now with century plant, basket grass, and sotol.

    [Illustration: Ancient rock art known as petroglyphs (top) decorate
    rock faces. The arid climate protects them.]

    [Illustration: Mortar holes deepened imperceptibly each time the
    Indians ground seeds or grains in them.]

Earlier in this century sotol abounded between Green Gulch and
Government Spring, but in the severe drought during World War I,
ranchers chopped it out for cattle feed. Today you will find a perfect
forest of sotol growing at Sotol Vista on the western flank of the
Chisos. As you can see from the overlook, this narrow-bladed plant
favors the cooler north-facing exposures. Sotol leaves grow at ground
level from a short trunk, and nearly every spring the plant thrusts up a
brush-like bloomstalk, 4 to 6 meters (15-20 feet) tall, covered half its
length by greenish-white flowers. Prehistoric Indians had many uses for
sotol, and later the Chisos Apaches often located their rancherias at
solid stands of “desert candle.” They used the fibrous leaves in making
mats and ropes, fermented a potent drink from the pineapple-like heart,
or roasted it in rock-lined pits as we roast beef. Several crumbling
sotol pits are found throughout the Chisos, and sotol still serves as an
all-purpose plant along the border.

Sotol is one of those Big Bend plants that has its very own grasshopper.
If you look closely, you may find a little fellow feeding high on the
bloomstalk and looking for all the world like a bud. He lives his whole
life on the sotol plant and knows just how to use it to advantage. If
you annoy him he will probably play possum, drawing in his legs and
dropping like a stone right down into the thick of the sotol leaves. Few
predators come away unscathed from a close encounter with those
saw-edged blades.

                        Indians of the Big Bend

  Evidence of Paleo-Indian culture dates back to about 9000 B.C. here.
  The Archaic and Neo-American culture sites date from about 6000 B.C.
  These occur near today’s water sources, so climate conditions then
  were probably similar to now. The Archaic people used the atl-atl, a
  dart-pointed throwing stick, to hunt game animals. The Neo-Americans
  used the bow and arrow. Spaniard Cabeza de Vaca encountered their
  descendants in his 1535 expedition through the area. In the 1640s the
  major Indians here were the Tobosas, Salineros, Chisos, and
  Tepehuanes, who fought Spanish encroachment and enslavement. Spanish
  horses enabled the Mescalero Apaches to expand their range and
  dominate the area by the 1740s. They became the Chisos Apaches. By the
  1840s, the Comanches, also with Spanish horses, dominated an enormous
  range focused on the Big Bend. When Texas was annexed by the United
  States in 1845, the U.S. military became the Indians’ antagonist.
  Forts strung along the route to California goldfields after 1849
  sliced the Indian territory in half.

  Retreating far into the mountains, the last Apaches, under Chief
  Victorio, were defeated by Col. Benjamin H. Grierson and scattered
  into Mexico. There Victorio was soon killed by Mexican troops. Col.
  William H. Shafter continued the Army’s Indian pacification after
  March 1881. Not all Indians were hostile. The painting, by Capt.
  Arthur Lee, shows West Texas Indians trading at Fort Davis.

    [Illustration: Chief Victorio]

    [Illustration: Col. William H. Shafter]

    [Illustration: West Texas Indians trading at Fort Davis.]

Another lily of the desert is the yucca. Overabundance of this perennial
often indicates abuse of a grassland, and yucca gradually thins out
again once a good grass cover is reestablished. Several species of yucca
flourish in Big Bend. Most widely scattered is the Torrey yucca or
Spanish dagger. Seen from desert lowland to mountain top, it thrives at
Persimmon Gap near the park’s north entrance.

    [Illustration: One of six yucca species in the park, the giant
    dagger abounds in Dagger Flat. It blooms every two or three years
    from late March through April.]

Yucca grows like sotol from a central trunk, but it adds new growth at
the top and lets its dead leaves drop down in a palm-like grass skirt.
The yucca also puts up a bloomstalk year after year, and the creamy
flowers are a favorite browse of deer and cattle. Yuccas may live from
50 to 75 years, reaching tree-like proportions. The giant dagger that
gives Dagger Flat its name may grow more than 6 meters (20 feet) tall.
In good years it blooms around Easter-time, and a single bloomstalk may
have more than 1,000 flowers and weigh as much as 30 kilos (70 pounds).
Indians used nearly every part of the yucca in countless ways. They ate
the flowers and fruit, wove baskets and made brushes from leaf fibers,
and made soap from the roots. Along the border, natives still harvest
the great yucca flower-heads and feed them to livestock.

The Mescalero Apaches roasted the mescal or century plant using the same
technique they used for sotol. The mescal was as central to the Apache
way of life as the bison was to the plains Indians. They made food,
drink, medicine, mats, ropes, bags, and even needles and twine from the
great, gray-green agave.

It is not true that the century plant takes a hundred years to bloom;
it’s more like 25 to 50 years. Once started the bloomstalk shoots up at
the rate of nearly 2.5 centimeters (an inch) in an hour, or up to 41
centimeters (16 inches) in 24 hours. Soon platters of golden flowers
float on the air, and bees, flies, and ants come to the feast. The
violet-throated Lucifer hummingbird may sometimes be found at a mescal
in blooming season. At night the Mexican long tongued bat leaves its
cave on Emory Peak and comes to feed on the nectar and ample pollen.

Like all agaves, the mescal expends its strength on this onetime burst
of blooming. Once the seed pods form, the plant dies and young plants
arise near its base. But that is not the end of its beauty or its
usefulness. If you climb the foot trail to Juniper Flat through the
thickly grassed woodlands above the Basin, you will pass more than one
dead mescal with its towering bloomstalk supported by the limbs of some
pinyon pine. Year by year, in graceful and gradual decay, the agave
leans in its neighbor’s embrace. As it slowly splits up, it dresses the
pine in a flowing drape of fiber fragments. You can see little wormholes
here and there, and larger holes where woodpeckers have taken a meal.
This life-supporting return to dust goes on all over these mountains.

    [Illustration: The century plant took its name from the erroneous
    notion that it took 100 years to bloom. It takes “only” 25 to 50
    years. Then the plant dies.]

Many of the park’s finest grasses may be found in the mountains, for
while the grasslands blend into the woodlands somewhere around 1,700
meters (5,500 feet), the grasses continue all the way up to the
mountaintops. Again, the species change with climate, altitude, and
ground cover conditions. The beautiful bull muhly favors north-facing
slopes, and, growing in clumps up to just over a meter (4 feet) high, it
helps hold soil on the hillsides. With its large purple flowering heads,
it makes a good bedding grass for deer. So does the golden thread-leaf
stipa that likes to grow under juniper trees, spilling its long blades
in rounded clumps.

Since the return of the grasses the mountains and foothills both support
a fascinating host of grassland animals. Some, like the yellownosed
cotton rat, have come back with the grass. Many of these grassland
creatures are abroad at night and are best seen at dawn and dusk. Even
after dark you may see a great deal of life along the highway. The
16-kilometer (10-mile) stretch between park headquarters and the Basin
may bring startling glimpses of grassland activity within reach of your
headlights: a great horned owl with its catlike face and “ears,” sitting
still as a sphinx in the middle of the road; a coyote pair gamboling
like shepherd pups, their paired eyes flashing white and bright as
automobile headlights. These carnivores have come to hunt the rats and
rabbits making a mad dash across the road. Arthropods and snakes come to
the pavement to warm themselves. The diamond sparkles that litter the
blacktop may be reflections from spiders’ eyes. You see a blood-red coal
of fire spring to one side at the edge of the road and then as abruptly
as a UFO leap 3 meters (10 feet) straight-up into the air. A ringtail
climbing a tree perhaps? Or a poor-will taking flight? A flash of pink
lights at elbow and shoulder height turns out to be a mule deer and
fawn. Stop, turn off your own lights, and look and listen and you will
behold a world as it must have been a long time ago, singing in the
silence underneath the stars.

                      Bandits and Revolutionaries

  When the deepest channel of the Rio Grande became the boundary between
  the United States and Mexico in 1848, the Army assumed a thankless
  task: To enforce an invisible boundary in impossible terrain
  populated—if at all—by people traditionally disposed to crossing the
  river freely. At times the Army depended on the Texas Rangers. During
  the Civil War era troops were withdrawn from the Big Bend, and border
  incidents surged. After the Mexican revolution of 1910 that government
  lost control of its northern provinces. Bandit gangs plagued both
  Texas and California. Pancho Villa used border forays to create
  tension between Mexico and the United States. In 1913, raiding bandit
  Chico Cano was captured and freed by his gang in an ambush; the next
  year he killed his Customs Service captor. Cano was photographed with
  8th Cavalry Major Roy J. Considine in 1918. Three soldiers and a small
  boy were killed in a 1916 raid on Glenn Springs led by Navidad
  Alvarez, a lieutenant of Pancho Villa. The store was looted and houses
  burned. Livestock raids on ranches sometimes left entire families
  murdered. Many Texas Rangers were killed in ambush over the years.
  Smuggling activities abounded. Arms and ammunitions passed into
  Mexico, and liquor (during prohibition) and silver bullion passed into
  the United States.

    [Illustration: Chico Cano and Maj. Roy Considine.]

    [Illustration: Bandits on horseback.]

    [Illustration: The Chisos float in morning mist after a rare ice

                    Where Mountains Float in the Air

From a distance the Chisos Mountains don’t look wooded. They seem to be
sculpted from naked rock. Even as you begin the drive up Green Gulch you
expect to see only buffy grass, century plants, and sotol. But as you
pull abreast of Lost Mine Peak the grass is gone from the road’s edge
and the shoulders are covered more and more thickly with green, leafy
shrubs. Soon you see taller bushes on the open slopes, the evergreen
sumac, Texas madrone, cat claw, and common bee-balm, crowned with
beautiful deciduous and evergreen leaves.

The Chisos Mountains fascinate for so many reasons: their great beauty,
their wooded coolness and greenness, the exceptional variety—and
rarity—of plant and animal life. Lying close to the border, they
encompass an interesting blend of U.S. and Mexican species. But because
they stand alone and apart, they support species found nowhere else. And
their height creates a temperate environment, a grassed and timbered
island in a sea of rock and sand.

In the Chisos as elsewhere in desert country, what lives where depends
on highly local conditions of soil and climate. While daytime
temperatures in the mountains average significantly cooler than the
desert flats, and while rainfall in the Basin is twice as heavy as at
Rio Grande Village, just as crucial are the land’s shape and the sun’s
angle. You might expect that trees grow as a woodland belt around the
mountains, with treeline determined by altitude. Not so. Many trees
prefer canyons to exposed slopes because soils are deeper there and
drainages offer more water. Even in the same canyon, more trees may grow
on cooler north-facing slopes, while grasses predominate on sunny
south-facing slopes. Or pinyons, junipers, and oaks may flourish at
lower elevations, while most other forest species occupy the canyon’s

At about 1,400 meters (4,500 feet) of elevation as the mountains begin
to close, a surprise delights the eye: The first of what you might call
trees beside the road. Suddenly, masses of trees—junipers, little oak
trees, and pinyon pines—higher up in the drainages that crease the
mountainside. And multitudes of woodland birds dart in and out of the
trees and bushes along the roadway. You understand now why they call
this valley Green Gulch. As you approach the first water tank you are in
actual woodland. Grasses still grow on the open slopes along with bushes
and pricklypear and sotol, but here are the first easily distinguished
little pinyons beside the road. At 1,600 meters (1 mile) of elevation
they are fairly respectable pines. Tree cover increases and, after the
second water barrels, the woodland comes right down to the road. The
grass is less obvious now, but it covers the ground between the trees
and is especially thick on south-facing slopes. Flocks of little birds
fly up from the road ahead of you. At the switchbacks in Panther Pass
you peer up the steep slopes at solid stands of deciduous green trees
set off against darker evergreens. Way up at the top leap scarlet flames
of frost-touched Grave’s oak and fragrant sumac.

These pinyon-juniper-oak woodlands are pretty typical of the dry
Southwest. Chisos woodlands include only one pine, three junipers, and
many varieties of oak. You can easily identify pinyon and juniper trees,
but the oaks are often hard to tell apart because they tend to
hybridize. The different tree species have different soil and water
requirements and where moisture is harder to come by they grow smaller
and more widely spaced. You’ll find redberry juniper at drier, lower
elevations, such as Green Gulch. This is a rather scraggly shrub or
small tree whose lower branches often touch the ground. It has
scale-like yellow-green leaves, and red berry-like cones. It will often
invade abused grasslands. The gray oak, an evergreen with small
olive-green leaves and dark gray bark, also prefers drier soils. On
exposed slopes it too takes on shrub-like proportions but grows to 20
meters (65 feet) in protected canyons. Birds, peccaries, and deer feed
on gray oak acorns. The Indians preferred the acorns of the Emory oak.

    [Illustration: Startling plant combinations comprise this forest
    floor on the South Rim of the Chisos. Such biotic richness and
    surprise led to the park’s designation as an International Biosphere

    [Illustration: Volcanic spires remind us that change has not always
    come slowly in the Big Bend. Molten rock under intense pressure
    created these spires as plugs inside softer rock, which has long
    since eroded away.]

The other narrowleaf evergreens prefer intermediate to moister soils and
the Chisos Basin is a good place to see both drooping and alligator
junipers, the latter named for the square scales that make its bark look
like alligator hide. This slow-growing, long-lived tree has bluish-green
needles, and gray fox and rock squirrel relish its berry-like cones.
Drooping juniper all but cries out for recognition. Its wilted leaves
and drooping branches seem to be dying of thirst, but in fact are
perfectly healthy, as is the bark that shreds in long, fibrous strips.
You’ll find plenty of drooping juniper in Mexico, but the only place you
can see it in the United States is right here in the Chisos Mountains.

The Chisos Basin has been hollowed out of volcanic rock by stream
erosion. The peaks that ring the Basin all came into being when molten
rock squeezed up under enormous pressure from deep within the Earth.
Some of the red hot stuff poured out over the land surface in lava flows
which cooled so quickly that they cracked in long vertical fissures.
Then as the ages passed, joints toppled and square-faced peaks,
buttresses, and free-standing spires emerged. So the Basin wall took
shape from Casa Grande southward through Emory Peak. Later on, more
molten rock pushed up from below, bulging the surface rocks upward
without breaking through. Again the eons passed and the softer surface
rocks wore away, exposing the dome-shaped peaks which now rim the Basin
to the north and west. Today, loose rocks and clays still inch downhill
toward the Window. All Basin runoff heads for this chute, and when it
storms in the heights, the dry waterfall turns into a torrent, with
boulders bouncing along like so many corks. Growling and grumbling, the
big rocks plunge over the pouroff in a 67-meter (220-foot) free fall,
coming to Earth in a great rubble pile below.

Pinyon pines grow abundantly across both Mexico and the American
Southwest. In the Chisos you’ll find them almost anywhere above 1,500
meters (4,800 feet) of elevation, and at lower elevations they will be
the only pines. Short of trunk, with spreading lower branches, egg-sized
cones, and short, slender, bluish-green needles, pinyons range from
dwarf size to a tree 15 meters (50 feet) tall. Many birds and mammals
eat its delicious nuts.

As elevation increases you may find fewer junipers, while more pinyons
appear on the open slopes and more oaks along drainages. The deciduous
Graves oak requires more moisture than other oaks, so you find it
putting forth its shiny, dark green leaves in high moist canyons. The
Emory oak also prefers high drainages but it grows at slightly lower
elevations. It has small lance-shaped leaves. The Chisos oak, a small,
graceful tree with narrow, leathery leaves, requires a high water table.
In all the world it grows only in the Chisos Mountains’ Blue Creek

    [Illustration: Mule deer frequent the park’s lower, drier

    [Illustration: The Sierra del Carmen whitetail haunts the Chisos
    Mountains. It has much smaller ears than the mule deer and bears the
    characteristic flag tail. Isolation allowed this sub-species of
    whitetail to develop. These deer live only in the Chisos and across
    the river in the Sierra del Carmen.]

Many of these interesting woodland features can be studied at leisure in
Upper Green Gulch, reached by the Lost Mine Trail from the trailhead in
Panther Pass, following the well-kept path at least as far as Juniper
Canyon Overlook. Here you find yourself among the very pines and oaks
that you viewed from the switchbacks far below. On location it appears
much as it did from far below. There are few grasses and a host of
flowering bushes. Shaggy mountain-mahogany and fragrant sumac make
excellent feed for whitetail deer. Fragrant ash puts out long clusters
of cream-colored flowers in springtime. Mountain sage, a beautiful shrub
that grows nowhere else in the world, bursts into crimson flower each
fall. As a hummingbird feeder it even outranks the golden platters of
the century plant. Probably most surprising at this elevation is the
persistence of desert and grassland plants, for here among the pinyon
pines and oak trees grow clumps of ocotillo, lechuguilla, pricklypear,
and the great gray-green blades and towering bloomstalks of the Big Bend

Dryness is a fact of life in these woodlands. The north-facing slope is
densely covered with trees, while the opposite south-facing slope
exhibits mostly ocotillo and lechuguilla. The same holds true on the
narrow ridge extending from Casa Grande. Pine woodlands face north and
lechuguilla flourishes on the south-facing slope. It’s a question of
solar exposure and resulting temperature and moisture variations.

Oddly enough, you will likely see more wildlife in the populated Basin
than along the whole Lost Mine Trail, for animals find the Basin as
attractive as man does. The del Carmen whitetails find it a good place
to feed off and on throughout the day. These deer are found only in the
Big Bend and across the river in the Sierra del Carmen. To the rock
squirrels the Basin offers acorns, pine nuts, and plenty of rocky
lodgings. The busy cactus wren can indulge its habit of year-round nest
building, because there is abundant tall grass, and introduced yucca, a
favorite avian building site. Sounding like a child’s squeeze toy, the
brown towhee takes to his human habitat as freely as a house sparrow,
and the crestless Mexican jay scolds ferociously, as jays will.

                         The Jackrabbit Economy

  Should the jackrabbit reflect on its situation it might think life is
  a conspiracy. This prolific breeder might feel it exists solely to
  keep the local web of life functioning. Many predators include this
  big-eared, nimble-footed creature in their diets.

  Big ears, big feet, and protective coloration are the jackrabbit’s
  major survival mechanisms. It will listen for danger, sit motionless
  until perceiving a threat, and then burst into speedy flight. The ears
  may also represent an adaptation through which the jackrabbit can emit
  excess body heat to the environment, a useful ploy in deserts.

  Birds, snakes, and numerous mammals prey on the jackrabbit, which is
  really a hare, and on the park’s desert cottontail and eastern
  cottontail rabbits. The coyote can sustain bursts of speed sufficient
  to run them down. An arch opportunist, the coyote eats almost
  anything, including an occasional tennis shoe. The bobcat and mountain
  lion (photo page 103) are the park’s two felines. The bobcat hunts by
  stealth. It will sit by a game trail for hours and then pounce on
  passing prey. Threats to the jackrabbit come from above, too, where
  the golden eagle soars.

    [Illustration: Coyote]

    [Illustration: Bobcat]

    [Illustration: Golden eagle]

    [Illustration: Jackrabbit]

Toward twilight the whitetail deer put in another appearance. These
dainty little animals are highly territorial, so you are likely to see
the same band of bucks in the upper Basin, and the same doe and twin
fawns near the campground turnoff. The eastern cottontails, larger than
the desert cottontails, also come out at dusk, after spending the day in
the very same thickets that the deer come to browse. A little later,
skunks may appear. These spotted, striped, or hognosed nighttime
foragers are cyclic in their populations, and like the raccoon they have
a decided fondness for campgrounds.

In the Basin as elsewhere, many residents are heard rather than seen,
especially the tree crickets and katydids that sing their songs at
night. The Chisos Mountains even boast their own katydid, known nowhere
else in the world, the Big Bend quonker. Scraping its wings together it
produces a squeak much like that of a cork being pulled from a wine

The woods that rim the Basin to the south have a softer, more
life-supporting look than the slopes above Panther Pass. They feature
the same junipers and pinyon pines and the same pricklypear and century
plant, but the difference is the grass. Tall and short, gold and blue,
tasseled, tufted and feathered, it grows so thickly under the trees and
between the shrubs that it all but covers the ground. You find
basketgrass, too, with leaf edges like fine sawteeth and their tips
frayed into curls of twine. With such abundant cover animals should
thrive, and judging from the scat they do. In the fall the pricklypear
is still in fruit, and it appears that everyone is eating brick-red
tunas. At lower elevations where the tunas have already gone by, many
animals are eating black persimmons.

But strong as the signs of life are, the evidence of death and dying
cannot be ignored. You hear the shrieks of some creature on the edge of
a little meadow, watch a hawk come to circle the tree tops, wonder who
has won that contest as the cries cease and the hawk flies off. You
smell the pungent odor of pine resin and follow it to its source, a
pinyon oozing crystal drops from dozens of holes. As the sticky stuff
ages it turns yellow, and there, mired in the gum, is a small black
beetle exactly as some fossil bee in amber. And here is a redberry
juniper so strangled by pink tree-thief that the greenest thing on it is
the mistletoe cluster.

    [Illustration: The mountain lion’s mystique explains the many park
    place names that bear its alias, panther. Most park sightings of
    these regal cats occur at Panther Pass, usually in May or June.]

                           Quicksilver Mining

  Quicksilver, or mercury, the only metal that remains liquid at
  ordinary temperatures, was mined as cinnabar in the Big Bend country
  from about 1884 until after World War II.

  Cinnabar, red mercuric sulphide, was used as a pigment and medicine as
  early as the first century. Indians used it as pigment for war paints
  and pictographs. Today mercury is used in electrical apparatus,
  control instruments, thermometers, and medical and dental
  preparations. The United States once produced about one-third of all
  quicksilver. From 1910 to 1920 Texas mines produced about one-third
  the U.S. production. Locally, quicksilver mining began in 1884, but
  real production began after 1896. The park’s Mariscal Mine was opened
  as Lindsey Mine by D.E. Lindsey, an immigration inspector, about 1900.
  Production increased greatly about 1916, under the ownership of W.K.
  Ellis, as World War I pushed up quicksilver prices. The mine
  floundered again with postwar price declines and was not profitable
  anew until World War II. In the Mariscal Mine’s heyday between 1919
  and 1923, from 20 to 40 men worked it. All were Mexicans except the
  manager, foreman, and a brick-kiln specialist. Wood for the furnaces
  came from as far as 80 kilometers (50 miles) away, by burro. These
  photographs show quicksilver operations at the Waldron Mine, just
  outside today’s park, in 1916. Laborers toiled 12-hour shifts for
  $1.00 then.

    [Illustration: Waldron Mine, entrance]

    [Illustration: Waldron Mine, buildings]

    [Illustration: Aplomado falcons once ranged this far north and east,
    but no longer. Now that the national park offers a large protected
    area, we hope these birds of prey will return.]

The death of trees is actually part of the continuing cycle of life
because it returns much needed nutrients to the soil. Termites play an
important role in converting dead wood into substances useful to plants
although they cannot digest the wood themselves. Tiny protozoans living
in their intestines secrete digestive juices that do the job for them.
Dead trees also provide nesting and resting places for various birds and
mammals: Screech owls and mice may make their homes in hollow trees and
logs, and so may the ringtail, gray fox, and bobcat. These four mammals
are adept tree climbers. The brush mouse climbs to garner pine nuts,
acorns and juniper berries, while the ringtail and gray fox add berries
to supplement their largely meat diet. The bobcat, as sure-footed aloft
as other cats, will take to the trees when pursued but prefers to hunt
on the ground.

The bobcat, so-called because of its short tail, limits his diet to
mammals, birds, and insects. This smallest and most common of the wild
cats prefers rocky canyons and outcrops in pine-oak woodlands. Hunting
mostly at night and on the ground, he prowls on padded feet, hides for
hours beside a game trail, and springs on his prey in one lethal pounce.
The ringtail is the busiest of small predators. Strictly nocturnal, he
covers a wide territory several times each night. He has much the same
tastes as the raccoon, but without the latter’s fondness for water. The
ringtail especially likes to prowl rocky ledges and canyon cliffs on the
lookout for insects and small rodents. He climbs easily and hunts in
trees for roosting and nesting birds.

Water, those rare spots where it occurs permanently, can do astonishing
things to a woodland. In a secluded canyon you’ll find a grotto no
bigger than a room, with countless seeps trickling down the face of a
high, nearly dry waterfall. At the foot of the fall, maidenhair ferns
and stream orchids crowd beside a deep pool, while redbud, oaks, and
maples canopy a burbling brook. The sun rarely reaches this rock garden,
so that at midmorning it is significantly cooler than the grassy slopes
nearby. The water in the main pool is even cooler. So many big boulders
lie heaped across the canyon that few animals can reach the water, yet
all sorts of creatures live here. You’ll find leeches in the pool, and,
looking like a shelled peapod, a dead katydid’s exoskeleton gutted by
water insects. You’ll hear a canyon wren echoing its own song, and spy
tiny canyon tree frogs clinging to trees and rocks with sticky little
suction-cup mounted toes. Tiniest are the mites living in parasitic
comfort on the tree frogs. Such microenvironments stand in surprising
contrast to the grandiose environment of the mountain masses surrounding
you here in the Chisos, and elsewhere.

People call one particular spot high in the Chisos the top of the world.
If you sit there at sunset you can watch the turkey vultures describing
long, lazy figure eights from the top of the world down to the Window
and back. At that time of day those vultures, not looking for food,
simply seem to be enjoying their world and being alive. In those sunset
cruises they’re living to the limit of their unique life form—and are
glorifying Big Bend!

Big Bend’s future, as its past, will be ruled in the long run by
triumphant nature. The vulture’s self-celebration almost portends this.
If we are entering another Ice Age, what a new lease on life this will
be for the high mountain forests of Douglas-fir, ponderosa pines,
Arizona cypress, and quaking aspen. What vindication for the staying
power of these many beleaguered species. If on the other hand the desert
pushes on, the summer rains don’t come, and the springs dry up for good,
then Big Bend’s big trees will vanish like the dinosaurs.

Such events are beyond our power to influence or foretell. Indeed,
change may be so imperceptible, so slow, that people, supposing there
are people left in Big Bend, may find it perfectly natural. Or change
may be catastrophic, and those last Big Benders disappear without a
trace, as though snatched off the Earth. And those, if any, who come
after may then marvel over ruins and artifacts and ask what drove these
Ancients from their homes.

    [Illustration: The peregrine falcon’s easy soaring belies its diving
    speeds of up to 320 kph (200 mph). Peregrines nest in the river
    canyons and high Chisos.]

                         3    Guide and Advisor

    [Illustration: Road into the park]

                            Map of the Park

                 [Illustration: The Roads to Big Bend]

    This Texas map shows the main routes to Big Bend National Park.

                          Approaching Big Bend

Big Bend National Park sweeps so far south that, since there is no road
through it to Mexico, the park isn’t on the way to anywhere. That makes
an automobile the best transportation bet. Trains and transcontinental
buses approach only as close as Alpine and Marathon (see map). There is
no public transportation to or through the park. You can fly into the
Midland-Odessa airport to the north. Cars may be rented in Alpine and in
the Midland and Odessa areas. The distances encountered are vast, so
plan departures and arrivals conveniently for available facilities.

From San Antonio, Texas, it is 660 kilometers (410 miles) to the park
headquarters at Panther Junction via U.S. 90 to Marathon and south on
U.S. 385. Driving from the Persimmon Gap park entrance to park
headquarters will consume 46 of these kilometers (29 miles). The gap is
a low mountain pass once traversed by the Comanche War Trail, a
thoroughfare northward for thousands of horses stolen in Mexico. Had you
crossed this pass in 1859 you might have witnessed the U.S. military
experimenting with camels as beasts of burden for this dry country. The
cantankerous camels bettered the standard military mule on several
points. However, the Civil War ended the camel tryouts. The camel’s
aptness illustrates that you are traveling desert country. This calls
for unique precautions, so please read the “Tips for Desert Travelers”
on page 124.

From El Paso it is 520 kilometers (323 miles) to Panther Junction via
Interstate 10 to Van Horn, U.S. 90 to Alpine, and south via Texas 118.
You enter the park at the Maverick entrance. Just west of the park here
on Texas Ranch Road 170 is the ghost town of Terlingua, a worthwhile
side trip. In the park’s western section you find the Painted Desert,
eroded badlands formations showing distinct bands of colorful deposits
from up to 70 million years ago.

From El Paso and points west you can take U.S. 67 south from Marfa to
Presidio, approaching the park on Texas Ranch Road 170, the Camino del
Rio, at the Maverick entrance. From this entrance to the headquarters at
Panther Junction is about 43 kilometers (27 miles).

Water and gasoline are available in and around the park only at a few,
and often widely separated, points. Check your water supply and gas
gauge before you leave U.S. 90.

                           Driving the Park.

At Panther Junction you can purchase the _Road Guide to Paved and
Improved Dirt Roads of Big Bend National Park_. It describes five tours
and the points of interest en route. The Santa Elena and Basin drives
begin at junctions along the park road from Maverick to Panther
Junction. The Boquillas drive begins at Panther Junction. The Persimmon
Gap and Maverick drives extend from their respective entrances to
Panther Junction. A park map and information folder includes a large map
showing major natural and historical features, roads, and facilities and
services. It is available at Panther Junction in the administration
building, and in dispensers at Persimmon Gap and Maverick. (Supplies at
Maverick are sometimes exhausted.) Obtain a copy of this folder before
your trip by calling or writing the Superintendent, Big Bend National
Park, Texas 79834, (915) 477-2251.

                            Primitive Roads.

After you have toured the main points on the major park roads, you may
want to see more by vehicle. You can do so on the primitive roads, which
introduce further varieties of scenery and interesting plants, animals,
and historic features. Plan your trip in advance, don’t just turn off a
main road on the spur of the moment. And register at park headquarters,
getting current information about road conditions from a ranger. On
these primitive roads you are on your own, so play it safe. Primitive
roads are patrolled only infrequently. Some are suited only for 4-wheel
drive. A _Road Guide to Backcountry Dirt Roads of Big Bend National
Park_ may be purchased at Panther Junction.

    [Illustration: Horse and rider in the hills]

                          Persimmon Gap Drive.

This drive offers short side trips: on a motor nature trail up to Dagger
Flat, or just off the highway north of the Tornillo Creek bridge to the
fossil bones exhibit. Signs along the Dagger Flat road identify
Chihuahuan Desert species, including the giant-dagger yuccas, found in
the United States only in Big Bend country. The Fossil Bone Exhibit
shows an extinct mammal, _Coryphodon_, whose remains were found in
sandstone deposits about 50 million years old. Tornillo Creek is one of
the park’s largest drainages. The Chisos Mountains, seen as you approach
Panther Junction, are the park’s highest. Panther Junction is such a
focal point that you may overhear park employees call it PJ.

                            Maverick Drive.

Terlingua and Study Butte are ghost towns—or nearly so—which were once
prosperous cinnabar (mercury) mining communities. The large, rounded
Maverick Mountain north of the road near the Maverick entrance is the
eroded exposure of an intruded mass of molten rock pushed up through
softer, older rock beds. You will also see the Painted Desert and many
plants of the desert shrub community. Outside the park to the north the
Christmas Mountains are prominent. To the east the Chisos define the
skyline. Along the Maverick drive you come to the Santa Elena Junction,
where the Santa Elena drive begins (see below). Further on you will see
dry washes that can carry flash floods and gravel slopes formed by the
erosion of the mountains. Then you come to the Basin Junction, where the
Basin drive begins (see below). Near this area you may also see mule
deer, the peccary (or javelina), coyote, or other desert animals. The
next stop—except for pictures—is Panther Junction.

                            Boquillas Drive.

From Panther Junction you can head southeast toward the Rio Grande’s
Boquillas Canyon. Along the way are the Dugout Wells picnic area and
self-guiding nature trail, Hot Springs, and Rio Grande Village (see
Facilities and Services). Boquillas Canyon is one of the Rio Grande’s
three grandest canyons here in the park. It was cut through the Sierra
del Carmen (_sierra_ is Spanish for mountains) and is the longest of Big
Bend’s famous gorges. Across the river is the Mexican village of

                           Santa Elena Drive.

Spectacular historic and geologic features are found along the Santa
Elena drive. You observe wall-like dikes, massive gravel deposits, an
ancient buried valley, and a narrow canyon cut through volcanic tuff.
Across the river near Castolon is the Mexican village of Santa Elena. On
the U.S. side are adobe and stone ruins of dwellings for farms on the
river flats. Near the end of this drive a viewpoint gives an excellent
view of Santa Elena Canyon. Summer sunlight only strikes the canyon
mouth for several hours after sunrise. To take pictures, make this trip
in early morning. The canyon is usually hot in midday during summer.

                              Basin Drive.

From Basin Junction southward the Basin drive climbs out of desert
lowlands into the woodlands of the Chisos Mountains and their Basin, the
park’s “island” of green. The grade of the approach road is deceptive:
watch that your vehicle does not overheat. The Big Bend agave plant
reaches heights of 4 meters (15 feet). Even if you miss its bright
yellow blossoms in summer, the old stalk remains standing for a year or
two. As you drive up Green Gulch the vegetation changes from desert
shrub to woodland species. The road’s highest point is Panther Pass,
more than 1.6 kilometers (1 mile) in elevation. At the parking lot here
the Lost Mine Trail begins its ascent of Lost Mine Ridge, where legends
of a rich Spanish mine have touched off many a vain (no pun intended)
search. From the top you get superb views into Mexico. As you leave the
parking lot the road begins to descend into the Chisos Basin via a
series of sharp curves. (Read about the Chisos Basin under Facilities
and Services.)

                            Driving Safety.

There are desert-related driving hazards not mentioned above. Please see
Tips for Desert Travelers.

                        Facilities and Services

Overnight lodging is available inside the park at the Chisos Mountains
Lodge in the Basin; at campgrounds at the Basin, Castolon, and Rio
Grande Village; and at a small trailer park at Rio Grande Village.

Chisos Mountains Lodge accommodates more than 200 guests in
stone-and-adobe cottages with terraces and private baths and in modern
motel-type units. Reservations should be made by writing to National
Park Concessions, Inc., Big Bend National Park, Texas 79834. The lodge
coffeeshop serves food from 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.


Campgrounds at the Basin, Castolon, and Rio Grande Village provide water
and comfort stations. Electricity and fuel are not available, except
that the concessioner sells charcoal. Ground fires are not permitted. At
Rio Grande Village only there are pay showers and laundry facilities for
campers. Large groups may make advance campground reservations, but
families, other small parties, and individuals may not.

A number of backcountry roadside campsites are located along the park’s
backcountry dirt roads. A free permit, available at any ranger station,
is required. If you are interested in a primitive site, ask at a ranger

                             Trailer Parks.

Rio Grande Village trailer park has hookups; use of all hookups is
required. Consult a ranger before taking trailers into the Basin
campground. The road to the Basin is not recommended for trailers longer
than 6 meters (20 feet) or RVs (7 meters/24 feet) due to sharp curves
and steep grades.

                      Stores and Service Stations.

Groceries, cold drinks, camping supplies, and film can be bought at the
Basin, Rio Grande Village, Castolon, and Panther Junction. There is a
gift shop in the Chisos Mountains Lodge. Minor auto repair service and
gasoline may be obtained at Panther Junction. Gasoline is sold in the
park at Castolon, Rio Grande Village, and Panther Junction only, so
check your gauge before you leave U.S. 90, and periodically in the park.

                             Saddle Horses.

You can arrange for saddle horses, pack animals, and guides in the Basin
with Chisos Remuda, Basin Rural Station, Big Bend National Park, Texas

                          Naturalist Programs.

Illustrated evening talks are presented in summer at dusk at the
amphitheater in the Basin, and in other seasons at Rio Grande Village
and park headquarters. Schedules for all programs are listed on park
bulletin boards.

The naturalist programs at Big Bend are designed to help you understand
and enjoy the natural and historic features. The park road system
features wayside exhibits and markers about local attractions. The
Dagger Flat Interpretive Auto Trail leaves the park road south of
Persimmon Gap. Self-guiding trails are located at park headquarters,
Dugout Wells, Santa Elena Canyon, the Basin, and Rio Grande Village. A
descriptive booklet is available at the head of the Lost Mine Trail in
the Chisos Mountains, to help you identify plants, animals, and
panoramic views.

Park naturalists and rangers provide many other services to interpret
the park’s geology, plants, animals, and history. You can supplement
these personal services by purchasing maps and publications at park
headquarters in Panther Junction.

    [Illustration: A rainbow cactus in bloom is about to be immortalized
    by a young photographer.]

    [Illustration: The Panther Path, a self-guiding nature trail outside
    the visitor center, introduces you to cactuses and other desert
    plants of the park.]

                        Walking Trips and Hiking

Besides floating the river, the surest way to experience the “real time”
of the park is to walk out into it. Neither desert nor mountains will
reveal themselves to a motor vehicle. Opportunities for walks and hikes
abound, from short strolls on well-developed nature trails to multi-day,
cross-park treks via its network of trails. Walks and hikes are
described in _Hiker’s Guide to the Developed Trails and Primitive
Routes, Big Bend National Park_ (see Armchair Explorations). The guide
and a “Terlingua-Chisos Mountains, Texas” topographic map sold at park
headquarters or by mail, give particulars. General information follows.

If you take a trail, please stay on it. Trails are routed for safety and
constructed to avoid washouts and erosion. Shortcutting increases
erosion and rockslides. Low-heeled street shoes or sneakers will suffice
on developed trails, but if you hike off trails, wear hiking boots with
thick lug soles to protect against sharp rocks and the spines of desert
plants. Carry tweezers in your first aid kit, for pulling spines and
thorns. Take plenty of food and water to carry you through your return
or your connection with new supplies. In hot weather one person needs 4
liters (1 gallon) of water per day; in winter slightly less. In winter
rattlesnakes are rare. In summer they are common, but are mostly abroad
at night. (See Poisonous Reptiles under Tips for Desert Travelers.)

Smoking is prohibited on trails, because fire poses a real threat to
plants and animals in this dry country. Building ground fires is
prohibited, too. You will need charcoal or a camping stove in the
campgrounds. In the backcountry you will need a backpacking stove and
sufficient fuel for cooking and for heating water.

Water is a precious resource anywhere, but here in Big Bend it is also
scarce. Do not pollute streams, springs, or tinajas by washing in them
or close to them. Also be careful where you make your toilet in the

Short walks on developed trails are available throughout the park. Short
walks of 3.2 kilometers (2 miles) or less include: Window View Trail
(Chisos Basin); Rio Grande Village Nature Trail; Burro Mesa Pouroff
Trail (Sotol Vista/Castolon Road); Boquillas Canyon Trail; Chisos Basin
Loop Trail; Santa Elena Canyon Trail; and Hot Springs Canyon Overlook
Trail (off the road to Rio Grande Village).

Beyond the short walks, hiking and backcountry options are endless. If
you go off trail, wear proper gear, carry adequate supplies, use a
topographic map, and know your route. Get advice on routes and gear from
any park ranger or at park headquarters or any ranger station. It is
important that you inform someone, preferably a park ranger, of your
intended route. A backcountry permit is required whenever you plan to
camp overnight anywhere but in developed campgrounds. Backcountry
permits are issued free at park information and orientation points (see

Take it easy on the trails and enjoy yourself, especially until you are
acclimated. In the mountains, the elevation adds to the exertion. In the
lowlands the heat is an important factor.


To learn about the raven, writes Barry Lopez in _Desert Notes_, “bury
yourself in the desert so that you have a commanding view of the high
basalt cliffs where he lives. Let only your eyes protrude. Do not
blink—the movement will alert the raven to your continued presence ...
there will be at least one bird who will find you. He will see your eyes
staring up out of the desert floor. The raven is cautious, but he is
thorough. He will sense your peaceful intentions. Let him have the first
word. Be careful: he will tell you he knows nothing.”

The raven is one of more than 400 species of birds that have been seen
in Big Bend National Park. Why so many? The park lies right smack on the
flyway for birds winging north out of Mexico and, indeed, almost
three-fourths of the species recorded in the park fly right on through.
But for serious birders—even those less determined than the raven seeker
Lopez describes—this is paradise. During the spring migration northbound
birds confront the northwest-southeast trending Sierra del Carmen.
Instead of flying over them, most birds keep to the west and are
funneled right into the park. For the return trip in fall, however, the
Sierra del Carmen have the opposite effect. Many southbound birds peel
off east at Persimmon Gap. The fall migration is smaller and brings more
lowland than mountain species.

The springtime bursts of birdsong are inspired by the drive to claim
territory, as some 100 species nest within the park. Many of these
breeding birds will abandon the lowlands as soon as their young are big
enough, moving to the mountains to beat the heat. Rio Grande Village,
for example, is at its low ebb for birdlife in July, and in the Chisos
Basin you will find yourself identifying lowland birds left and right!
But all in all, Rio Grande Village, with its ponds, cottonwood groves,
rich riverbottoms, heavy brushlands, and neighboring desert, is the best
year-round birding site in the park. In the springtime it offers an
unbelievable display of species.

The Chisos Basin is the second best overall birding site, providing a
long parade of mountain birds throughout the year, as well as lowland
birds. The Basin is one of three spots for the annual Christmas Bird
Count, along with Rio Grande Village and the Castolon-Santa Elena Canyon
area. Over a five-year period, 147 species have been counted at these
locations at Christmas time.

The Colima warbler is probably the park’s most famous bird, because in
all the United States it nests only here in the Chisos Mountains. It
arrives in April from southwest Mexico and leaves in mid-September. The
Big Bend has also remained one of the few successful breeding grounds of
the peregrine falcon, a species that suffered much from pesticides. You
are most likely to see peregrines during their spring migration, but
nesting pairs have been sighted at Santa Elena, Mariscal, and Boquillas
canyons and in the Chisos Mountains. These predatory birds prefer to
nest in a scrape on a high cliff ledge. This falcon, about the size of a
crow, is slaty backed and barred below, with a pair of black “mustaches”
on the face. In its magnificent dive, the peregrine is one of the
fastest moving animals on Earth.

For advice on good birding spots at any time of the year, or on where to
find specific birds, ask a ranger or at park headquarters. Also see
Armchair Explorations.

                           Birds of Big Bend

    [Illustration: Summer tanager]

    [Illustration: Gray vireo]

    [Illustration: Great horned owl]

    [Illustration: Yellow breasted chat]

    [Illustration: Blackthroated sparrow]

    [Illustration: Painted bunting]

    [Illustration: Belted kingfisher]

    [Illustration: Roadrunner]

                           Floating the River

    [Illustration: Boulders dwarf the raft of Park Service employees
    landing in Santa Elena Canyon.]

    [Illustration: A kayaker drifts into reflections.]

If you stumbled onto the Rio Grande upstream of the park, between El
Paso and Presidio, during most of the year you’d say “Oh well, forget
floating!” That stretch is most often dry, sapped by irrigation
projects. But the Rio Grande gets a new lease on life as the Rio
Conchos, draining Mexican mountains, flows into it at Presidio. You can
thank the Rio Conchos for the prospects of floating the Big Bend. Along
the park boundary and down to the Terrell-Val Verde County Line, the Rio
Grande is designated a national wild and scenic river for 307.8
kilometers (191.2 miles). The “scenic” goes without saying. When you hit
the rapids or a cross-channel current hits you, the “wild” designation
rings true as well.

Below is general information about floating the river.
Particulars—including descriptions of the canyons and some rapids—are
contained in, among others, the river guide series published by the Big
Bend Natural History Association. (See Armchair Explorations.)

The first fact: You need a permit to float the Rio Grande in the park,
including the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River. The free permit is
available from park headquarters and ranger stations, or any park
ranger. Permits will not be issued if the river is at flood stage. In
high water the river is outright dangerous. The annual high water season
is July through October. Flash floods are a great danger through summer
and early fall. The best months for river running are November through
February, when water levels are relatively stable and the heat is
moderate. By late April or early May and after the heat can be a

The recommended craft is the inflatable raft. It is not as prone to
damage from submerged rocks as are kayaks and canoes. Any rigid craft
may break up when slammed into the canyon’s rock walls by treacherous
cross-channel currents. No craft or accessory gear is available for
rental within the park. You must bring your own, or make arrangements
with an outfitter. (Call or write the park for information on local
outfitting services.)

A second fact: Any float party, as the name implies, should consist of
two or more people for obvious safety reasons. Fact three: Everybody
should be able to swim....

You will need two vehicles, one for put-in and one for take-out. Gear
should include: approved personal flotation device for each person and
one extra for each boat; boat paddle for each person; waterproof duffle;
freshwater; flashlight; lash lines and a 15-meter (50-foot) bow line and
15-meter (50-foot) stern line; extra paddle for each boat; first aid
kit; and boat patching kit. Lash all these items to prevent their loss
in the event that your craft capsizes.

Lest you be discouraged by the safety warnings and logistical
considerations, suffice it to say that from the river inside Big Bend’s
magnificent gorges you will experience an intimate immensity rare on
this Earth.


Most of the park’s native fish are of minnow size but the Rio Grande
does attract anglers. The major attractions are catfish, gizzard shad,
carp and suckers, the freshwater drum, and an occasional longnose gar.
The complete list of fish recorded in the park and its immediate
surroundings includes 35 species, including bluegill and sunfish

Most anglers are after the blue, channel, and flathead catfish. The blue
and flathead are favored food fish. The longnose gar may reach over a
meter (4 feet) in length and is predatory, as its long snout and sharp
teeth suggest. You do not need a fishing license to fish in the national
park. For advice on fishing spots and preferred methods, ask a park

Yellow cat up to 45 kilos (100 pounds) have been taken from the river,
and 14-kilo (30-pound) cats are not uncommon. Channel and blue cats also
provide fine sport and good eating. These deepwater species feed on
aquatic plants, insects, and smaller fish, both living and dead. They
spawn in depressions and sheltered nooks in river banks and canyon
cliffs. While catfish account for most of the recreational fishing in
the Rio, many other interesting species swim the brown waters: the
predatory garfish, needlenosed and shaped like a torpedo; the humpbacked
carp that can survive even in limited waters; smallmouth buffalo,
sheepshead, and green sunfish; the bullhead that favors quiet waters and
can endure higher temperatures and lower oxygen content than most other
fish; and of course the minnows, as plentiful and gregarious as
sparrows, with a preference for running water and rocky or sandy

                       Tips for Desert Travelers

                     Best Times to Visit Big Bend.

Winter days will be nippy in Big Bend’s mountains and comfortably warm
in the lowlands. Snow falls in the mountains once or twice a year.
Spring hits the desert lowlands in February and begins a slow ascent up
the mountain heights, arriving in May. Some of the desert plants bloom
throughout the year, but the most predictable displays are in
springtime. Summer is problematic. If you come in the summer you will
probably want to take to the mountains. Midsummer daytime temperatures
in the desert and river valley generally hover above 38°C (100°F)—often
well above. But up in the Basin, daytime temperatures average 29°C
(85°F) and nights are cool. Autumn is usually sunny, with the air gentle
and warm. The best months for running the river are November through
February, both for river conditions and for avoiding summer’s intense
heat in the canyons.

                           Climbing Hazards.

The character of the basic rock in the park is very unstable, making it
unsafe for climbing. Climbing is not recommended.

                             Night Driving.

Be extra alert for wildlife while you are driving at night. Many
creatures, particularly deer, may be blinded by your headlights so that
they make no effort to get off the road.

                           Spines and Thorns.

Beware the cactus and other spine- and thorn-bearing plants, shrubs, and
trees. These can inflict painful injury. To protect yourself, wear stout
shoes and tough clothing if you go hiking off the developed trails. If
you go out at night, walk carefully, carry a flashlight, and don’t
venture out too far. The National Park Service recommends that you carry
tweezers for removing irritating spines, which may be too small to
extract with your fingers. People have even gotten mouthfuls of
delicate—but highly irritating—spines of some pricklypear cactus species
while trying to eat the fruits! Delicate spines hardly noticeable to the
naked eye can inflict painful injury.

                           Poisonous Reptiles.

The park contains copperhead snakes and four species of rattlesnakes,
although these are seldom seen in daylight. Though poisonous, they are
protected in the park. Do not molest or harm them. Very few snakebites
occur in the park. Most of these involve bites to the hands of people
who have reached into places where they couldn’t see a snake resting or
hiding. The general precautions are these: Stay on trails after dark and
use a flashlight, and avoid bushes and damp areas. There are no
poisonous lizards at Big Bend, but if you molest lizards they may bite

                       Tarantulas and Scorpions.

Tarantulas, contrary to horror films, will not bite you unless you annoy
them. And the park species of scorpion is not deadly, although if you
are stung, get prompt attention.

                          No Medical Services.

There are no doctors or nurses in the park. The closest hospital, in
Alpine, is 174 kilometers (108 miles) from park headquarters. Terlingua
Medics, a nonprofit first-aid station and medical care facility, is
located 42 kilometers (26 miles) west of park headquarters, in Study
Butte. The trained paramedics can provide interim care until further
help can be obtained in Alpine.

Carry your own first-aid supplies (including tweezers). Please notify
the nearest park ranger or park headquarters immediately of accidents or

                           Use Water Wisely.

Carry drinking water with you whenever you are in desert country. This
is particularly a must when hiking: 4 liters (1 gallon) per day per
person is a good rule of thumb. And remember: Start your return trip
_before_ half of your water supply is used up. Floaters and boaters, do
not drink the river water: Carry your own. Any spring water used for
drinking should be treated first.

                             Flash Floods.

High water is a threat during the flash floods that may follow summer
thunderstorms. You must be alert for this because a flash flood may
travel down the watershed to you even though you were not rained on.
Flash floods make roadway dips potential death traps. If you are caught
in high water, drive slowly to avoid stalling your engine: Do not splash
through at a high speed. And by all means, avoid any high water!
Washouts are a hazard in a storm and afterwards, so be on the lookout
for them. These same precautions about high water and low spots apply to
camping, too. Do not camp in washes and arroyos. They could turn into
swirling rivers while you sleep, and you might not even have the warning
of raindrops to wake you.

                            Park Regulations


The maximum speed on park roads is 72 kilometers (45 miles) per hour.
Slower limits are posted; please observe them. Do not pass or park on
curves, and take road dips slowly. Motorized vehicles are restricted to
park roadways and are prohibited on all trails. Check with a park ranger
before driving the primitive roads.

                               Trail Use.

Stay on trails because shortcuts mar the area and can cause erosion and
destructive rockslides. Smoking is not allowed on trails because fire is
a constant hazard here. Please carry out all your refuse.

                           Camping and Fires.

Camping is limited to campgrounds except for backcountry camping, which
is by permit only. Building wood and ground fires is prohibited.

                           Fishing Licenses.

Fishing licenses are not required. Obtain fishing information from any
park ranger.

                           Firearms and Pets.

Use or display of firearms is prohibited. Pets must be kept on a leash
at all times, and they are not permitted on trails or in public

                               River Use.

A permit is required to float the Rio Grande. At high water float trips
are particularly hazardous. No permits are issued for Santa Elena and
Mariscal Canyons when the river is at flood stage. Swimming in the river
is discouraged because of the dangers, many of which are unseen. Obtain
float permits at park headquarters or ranger stations. For information
call or write the Superintendent, Big Bend National Park, Texas 79834,
(915) 477-2251.

                         Armchair Explorations

Selected books, maps, guides, and other publications are offered for
sale at the park or through the mail by the Big Bend Natural History
Association, Big Bend National Park, Texas 79834. Please write and ask
for a free list.

  Casey, Clifford B. _Mirages, Mysteries and Reality, Brewster County,
          Texas, The Big Bend of the Rio Grande._ Pioneer Book
          Publishers, 1972.
  Deckert, Frank. _Big Bend: Three Steps to the Sky._ Big Bend Natural
          History Association, 1981.
  Langford, J.O. with Fred Gipson. _Big Bend, A Homesteader’s Story._
          University of Texas Press, 1973.
  Larson, Peggy. _The Deserts of the Southwest._ Sierra Club Books,
  Madison, Virginia. _The Big Bend Country of Texas_ (Revised edition).
          October House Inc., 1968.
  Maxwell, Ross A. _The Big Bend of the Rio Grande._ Guidebook 7. Texas
          Bureau of Economic Geology, 1968.
  Sonnichsen, C.L. _The Mescalero Apaches_ (Second edition). University
          of Oklahoma Press, 1973.
  Tyler, Ronnie C. _The Big Bend: A History of the Last Texas Frontier._
          National Park Service, 1975.
  Warnock, Barton H. _Wildflowers of the Big Bend Country, Texas._ Sul
          Ross State University, 1970.
  Wauer, Roland H. _Naturalists’ Big Bend._ Texas A&M Press, 1980.


   _Numbers in italics refer to photographs, illustrations, or maps._

  Alvarez, Navidad 91
  Amphibians 22, 45
  Animals 34, 40, 75, 107;
      Basin 99-102;
      canyons 62;
      grasslands 89;
      illustrations _68-69_, _71_, _82-83_, _100-101_, _103_;
      prehistoric 63, 66-71

  Beaver 75
  Big Bend National Park:
      accommodations & services, 18, 117-18;
      fishing, 123;
      founding, 22-23;
      health advice, 119;
      hiking, 119;
      International Biosphere Reserve, 94;
      map, _112_;
      nature trails, 74-75;
      rafting, 122-23;
      regulations, 125;
      size, 6, 18;
      transportation & roads, 23, 112, 114-17;
      water conservation program, 49
  Birds 44, 56, 61-62, _63_, 77, 108, 120-_21_.
      _See also_ Eagle, golden; Falcon
  Bobcat _82_, _100-101_, 107
  Boquillas Canyon 22, 62, 64, 114

  Cabeza de Vaca, Álvar Núñez 12, 32, 86
  Cactus 30, 32, 75;
      photos, _13_, _14_, _31_, _116_
  Camel 12
  Candelilla _32_
  Cano, Chico _91_
  Canyons 59-71;
      photos, _64-65_
  Castolon _60_, 70, 77
  Castolon Peak _4-5_, 23, _122_
  Century plant _cover_, 88-_89_
  Chisos Basin _cover_, 94-108, _115_, 120
  Chisos Mining Company 15, 18
  Chisos Mountains _16-17_, 22, 70, _92_, 93-94;
      South rim, _20-21_, 81, 94, _95_, 120
  Considine, Roy J. _91_
  Cottonwood _47_, _72_, 77
  Coyote _83_, _100_, 101
  Creosotebush _26_, 27, 29

  Deer 18, _19_, _82_, _99_
  Desert, Chihuahuan 6, 22, 65, 77;
      illustrations _16-17_, _28_
  Desert, Painted 114
  Desert, shrub 22, 28-30, 74, 77, 80, 81, 84

  Eagle, golden 59, _101_

  Falcon _106_, _109_, 120
  Faver, Milton 50
  Fishing 123
  Fossils 66, _67_, _68-69_, 70, 114.
      _See also_ Animals, prehistoric
  Frog, leopard _44_
  Fur Trade 82-83

  Geology 6-7, 18, 59-60, _64-65_, 66-67, 70, 98
  Ghost towns 114
  Glenn Spring 45
  Gopher, pocket 32
  Grass 74, 80-81, 84, 89, 93, 102
  Grasshopper 33, 85
  Grassland 73-74, 77, 80-81, 84-85, 89
  Green Gulch 11, 94, 115;
      Upper, 99

  Hiking 119
  Hot Springs _60_
  Hot Springs Canyon 61

  Indians 12, 13, 15, _84_, 85, _86-87_, 88
  Insects 29, 34, 40, 44, 54, 56, 102, 108;
      water, 45, 48, 60-61
  International Biosphere Reserve 94

  Jackrabbit 34, _100-101_
  Javelina. _See_ Peccary
  Johnson’s Trading Post, Elmo _82-83_
  Juniper, alligator _20-21_

  Katydid 40, 102, 108

  Lechuguilla 28, _32_, 84
  Lion, mountain 101, _103_
  Lizard 34, _35_, 38
  Locust _49_

  Mammals, Age of 67-69
  Marfa 50
  Mariscal Canyon 22, _61_, 62, 64
  Mariscal (Lindsey) Mine 15, 104-5
  Mesa de Anguila 18, 64
  Mesquite, honey 77, 80
  Millipede 33
  Mosquitofish 74, _76_

  Ocotillo _29_-30

  Panther Pass 94, 102, 115
  Peccary 32, 34, _45_, 82
  Plants 22, _26_, 28-32, 62, 74-75, 99, 114-15
  Persimmon Gap 13, 66
  Petroglyphs _85_
  Population 12-13, 15, 18
  Presidio 59
  Pricklypear _14_, 30, _31_, 32

  Raccoon 73
  Rafting 122-23
  Rainfall 22, 53, 93
  Ranching 18, 49, _50-51_
  Rat, kangaroo _38_-39, 56
  Rio Conchos 59, 64
  Rio Grande 6-22 _passim_, 59-60, 90;
      photos _8-11_
  Rio Grande Village 60, 73-77, 120
  Roadrunner _38-39_, _121_

  Sam Nail Ranch 49
  Santa Elena Canyon 22, 23 62, 63, 64, 114-15;
      photos, _9-11_, _58_, _122_
  Scorpion _33_, 124
  Settlements _60_
  Shafter, William H. _86_
  Sierra del Carmen 18, 23, 64, 66
  Snakes _36-37_, 38, 40, 124
  Sotol 85
  Swallows, cliff 56, 62, _63_

  Tamarisk 49, _52_, 53, 62
  Terlingua Abaja mine 75, 114
  Tinaja, Ernst _42_, 43, 48
  Toad, Couch’s spadefoot _44_
  Tornillo Flat 68, 80-81
  Trees _20-21_, 22, 70, 93-107 _passim_.
      _See also_ Cottonwood; Tamarisk
  Turtle 61

  Victorio, Chief 86, _87_

  Waldron Mine _104-5_
  Warbler, colima 120
  Water 43, 48-49, 59, 77, 107-8;
      _See also_ Rainfall
  Wildflowers 53-54, _55_, 56, _57_
  Window, the _cover_, _24-25_, 108

  Yucca 85, _88_, _114_

                                                  * GPO:1962-361-611/103

                              Handbook 119

The National Park Service expresses its appreciation to all those
persons who made the preparation and production of this handbook
possible. The Service also gratefully acknowledges the financial support
given this handbook project by the Big Bend Natural History Association,
a nonprofit group that assists interpretive efforts at Big Bend National


All photographs and other artwork not credited below are from the files
of Big Bend National Park and the National Park Service.

  Amon Carter Museum 87 Indian.
  Tom Bean 14, 19, 24-25, 29, 38 patchnose, 60 color, 88, 99 mule deer,
          110-111, 118 photographer.
  Frank Bell 4-5, 31 pricklypear and fish-hook, 46, 55 caltrop, Desert
          baileya, dayflower and cardinal flower, 72.
  Richards Bushnell 8.
  Robert P. Carr 26, 42, 47, 63, 78-79, 103, 106.
  Ed Cooper 41.
  Frank Deckert 57.
  John Dieckhoner 38-39, 81-82 drawings, 100-101.
  Frid Fridrikson 109.
  David Goss 122 kayaker.
  Hunter’s, Alpine, Texas 51 longhorns.
  Library of Congress 87 soldier.
  Rick LoBello 44 toad, 45, 85 mortar hole, 118 with book, 121 vireo.
  David Muench covers, 9-11, 16-17, 20-21, 58, 92, 95-97.
  Syd Radinovsky 33.
  Smithers Collection, Humanities Research Center, University of Texas
          at Austin 50-51 except longhorns, 81-82 photo, 91 inset, 104,
  Doris Lee Tischler 68-69 color.
  John Tveten 121 tanager, bunting, kingfisher and chat.

                         National Park Service
                    U.S. Department of the Interior

As the Nation’s principal conservation agency, the Department of the
Interior has responsibility for most of our nationally owned public
lands and natural resources. This includes fostering the wisest use of
our land and water resources, protecting our fish and wildlife,
preserving the environmental and cultural values of our national parks
and historical places, and providing for the enjoyment of life through
outdoor recreation. The Department assesses our energy and mineral
resources and works to assure that their development is in the best
interest of all our people. The Department also has a major
responsibility for American Indian reservation communities and for
people who live in island territories under U.S. administration.

                                                      IBSN 0—912627-15-8

    [Illustration: Sunset silhouettes a century plant and lone bird
    through the Window, from the Basin in the Chisos Mountains.]

      *      *      *      *      *      *

Transcriber’s note:

—Relocated all image captions to be immediately under the corresponding
  images, removing redundant references like ”preceding page”.

—Silently corrected a few obvious typographical errors.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Big Bend National Park, Texas" ***

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