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.
Big Bend National Park boasts several distinctive and must-visit geological features, and the Window in the Chisos Basin is among the most iconic. The natural break in the rim serves as a picturesque frame for the distant desert landscape below. The Window can be seen from various parts of the basin, including the Chisos Mountain Lodge’s restaurant patio. However, a moderately difficult descent of less than 1,000 feet over a couple of miles of Oak Creek Canyon along the Window Trail provides the most spectacular view.
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.
Big Bend National Park was little more than a hopeful idea when about 200 young men arrived in the Chisos Mountains in 1934 on deployment with the Civilian Conservation Corps. Hungry for work amid the hardship of the Great Depression, the workers, ages 18 to 25 and mostly Hispanic, toiled in isolated, harsh conditions to construct infrastructure for what was then Big Bend State Park. The CCC established a camp in the shadow of Casa Grande peak—still the location of the Chisos Basin campground—and blasted 10,000 truckloads of rock to build Green Gulch Road from the desert floor into the basin. A second CCC crew stationed in Big Bend from 1940 to 1942 built the popular Lost Mine Trail, a store, and four cottages that have been used for lodging since the national park opened in 1944.
The northbound road through Big Bend National Park winds between scab-colored volcanic hills and the baking white flats of the Chihuahuan Desert. During the day, little moves out here but the wind; the heat presses down heavy and hard on the rock shelves. The landscape feels frozen, dry, and dead. In a word, timeless.
There are places in the far reaches of Texas where few dare to travel, which is exactly what attracted me to western Val Verde County. It’s a rugged land where the jackrabbits far outnumber the people. A place where the tales are tall, the canyons are deep, and the mysteries are even deeper. If you find yourself trippin’ to the edge of Texas, don’t miss these stops.
In our February issue, Senior Editor Matt Joyce shared 3 ways anyone can easily enjoy Big Bend National Park, even visitors who aren’t experienced outdoorsmen. These are some of our favorite photos from photographer Sean Fitzgerald that we didn’t have room for in the issue.
Long before the tiny home craze, Texas was home to an abundance of tiny jails. A night in the slammer was never meant to be a lot of fun—but you really didn’t want to find yourself in a Lone Star lockup more than a century ago, as evidenced by the new book The Texas Calaboose and Other Forgotten Jails by Bryan-based archeologist William E. Moore.
The government shutdown is limiting operations at Big Bend National Park and other Texas national parks, while some National Park Service properties in are closed because of the shutdown.