July 27, 2009
Deep in the heart of southwestern Texas, the massive Rio Grande River takes a dramatic curve that's known as Big Bend. The million acres surrounding this natural phenomenon is famous for its fabulous hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, jeeping, and river running. If you're in the mood for breathtaking views and big-time fun, just head to this stunning area along the border with Mexico.
Big Bend National Park
Sometimes considered "three parks in one," Big Bend includes mountain, desert, and river environments. An hour’s drive can take you from the banks of the Rio Grande to a mountain basin nearly a mile high.
Big Bend National Park has national significance as the largest protected area of Chihuahuan Desert topography and ecology in the United States. The 118 river miles that form the southern park boundary include the spectacular canyons of Santa Elena, Mariscal, and Boquillas. The Rio Grande, meandering through this portion of the Chihuahuan Desert, has cut deep canyons with nearly vertical walls through three uplifts comprised primarily of limestone. Throughout the open desert areas, the highly productive Rio Grande riparian zone includes various plant and animal species and significant cultural resources. The vegetative belt extends into the desert along creeks and arroyos.
What to Do?
Hiking, driving, and floating top the list of fun Big Bend activities. The national park is filled with hiking trails of varying difficulty, from mountain treks to self-guided nature walks. If a scenic drive is more your speed, then you're in luck. With more than 300 miles of roads, Big Bend has plenty of choices.
Floating is one of the most popular activities in the park. Whether you take a raft or canoe, you'll glide down the Rio Grande, taking in the dramatic cliff faces to either side. This is a fabulous way to see wildlife and to get to know the river.
The park exhibits dramatic contrasts -- its climate may be characterized as one of extremes. Dry, hot late spring and early summer days often exceed 100 degrees in the lower elevations. Winters are normally mild throughout the park, but sub-freezing temperatures occasionally occur. Because of the range in altitude from approximately 1,800 feet along the river to 7,800 feet in the Chisos Mountains, a wide variation in available moisture and in temperature exists throughout the park. These variations contribute to an exceptional diversity in plant and animal habitats.
Proximity to Mexico
Big Bend National Park encompasses more than 800,000 acres in southwest Texas. For more than 1,000 miles, the Rio Grande forms the international boundary between Mexico and the United States, and Big Bend National Park administers one-quarter of that boundary. Within the 118 twisting miles that also define the park’s southern boundary, the river’s southeasterly flow changes abruptly to the northeast and forms the "big bend" of the Rio Grande.
South of the border, people call the Rio Grande by its Spanish name, Rio Bravo del Norte. South of the river lie the Mexican states of Chihuahua and Coahuila and the new protected areas for flora and fauna, which are comprised of regions known as the Maderas del Carmen and the Cañon de Santa Elena.
Set up a base camp in Big Bend country and get to know some of the area's unitque attractions. You can visit the eclectic B&Bs and Main Street shopping area of Marathon or head to the Terlingua Ranch, 200,000 acres of privately owned land with 1,100 miles of natural surface roads. This is a great place to go mountain biking, eat a fine meal, or take a dip in the pool.
At the Terlingua Ghost Town, you can explore the spooky side of Texas history. Visit the trading company, tour the art galleries, and learn all about the town's frontier mining past. Terlingua is also famous for its chili and was the home of the first famous championship chili cook off in 1967.
Beautiful Alpine ,Texas is the home of the annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering and a number of other fun events. Be sure to tour the charming shops and restaurants in this chain-free community.