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Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park

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Published by CAP History Library
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Historical Place

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Published by: CAP History Library on Aug 14, 2010
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Srmta Elena Canyo11 (Glenn Burgess photo





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United States and Mexico, makes a big Ushaped bend in its course. The nearest major road is U_ S. Highway No. 90 which passes through Marathon and Alpine, Texas. One approach road (Stale Highway No, 121) leaves U, S. Highway No. "'0 at Alpine, 220 miles east of El Paso and 330 miles west of San Anicnio. It is 110 miles from Alpine overih!s route, whkheKtends lhrouqh the old mining town of Terlinqua, to temporary park headquarters in The Basin in Ihe heart of the Chisos Mountains. By another approach road from Mnrothon, 30 miles east of Alpine, tbe distance to the temporary hecrdqurrrters is 80 miles. Access by rail is over the Southern Pacific Railway from either Alpine or Mcrcthon. The gross area 01 the pork is 707,8%.45 acres, making it the sixth largest in ihe NaHonal Park System,

United States Department of the Interior

Harold L. Ickes, Secretary

National Park Service, Newton B, Drury, Director

The Bi9 Bend Natiorial Park is a land of coritro sts, Although it consists predominantly 01 semiarid plains chame:terized by gravelcovered slopes, arroyos:' and washes, this general lancis-cape -is -interrupted by conspicuous mountain 'belts and by the windfuq Rio Gmnde which has carved spectacular canyon; thrOllgh~ some o! the rugged highIcnds. Romantic interest is added by the dose proximity to the peoples ol Old Mexico and by the colorful legends and stories 01 ihe country. To cppreciote fully the variety of ottrocucns offered by the park, the traveler should visit the South Rim, The Bcsm, S,mla Elena and Boquillns Ccmyons, various Mexi.Can settlements along the Rio Grande, and the quaint littIe village of Terlingua which is adjacent to the park on the west.

Location and Area

The park derives its' name from its location in that portion of Texas where the Rio Grande, forming .the boundary between the

Historical Background

The history of the Big Bend National Park rnqy be divided into five periods-Indian

Yawning canyons carved across mountain. ranges sho-w the erosive action of the:

Rio Grande tbroagb the ages (Granl photo)

(historic and prehtstoric ), Spanish, Mexicern, the Texos Republic, and the Uniied Slates. Archeological Iinds indicate thot the area. has been tnhcbited by man for centuries. Perishable. remains have been found in dry Caves and rock shelters. Open campsites are necr waler cmd ere indicoted by flm t-spclls, chips, rejects, cores, metctes, monos. (grinding stones'), burned stone, and osh y moteriols.

The Spanishconquisladors and missionaries Were active in the Big Bend area. From their records we learn thot the Apache Indians were living in Ihe Big Bend when the ·first white men orrived. Several hostile engagements look place, and One battle is believed to have been fought in Ihe Chisos Mountctns. The Comcmches, famous fighting Indicns of the Great Plains, traveled through the Big Bend on forays as for south os Durcmqc in Central Mexico. The Coman-

che Trail posssd through lho park mea, and the early Spaniards and Mexicans gcwe vivid descriptions 01 the indion activities.

With the passing of the Spanish and MexiCan Hlgime$, the exploration, 'conquest, ond development were continued by the United Stat·es and Texas officicls. In 1853, Mai. W. H. Emory. completed the boundary survey for the United Stctss Boundary Commission. The United Stoles Army tested the value' oj ccmel corcvons in the 'semiarid Southwest in the early sixties by using camels for patrol duly along ths. Comanche Trail. Captain Neville. leading a perry .of Toxos Rangers. deleol.ed a band of hostile Indicms near the head of Boquillas Canyon in January 1863. Dr. Roberl T_ Hill completed his boat Irip down the Rio Granda in 1339, durinq the course of which he passed throuqh thf~e main canyons in what is now the park.

The yucca, or Spanish dagger, fyi,hal of the desert plants [ound in Big Bend (Grant photo)

Establishment of the Big Bend Nctioncl Park, as authorized by act of Congress approved JUDe 20, 1935, could not have been effecled without the public spirited, proqressive. and Ioreaiqhted o:ction of the State of Texas in appropriating $1,500,000 for the purchase of necessary lands which were then deeded to the Federal Government lor national park purposes, The pork was act uoliy established on June 12, 1944.

International Aspect

Located directly on the international boundcrv. the Big Bend National Park really typifies the scenery, the flora. and the fauna of Mexico more than it does that of better known parts of the United States. From almost any section of· the 'pmk th€!" view to t ie south is dominated by the rugged Sierra del Carmen, Fronteriso; and ether equally spectacular mountain rong'i'S in Old Mexico. These features, combined with t he few quaint Mexican villages along the Rio Grcmde, lend an atmosphere "from which 'the visitor gets the feeling that he is actually "south 01 the Border, down Mexico way."

Recognizing the Icct that the Rlo Grande forms only a poliricol boundary and thct natural features on both sides of the river are similar, the Mexican Government is

planning the establishment of em adjoining national park immedialely south of the Rio Grande. Thus will be formed one great international park, which will typify the common interests of the two sister republics and their common desire to maintain the existing relationship of friendly neighbors necessary for the, promotion of pan-American unity.

Plant Life

Vegetation of the Big Bend 'rnery be grouped in.o four gene.ral types of plant communities or associations. The desert scrub, consisting of creosotebush, yucca, and various species of cacti! is characteristic of the lowkmds. The plfion-iuntper woodland communities are found in the lower mountain slopes and foothills. The ponderosa ptne-Douqlos-Iir-Arizono cypress forests are in the canyons ollh" higher mountains. Aquatic communities Dr mots·lur$-loving groups, the fourth type, are Iound o:1ong the Rto Grande and in a few localities in the Chtsos Mountains.

The types of planl life have infiuenced the rrctivities 01 the people. Eorly settlers' were interested in ranching, and numerous herds became eslablished on the lowlands. As, the

Casa Grande, overlooking Tbe Basin in tbe Cbisos MOllntaim (Grant pbota)

The sotol, another typical desert plant found in the park (Grant photo)

forage was depleted the herds kept moving farther from water and into higher and more rugged terrain.

Nolive Mexicans brew alcoholic beverages from the sotol ('s6'-tole) and maguey (mahgay'), or csnluryplcmt, cmd roast the tender cabbage-like center for food, Blossoms from the yucca (yuh-kuh) or Spanish dagger, are used lor food ond taste similar \0 cabbage. Fibers taken from the leaves substitute for twine, end. frequently the broad leaves are used in making sandals and baskets. The sharp points on the ends of the leaves are utilized for awls. In some instances Ihey have been driven into the llesh following a rattlesnake bite·, the natives believing that the poison in the Spanish dagger neutralizes the venom from the. snake,

Mesquite (mes·ket') -is an important source of food for both man and beast. The trees frequently bloom twice a year, and occosicnclly there is a "succession of blooms and beans. The green bean pods can be chewed raw, but the general proctice is to grind the dry beans, mokinq flour. Dough is made when waler is adde_d. Although hard when dried, the dough is very nutrluous and is a staple food for the Mexiccns. Live-


stock thrive on the beans. The wood also is Important as one of the chief sources of fuel.

Honey bees gather nectar from blossoms. of the cotclcw, whttobrush, and mesquite. Tender joints of the prickly pear are used for salads, and the juice is used. in candy and jellies. The petaya (pit-ah'-yah), the fruit of the strawberry cactus, is edible raw, and when served with sugar and cream, or made' into jam, is Similar in teste and appearance to strawberries, The 'peyote (payoh'-tay), mescol button or devil's root, is used by certain Indian cults for its narcotic end delirium-producing quoliues. Canes, napkin rings. la:mp stands, and various ornaments are made from the slacks of the cholia Ccho'-ya) cactus.

Animal Life

Animal life varies in type and habitat.

The Texas peccary (javalina). which ranges the foothills and slopes surrounding the Chisos M-ountains, is one of the most unusual onimols. Other large animals which ere present, but not frequently seeri, are the Mexican black bear and mountain Lion

Yawning canyons carved across mountain ranges show the erosive action of the Rio Grqnde through Ihe ages.

The Window from The Basin of the Chis os Mountains (Grant photo)

in the Chisos Mountains and beaver olonq the Rio Grande. Deer me abundant, especially Ihe white-tailed, 0[ Iloqtcdl, and mule deer are often seen by visitors in the more isolated sections. Many other species have been reported,

In addition lc.Icrqe numbers of more callimon varieties of birds, such rare species as the Colima warbler and aplomado falcon are found. Orioles, tanagers, cardinals, hummingbirds, and other brflltcmt-plumcrqed songsters brighten Ihe thickets and groves of cottonwoods along the Rio Grande and. the wooded canyons 01 the Chisos Mountains.


The geological story is told by the rocks themselves. In certain localities the strata (rock layers) are highly folded, tilted, and shattered. Some strata are standing on end, most are lopsided, and a few of the moun" Ilains have been turned ups-ide down and lpiled where .It seems. they should not be.

Many Qf the rock strata exposed in the oreo were deposited bit by bit on the floors of ancien! seas. These sediments, originally sand, mud" and limy mud have been consolldaled inlo rock. In certain places the sea water was teeming with various types 01 111"" and their fossilized forms .are now preserved in the rocks. Forces within the eorth's interior caused the elevofion of the newly-Iormed rocks with an occomponyinq withdrowol ot the sea woter. Mountain ranges were formed along the lines of gr.,;)otest strcin, Rapid erosion of \he new mountains and corresponding deposition in the lowlands produced the extensive' .slope and valley deposits. Locally, theie we;e swamps in and around which developed cr dense growth of .cmcient vegetation. It was ill this environment thot the dtnoscurs lived, lought, and died; that qicnt trees were petriHed; arid fhcrt coal deposits were formed, Later, uplift accompanied by volcanic 'ac:tlv·ily added further complexities. Some' 01

the larger volccnic masses pushed slowly toward the surface, cooled, and were later uncovered by erosion. Oihers burst forth with explosive violence and spread ash and lava over the surrounding terrain.

Erosion is the most recent chopter in the geoloqical story. Its forces hove excavated the canyons, formed the cliffs, columns, spires, and buttresses. d~d leI! exposed strata with o wide· vnr iety 6f color Iones. These topographic leatures, ouqmented in grandeur by the ever-changing play 01 light and shadows, further enhance the scenic cmd recreational attractions of the park.


The Big Bend is a new undeveloped national park, hut one which will he thoroughly appreciated. by those who enjoy roughing It. Although Ih",r13 are a limiled number of housekeeping cabins -In the temporary park headquarters area, lodge occommcdcticns are nol as yet available. Those who visit the park during the early development stages should be prepared 10 camp, bringing their OWn food, bedding, and tents. Information regarding campgrounds may be

obtained at park headquarters. Hotel, restaurant. ond auto court accommodations are available in Alpine and Morcthon. Groceries and ~asoline may be purchased in either of those lawns. or, \0 IT limited extent, al Terlingua, Costclon, and a\ on occasional roadside £tali.on.


Main roads <:tIe gravel surfaced and well mointcdned. Dips are frsquent, and motorists are cautioned regarding washouts and running water during arid immediately following a storm.


The Big Bend Notional Park !s open throuqhout the year and is adm.inisten,d by the Nctioncl Pa~k Service.Uul1ecl Stales Depa'rtmenl of the Interior. Hunting or the disturbcmce of any noturcd feature of the

. park is ·prohibited. Camping is permitted only in qe:signale.d crecs. Inqutries and communications should be crddressed to the Superintendent; Big Bend Nctioncrl Park, Marathon. Texos.

The entrance to Boquillas Canyon, showing the oillage of Boquillas, Mexico [Grant. photo)


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