Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park sees more than 440 thousand annual visitors

Named for the prominent bend in the Rio Grande along the U.S.–Mexico border, Big Bend National Park encompasses a large and remote part of the Chihuahuan Desert. Its main attraction is backcountry recreation in the arid Chisos Mountains and in canyons along the river. A wide variety of Cretaceous and Tertiary fossils as well as cultural artifacts of Native Americans also exist within its borders.


Big Bend National Park is a geologist’s paradise

That portion of the earth’s surface known as the Big Bend has often been described as a geologist’s paradise. In part this is due to the sparse vegetation of the region, which allows the various strata to be easily observed and studied. It is also due to the complex geologic history of the area, presenting a challenge to students and researchers from all over the world.

Not all field geologists, however, refer to the Big Bend as a paradise. For some, this land of twisted, tortured rock is a nightmare. The abundance, diversity and complexity of visible rock outcrops is staggering, especially to first-time observers. From 500 million year old rocks at Persimmon Gap to modern-day windblown sand dunes at Boquillas Canyon, geologic formations in Big Bend demonstrate amazingly diverse depositional styles over a vast interval of time. For most of us, time is measured by the passing of days, years and generations.

The concept of geologic time, however, is not so easily understood. Events that occurred 2 million, 26 million or as many as 120 million years ago are, at best, difficult to comprehend. Since astronomers now place the age of the earth at approximately 4.6 billion years we should perhaps consider ourselves fortunate that the oldest rocks found in the Big Bend are only about 500 million years old. Initial commentary on the geology of the Big Bend was provided by early-day explorers and adventurers in the 1800’s. Subsequent studies by numerous 20th century researchers enable us now to reasonably reconstruct the complex geologic history of the Big Bend.

For a period of at least 200 million years, ending some 300 million years ago in the Paleozoic Era, a deep-ocean trough extended from present-day Arkansas and Oklahoma into the Big Bend region of far West Texas. Sediments from highlands to the north accumulated in that trough to form layers of gravel, sand and clay. With the passing of time, these layers became sandstone and shale beds. About 300 million years ago these strata were “squeezed” upward by collision with a continent to the south to form the ancestral Ouachita mountains. Subsequent erosion over an interval of 160 million years left only the roots of those mountains visible. These remnants may be observed today in the Ouachita Mountains of southeastern Oklahoma, in the immediate vicinity of Marathon, Texas, and in Big Bend National Park near Persimmon Gap.

A warm, shallow sea invaded the Big Bend during the Cretaceous Period, some 135 million years ago, providing the setting for deposition of lime mud and the remains of sea-dwelling organisms such as clams and snails. Limestone layers formed from those shallow muds are now visible throughout much of the Big Bend. They comprise the dramatic walls of Santa Elena, Mariscal and Boquillas canyons, the entire range of the Sierra del Caballo Muerto (Dead Horse Mountains) and the magnificent cliffs of the Sierra del Carmen in Coahuila, Mexico, towering above Rio Grande Village. Approximately 100 million years ago the shallow Cretaceous sea began a gradual retreat to its present location, the Gulf of Mexico. Sandstone and clay sediments that formed along the retreating shoreline are found in lowlands surrounding the Chisos Mountains. Shallow water strata of this episode contain the fossil remains of oysters, giant clams, ammonites, and a variety of fishes and marine reptiles. Near-shore deposits in Big Bend have yielded petrified wood, fossil turtles and crocodiles–one almost 50 feet long! Deposits from further inland contain fossil remains of a variety of dinosaurs. Perhaps the most famous of Big Bend’s fossil treasures from this period is the giant flying reptile, Quetzalcoatlus northropi, with a wingspan over 35 feet. (A replica of the bones of one wing is now on exhibit at the Panther Junction Visitor Center.)

Near the end of the Cretaceous Period, a west-to-east compression of the earth’s crust marked the beginning of the second major mountain-building period in Big Bend. This compression, which began in Canada, moved gradually southward, uplifting and folding ancient sediments to form the Rocky Mountains. In Big Bend National Park, Mariscal Mountain represents the southernmost extension of the Rockies in the United States. Broad uplift punctuated by upward folding exposed both the erosion-resistant lower Cretaceous limestones and the less resistant overlying sandstones and clays to the onslaught of erosion. Limestone cliffs throughout the region continue to be eroded today; most of the more easily removed sandstone and clay is gone from the mountains.

For almost 10 million years after uplift ended, non-marine sediments of the Tertiary period constitute the only record of events in the Big Bend. Dinosaurs had long been gone from the land, their places taken by a proliferation of mammals, many of whose remains have been found in Big Bend…horses, rhinos, camels and rodents, as well as fossils of the plants on which they thrived. All was not to remain quiet for long. Near the present northwest boundary of Big Bend National Park, the first of a long series of volcanic eruptions occurred approximately 42 million years ago. Upwelling magma lifted the mass now known as the Christmas Mountains, fracturing and weakening overlying strata, allowing massive outpourings of lava to spread across the land. The oldest volcanic rocks in Big Bend owe their origins to this eruptive cycle. Between roughly 38 and 32 million years ago Big Bend itself hosted a series of volcanic eruptions. Initial activity in this cycle centered in the Sierra Quemada, below the present South Rim of the Chisos Mountains. Subsequent volcanic activity at Pine Canyon, Burro Mesa, near Castolon and elsewhere in the park is responsible for the brightly colored volcanic ash and lava layers of the lower elevations and for most of the mass of the Chisos Mountains.

Volcanic activity was not continuous during these eruptive cycles. Periods of hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of years passed between eruptions. During the quiet interludes the forces of erosion carved new landscapes, many of which were destined to be buried under layers of ash and lava from later eruptions. Life returned to the land only to be displaced by future eruptions. Elsewhere in the Big Bend rising magma sometimes failed to reach the surface. Instead, it spread within existing layers of rock, uplifting and fracturing overlying strata. Once the magma cooled and crystallized it formed solid masses of erosion-resistant intrusive igneous rock which have now been exposed by erosion of the overlying material. Maverick Mountain, the Grapevine Hills, Nugent Mountain and Pulliam Ridge are among many examples in Big Bend of such “frozen” magma chambers.

Beginning some 26 million years ago, stresses generated along the West coast of North America resulted in stretching of the earth’s crust as far east as Big Bend. As a result of these tensional forces fracture zones developed which, over time, allowed large bodies of rock to slide downward along active faults. The central mass of Big Bend National Park, including the Chisos Mountains, from the Sierra del Carmen to the east to the Mesa de Anguila to the west comprises such a block of rocks dropped downward by faulting. Direct evidence of this faulting is readily observed at the tunnel near Rio Grande Village. There the limestone layer through which the tunnel passes is the same layer that forms the skyline of the Sierra del Carmen to the east, dropped down over 4800 feet by faulting. To the west, at the mouth of Santa Elena Canyon the highest elevation rises 1500 feet above the river, while at the parking area the same layer lies some 1500 feet below the surface. Displacement along these faults did not occur in a single event, rather in a series of lesser episodes of faulting punctuated by earthquakes. The 1995 magnitude 5.6 earthquake near Marathon, Texas, 70 miles north of Panther Junction indicates that the responsible stresses are still active. The western slopes of the Chisos Mountains provide evidence of additional activity within the same fracture zones. Near the old ranch on the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive stand a number of parallel ridges to the east of the road. These ridges are the eroded remains of tabular intrusions of magma along the Burro Mesa fault. The layers of volcanic ash into which the magma intruded are being actively removed by erosion, leaving the more resistant “dikes” of intrusive rocks standing in bold relief.

Mountain building by compression, volcanism and tension all served to form the framework for today’s landscapes in Big Bend National Park. Erosion of higher lands resulted in the filling of surrounding basins. Eventually basins from El Paso to Big Bend were filled and subsequently linked by the Rio Grande. Achieving through-flow to the Gulf of Mexico only within the last 2 million years, the Rio Grande ranks as the youngest major river system in the United States. Once established, the Rio Grande served, and continues to serve, as the conduit for material removed by erosion. The processes of erosion comprise the most active aspect of Big Bend’s geology today.

Erosion in Big Bend is best defined by rapid runoff and flash-flooding following summer thunderstorms, but there are other active agents of erosion. Water droplets in the atmosphere capture carbon dioxide to form carbonic acid, a very weak naturally occurring acid which has virtually no effect on man. One mineral, however, is vulnerable to attack by carbonic acid: calcite, which comprises the bulk of all limestone in the Big Bend. Every drop of rain that falls on limestone dissolves a tiny bit of calcite which is transported away by runoff, perhaps to a final destination in the Gulf of Mexico.

The beautifully etched limestone cliffs in the Sierra del Caballo Muerto and in Big Bend’s canyons owe their origin to mother nature’s own version of acid rain! Rainwater also contains free oxygen which reacts with sulfur-bearing minerals in igneous rocks.

Virtually all igneous rocks in Big Bend contain minor amounts of pyrite, or Fool’s Gold, which is iron sulfide. Oxygen-bearing water attacks individual pyrite grains, replacing the sulfur with oxygen to form iron oxide, better known as rust, which provides the warm red and brown colors of igneous rocks in the Big Bend.

Plant and animal activity is also vital in the shaping of the land. As plants grow their root systems expand, forcing rocks ever farther apart, until, eventually, rocks are dislodged and fall. The same roots also extract needed minerals from rocks, weakening the rocks and rendering them more vulnerable to removal by flowing water. Similarly, animals crossing a rocky slope often dislodge rocks, sending them crashing downslope to collide with yet other rocks, which, in turn are dislodged. Though plants and animals play significant roles in erosion, the key player remains water. From chemical weathering by water-borne carbonic acid and oxygen to mechanical removal of soft and broken rocks, to scouring ever deeper and wider the canyons of the Big Bend, water is today, as it has been in the past, the major tool in the shaping of the land.

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said “There is nothing permanent except change.” This phrase could have been directed to the Big Bend where geologic processes have been constantly changing the land for over 500 million years. Each time you return to Big Bend National Park it will be different, for with every passing day the land is indeed changing.

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Native American History

Home of the Sioux (Cherokee) and Iroquois

Ages before the terms Native American or Indian were considered, the tribes were spread all over the Americas. Before any white man set foot on this land, it was settled by the forefathers of bands we now call Sioux, or Cherokee, or Iroquois.

For thousands of years, the American Indian grew its culture and heritage without disturbance. And that history is fascinating.

From Mayan and Incan ruins, from the mounds left in the central and southern regions of what’s today the U.S. we have learned quite a bit. It’s a narrative of beautiful artwork and deep spirituality. Archaeologists have unearthed remarkably elaborate structures and public works.

While there was unavoidable tribal conflict, that was nothing more than a slight blemish in the tale of our ancestors. They were at peace with this beautiful continent and intensely plugged into nature.

The European Settler Arrives
european settlers arrive in americaWhen European leaders dispatched the first vessels in our direction, the intention was to discover new resources – however the quality of weather and the bounty of everything from wood to wildlife soon changed their tune. As those leaders heard back from their explorers, the motivation to colonize spread like wildfire.

The English, French and Spanish rushed to slice up the “New World” by transporting over poorly prepared colonists as fast as they could. Initially, they skirmished with the surprised Indians of America’s eastern seaboard. But that ultimately gave way to trade, since the Europeans who came ashore here learned that their survival was doubtful without native help.

Thus followed years of relative peace as the settlers got themselves established on American land. But the pressure to push inland came soon after. Kings and queens from thousands of miles away were anxious to locate additional resources, and some colonists came for freedom and adventure.

They needed more space. And so began the process of pushing the American Indian out of the way.

It took the form of cash payments, barter, and notoriously, treaties that were nearly consistently ignored once the Indians were moved from the land in question.

The U.S. government’s policies towards Native Americans in the second half of the nineteenth century were determined by the desire to expand westward into regions occupied by these Native American tribes. By the 1850s nearly all Native American tribes, roughly 360,000 in number, were living to the west of the Mississippi River. These American Indians, some from the Northwestern and Southeastern territories, were confined to Indian Territory situated in contemporary Oklahoma, while the Kiowa and Comanche Native American tribes shared the land of the Southern Plains.

The Sioux, Crows and Blackfeet dominated the Northern Plains. These Native American groups experienced hardship as the continuous flow of European immigrants into northeastern American cities pushed a stream of immigrants into the western lands already inhabited by these diverse groups of Indians.

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Park History

How did Big Bend become a National Park?

Big Bend National Park is a lesser-known national park with unparalleled cultural, paleontological and geological values. The biodiversity in Big Bend is surprisingly varied mostly due to the climate contrasts of the river canyons, desert floor, and high mountain terrain. There is a lot to explore and accomplish in this vast 801,163-acre playground. From time immemorial, before the various dinosaurs roamed the area that is now Big Bend National Park, the region was first an ocean teeming with invertebrates like coral, shelled organisms and trilobites resembling crustaceous insects. Later it became a boggy marsh with large reptilian dinosaurs. When the dinosaurs became extinct, it was around the same time the land of Big Bend National Park uplifted with fierce earth-shattering volcanic activity. Mammals made their entrance soon after and began to dominate the landscape. Most of this is evidenced in the various spectacular formations at Big Bend National Park.

The abundantly visible rock outcroppings have astonishing diversity and complexity. Diverse sedimentation and depositional patterns throughout the millions of years of history revealed on the earth’s surface are a testament to the unique geology of Big Bend National Park. The park is chock-full of paleontologists and geologists studying this place that contains one of the only complete views of a prehistoric ecosystem on earth and is said to contain a complete geology textbook. Big Bend National Park surpasses the rest of the national parks in Cretaceous Dinosaur species diversity and fossils are continually unearthed. Very few places rival Big Bend National Park’s paleontological and geologic resources.

A Paleo-Indian man began to roam the Big Bend National Park area approximately 10,500 years ago in search of megafauna. Artifacts around 9,000 years old have been discovered from human encampments. Humans found caves for shelter and regularly used open campsites in the prehistoric period. Archaic-period nomads formed a desert culture of hunting and gathering that remained unchanged over thousands of years. Archeological evidence of man’s presence and occupation in the area encompasses the first inhabitants to the more recent Native American tribes who have played a role in the history of Big Bend National Park as well. Tribes, such as the Comanche, Chisos and Mescalero Apache gave way to early Anglo-American settlers, Mexican settlers, and Spanish conquistadors. Raids by Comanche bandits were everpresent and mostly focused on the Spanish presidios south of the Rio Grande. These marauders attacked so frequently that they eroded into the earth The Comanche Trail. The Mexican-American War ended in 1848, creating the international boundary in an area already occupied by both Anglo and Hispanic settlers. Ranching, farming, and mining became a permanent way of life for the pioneers of the Big Bend National Park area. Several historic landscapes and buildings illustrate life at the turn of the century on the international border of Mexico and the United States. Surprisingly there are over 300 unmarked graves of unknown people who occupied the area during this time.

The Castolon Historic District, as well as the airfield at Johnson’s Ranch, are preserved views into the history of the early settlements. Big Bend National Park boasts to be one of the most remote and ultimately least populated areas in the United States. The high mountains, deep river canyons and the desert floor in between make up three distinct micro-climates that together make Big Bend National Park one of the most biodiverse. The altitude differs from 1,804 feet at the Rio Grande up to 7,831 feet of Emory Peak in the high Chisos Mountains. This elevation spectrum creates great variation in temperature and available moisture which creates distinctive habitats and enables the exceptional biodiversity of Big Bend National Park. The unique location of Big Bend National Park puts it right in the middle of an ecological crossroad from all directions.

This is the place where eastern species meets western species, as well as northernmost and southernmost species overlapping. The unique overlap of the continent’s habitats and species enables Big Bend National Park to have more species of cactus, birds, reptiles, bats, butterflies, and scorpions than any other national park. As many as 70 cacti species alone out of over 1,200 plant species are recorded to live in Big Bend National Park. 75 mammal species, 56 reptiles, and well over 450 bird species are part of the complex ecosystem in the park. Birdwatching has become a significant attraction to Big Bend National Park as it lies within a greater migration path for migratory birds, as well as in the middle of the hub for species’ extreme range limits. Officially founded in 1944, Big Bend National Park is mostly a backcountry park. It contains more than 150 miles of hiking trails perfect for day hiking and backpacking adventures.

The popular Marufo Vega Trail and the Outer Mountain Loop are ideal for overnight excursions. Primitive camping areas are scattered within the Chisos Mountain trails and along the roads of Big Bend National Park. There are over 100 miles of paved roads in Big Bend National Park and another 150 miles of primitive dirt roads. These roads connect the various monuments in the park. There are 72 basic car camping sites along these primitive dirt roads, which require a 4-wheel drive high clearance vehicle to navigate. Big Bend National Park is the ideal landscape for mountain biking and also horseback riding. The road system throughout the park offers both bikers and riders access to the wonders of Big Bend National Park. Ride along the River Road above the mighty Rio Grande and visit the breathtaking Santa Elena Canyon. Look up to see the famous Mule Ears formation or explore a canyon with an age-old tinaja, or natural well, at the bottom. Experience a piece of history and visit the ruins of an old spa resort where the Langford Hot Springs can still be enjoyed. The only place that a bike or a horse cannot take you is into the hiking trails of the Chisos Mountains. Feel free to BYOH (bring your own horse.) The Rio Grande is a refreshing twist to the earthy explorations of the rest of the park. 118 miles of Rio Grande creates the border for Big Bend National Park.

Most of this stretch is designated as a Wild and Scenic River corridor. Rafts, canoes, and kayaks are a grand way of getting an up close and personal look at the several gorgeous canyons of Big Bend National Park. Canyon walls are up to 1,500 feet high at the most and are spectacular throughout. The geological sedimentation and exposed fossils are also highlights of a typical float down the Rio Grande. Guided activities are extremely popular with Big Bend National Park visitors. Several visitors to the park bring their own gear, such as bicycles, rafts or camping gear. On the contrary, all of the activities the park has to offer have a guided tour dedicated to it. Guided hikes and backpacking trips add an educational element as well as an added assurance of safety in the backcountry.

Backroad tours and guided ATV rentals are also an adventurous way to experience Big Bend National Park. Mountain biking and horseback riding tours make sure you get to the right place at the right time, such as to see the sunset from a notable vista. Guided trips down the Rio Grande are extremely popular and are often multi-day adventures with some short hikes and camping worked in. Special combination trips are also encouraged as well as themed horseback backpacking trips focusing on geology or archeology. Big Bend National Park has so much to offer the adventurous visitor. Many free interpretive programs provided by park rangers can supplement the information you pick up along the way. The highlights of the park are its geology, archeology, paleontology, cultural significance, diversity of micro-climates and biodiversity.

Big Bend National Park is also considered to have some of the darkest night skies thanks to the remoteness of the park and lack of light pollution. One might consider a trip to Big Bend National Park as a trip through time, exposing the earth’s history up to 500 million years ago and also including the nostalgia of the wild wild west.

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Trails and kayaking lead the list of top things to do

Window Trail
The Window Trail is a distinctive trail as it descends (other trails often ascend) for two miles from Basin Campground. At the end of the trail, the water-carved cutout overlooks the mountains. This “window” drains the entire mountain range, resulting in a 200-foot waterfall flowing over the edge. A second trail, the Oak Spring Trail, curves around to another outlook, where park guests get a better view of the park’s expanse. The return trip is a gradual ascent back up to Basin Campground. The Window Trail is about four miles long. The Oak Spring Trail branches from the Window Trail near the actual window and adds an extra half mile to your expedition.

Boot Canyon
Located within the Chisos Mountains, Boot Canyon’s geography is destination unto itself, but the variety of birds inhabiting the lush mountain canyon can embolden the areas appeal. Avian species from Mexico and the eastern and western United States commingle within the park’s boundaries, making Boot Canyon one of the premier birding locations in the park. Common species include hummingbirds, wrens, warblers and the occasional peregrine falcon.

Rio Grande Village Area
The Rio Grande Village Area contains a beaver pond, Daniel’s Ranch Picnic Area, a visitor center and a 100-site campground. The Hot Spring Historical District, located within the Rio Grand Village, houses the remains of a bathhouse complete with a hot spring. Another attraction in the Rio Grande Village area, the Rio Grande Village Natural Trail, travels less than a mile around Rio Grande Village. The entire area is an excellent birding site without the climbing and hiking necessary to get to other birding locations within in the park. The National Park Service states that the Rio Grande Village “is the center of visitor activity during the winter months.” The visitor’s center and year-round campground include a gas station, public showers, the camper store and a laundromat. Inside the visitor’s center, visitors may browse the Big Bend Natural History bookstore, use a public phone and fill personal water canteens. The visitor’s center issues backcountry and river use permits, as well. The center is open daily from November to April.

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Home of the Texas state flower

Over 1,200 species of plants are found within Big Bend National Park—a surprising diversity considering the unforgiving influence of a desert climate (even at the highest elevations), and an exceptionally rugged landscape with imposing geological variations set in stone. This implausible landscape includes not only thousands of acres of exposed desert badlands (dotted here and there by a rare riparian oasis), but also a meandering ribbon of river corridor gorged by steep-walled canyons, and a lofty sky island of forested peaks and ridges.

Many species of trees require more water, cooler temperatures, and higher humidity than the desert climate has to offer, and these factors generally confine them to the higher elevations and protected canyons. Trees found in the High Chisos include ponderosa pine, maple, Texas madrone, and even a pocket-sized stand of aspen. The Texas madrone is a rainforest relict, a remnant of a much an earlier climate with much more precipitation.

An interesting variety of ferns (such as maidenhair fern) and wildflowers (including columbines and cardinal flower) evade heat and drought by living in well-shaded niches near dependable seeps and springs. Many annual wildflowers (such as Big Bend bluebonnets) are true desert escapers, plants that avoid the drought altogether with a compressed, complete life cycle—from sprout to seed— that occurs in conjunction with short-lived, seasonal rains.

True drought resistors are typically perennial plants that have developed sophisticated tactics to survive the punishing heat and parched conditions of the desert climate. Many shrubs, like creosote, have small, waxy leaves that limit the amount of water lost to evaporation. Cacti have developed thick, fleshy stems that store water, and spines substitute for leaves. Spines serve as protective armor as well as a reflective shield against the sun’s radiance. Mesquite trees put down extensive taproots—up to 160 feet— to reach water well below the surface, and well out of range of most other plants. Yuccas and agaves find this a useful approach as well.

The plant diversity within the Big Bend is outstanding. The park is an exceptional outdoor laboratory and a great place to learn about, and identify, both the common species as well as the rare and unique ones. In recent years park botanists, technicians, and volunteers have found many new species and rediscovered others that haven’t been seen in years.

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Animal Life

There is a vast ecosystem at Big Bend National Park

Wide-ranging ecosystems within the Big Bend provide habitat for more than 450 species of birds, 75 species of mammals, 56 species of reptiles, and 11 species of amphibians. Included are more than 100 miles of low-elevation river corridor, thousands of acres of Chihuahuan desert with a scattering of desert oases, a transition zone of upland shrubs, grasses, and junipers, and the higher (and cooler) elevations of the Chisos Mountains, a sky island wholly contained within Big Bend National Park.

The Rio Grande is the park’s most prominent water source. The river supports 40 species of fish, several species of turtles, beaver, and numerous species of waterfowl (both residents and migrating species). In addition, the river’s water is channeled through Rio Grande Village and Cottonwood Campground. Routine irrigation along the floodplain maintains large stands of cottonwood, ash, and sycamore. These areas have been civilized for our benefit, but because the river corridor has been expanded beyond its natural boundary, many animals are able to take advantage. Golden-fronted woodpeckers are a common sighting, but black hawks and gray hawks also nest in these areas.

The term “desert” readily conjures a mental image of an environment nearly devoid of life—a landscape of arid desolation. But in fact, there is an amazing diversity of resident species whose well-adapted characteristics allow them to not only survive, but also thrive in hot, dry settings. Most of these animals go unnoticed since so many are nocturnal by nature (they prefer the nighttime hours when temperatures are much cooler and conditions are not as dry). Nocturnal desert animals include the kit fox, ringtail, bobcat, kangaroo rat, and more than a dozen species of bats. Other animals such as mule deer, coyotes, badger, blacktail jackrabbits, and desert cottontails may be seen in early morning or at dusk.

Desert reptiles include the western coachwhip, diamondback rattlesnake, bullsnake, southwestern earless lizard, southern prairie lizard, crevice spiny lizard, and the checkered whiptail. Lizards are diurnal, and are often observed along park trails. Scorpions and desert centipedes are nocturnal hunters that search for prey during the night. After summer rains, male tarantulas are out searching for mates. The rest of the year, tarantulas rarely leave the shelter of their burrows.

A lonely stand of trees (usually cottonwoods) out in the desert clearly marks the presence of an oasis. Riparian conditions flourish in places where there is water, and these rare areas support unique plants and animals as well as desert residents. Javelinas frequent springs, taking full advantage of dense thickets that provide coveted shade and protection. Nocturnal mammals such as skunks and raccoons can also be found here. Dugout Wells and Sam Nail Ranch are two such oases, and two of the premier locations in the park for bird watching.

Rocky canyons and cliff pouroffs provide suitable habitat for ringtails and rock squirrels, and a variety of reptiles including rock and black-tailed rattlesnakes, mountain patchnose snakes, Trans-pecos copperheads, and tree lizards.

Ephemeral springs in the high country support big-tooth maple, drooping juniper, oak, and ponderosa pine. Coupled with cooler temperatures—on average, ten degrees cooler than the desert below—the forest habitat is perfect for black bears, Carmen white-tailed deer, Mexican jays, and the Colima warbler.

Wildlife Protection on the Border
Studying and managing wildlife is seldom an easy task, but wildlife management along the border presents special challenges. Observing wildlife in the U.S. may tell only half the story, since many migratory birds, bats, and insects spend their winters deep in Mexico.

Remoteness, inaccessible terrain, and a sometimes unstable political climate can make it difficult for wildlife researchers to gain information on wildlife along the border or far into the interior of Mexico. Problems can also arise when different countries have differing attitudes toward the same animal; one country may protect a certain species while another may want to eradicate it. Laws may protect wildlife and their habitat on this side of the Rio Grande while leaving them unprotected on the other side of the river.

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Hiking Trails

The best hikes in Big Bend National Park

  • Santa Elena Canyon Trail. Santa Elena Canyon Trail | Photo Copyright: Lana Law. …
  • Hot Springs Trail. Hot Springs Trail | Photo Copyright: Lana Law. …
  • Lost Mine Trail. Lost Mine Trail | Photo Copyright: Lana Law. …
  • The Window Trail. …
  • Nature Trail at Rio Grande Village. …
  • South Rim Trail. …
  • Emory Peak. …
  • Balanced Rock.
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