The popular Llano River is a state-owned, navigable waterway over 100 miles long, but much of its riverfront property remains in private hands, creating accessibility challenges for anglers and paddlers who want to tackle its meandering course. Texas Parks and Wildlife has made getting onto the river a little easier by introducing four new public access points, with a fifth on the way, all available for fishing, floating, canoeing and kayaking.
Rob Decker and his wife, marceia decker, arrived in Big Bend National Park in April 2017 with the goal to capture a single iconic photograph he could use as the centerpiece of a poster he was designing. Decker found plenty of options: He says he was taken aback by the craggy peaks of the Chisos Mountains and the remoteness of the desert. “While most national parks are somewhat out of the way, I was surprised at just how far Big Bend is from most anything, how vast it is, and the different opportunities for recreation it offers,” he says.
The couple explored Big Bend from Rio Grande Village and Panther Junction, to the Chisos Basin and Santa Elena Canyon, where Decker hiked to the banks of the Rio Grande. He then took off his shoes and waded into the river. “Even though it was spring, it was a hot day, and the cool water was a welcome relief,” he recalls. “As I sat on the rocks overlooking the Rio Grande, I thought about the Native Americans, ranchers, miners, and pioneers who at one time or another had called this place their home.”
Decker calls Longmont, Colorado, home. He was just 19 years old when he studied under legendary photographer Ansel Adams at Yosemite National Park, an experience that shapes his work to this day.
Decker is on a journey to visit, photograph, and create a poster for every national park in the United States. His endeavor, fittingly enough, is called The National Park Poster Project, with stylings that hark to the popular New Deal-era national park posters of the late 1930s and early 1940s. With each poster, he hopes to raise awareness of both the grandeur and the continued need to protect America’s natural treasures—and with 43 parks down, he only has 17 to go.
After four days in Big Bend, he left with a trove of images, including an epic shot of Santa Elena Canyon. It fit perfectly on his poster.
Plan to spend at least a few days in the park. You could visit for one day, but why do that when you’ve probably already driven at least a day to get there?
After the federal shutdown ended Friday night with an agreement to reopen the government for three weeks, Big Bend started rolling out the reopening of its campgrounds, visitor centers, and other facilities on Sunday. The process was complete by Wednesday when public access to the international Boquillas Crossing Port of Entry was also restored.
“We’re overjoyed to be back,” said Tom VandenBerg, the park’s chief of interpretation. “It took a few days to get everybody’s mind back in the game. It’s been a little bit stressful and weird, but we’re easing into things, and visitors are showing up.”
Big Bend and other federal properties had been closed, or operating with significantly reduced services, for more than a month during the 35-day government shutdown. The majority of Big Bend’s staff furloughed during the shutdown, while the park’s law enforcement officers were kept on duty without pay throughout.
BIG BEND National Park can be intimidating. Countless photographs behold the region’s undeniable grandeur, its spectacular amalgam of desert, mountain, river, and sky. But the images also convey vast emptiness—16th-century Spanish explorers dubbed this territory el despoblado, “the uninhabited.” And those scenic photos often overlook the granular details, where scorpions, thorns, snakes, sunburns, and blisters reside. So it’s understandable when the uninitiated knit their brows at the thought of Big Bend, weighing a vacation experience against fears of a survival exercise in the Chihuahuan Desert borderlands.
A mile or two into my hike to the top of Mount Livermore in the Davis Mountains, I stepped to the side of the trail as two speedsters overtook me on the uphill slope. “I guess that’s where we’re headed,” I said, nodding to a rocky outcrop on the horizon far above. “Nope,” one of them responded. “Baldy Peak is beyond that—you can’t see it yet.”
An up-close visit with a Longhorn or bison can be humbling. The animals’ large chestnut-brown eyes reveal a complex blend of wild animal and domesticated stock. It’s hard to know whether they’re plotting an aggressive charge or happily anticipating a bucket of feed.
Early one morning on Trinity Bay, the autumn sky began to glisten. Myriad monarchs unfurled in clouds from the shoreline, fluttering overhead, some landing on our boat, on our fishing rods, and even on me and my husband. We watched, enchanted, as they danced ever-southward, propelled by a light north wind and their biological imperative.
I was lured to Kimble County by my fly fisher husband—his heart set on hooking the fabled Guadalupe bass and learning a trick or two at the annual Oktoberfisch fly-fishing festival. For three days every October, the Fredericksburg Fly Fishers invite first-timers and avid anglers to their event along the Llano River in Junction. The town—known as The Land of Living Waters, a nod to the county’s abundance of flowing waterways—sits where the North and South Llano rivers meet, so it’s a prime locale for such a fest.
Not far from the banks of the Canadian River, tucked among the River Valley Pioneer Museum’s artifacts of Panhandle ranching and railroad history, black-and-white portraits gaze from the gallery wall as if they’ve been waiting patiently for a century to look you in the eye.
There’s something about a river that evokes feelings of nostalgia. Perhaps it’s the tie to something ancient—the current that ripples over our feet carries the same water that sustained native tribes and beckoned early settlers to its shore.
Framed by a dramatic mountain backdrop, not far from the Texas-New Mexico line, is a building made of stone, steel, and stucco—an early modernist piece of architecture that seems to have gotten lost on a desert trail on its way to a more urban setting elsewhere.