Big Bend National Park is a national park located in the U.S. state of Texas. For more than 1,000 miles (1600 km), the Rio Grande / Rio Bravo forms the international boundary between Mexico and the United States, and Big Bend National Park administers approximately 244 miles (393 km) along that boundary.
Big Bend National Park has national significance as the largest protected area of Chihuahuan Desert topography and ecology in the United States, which includes more than 1,200 species of plants, more than 450 species of birds, 56 species of reptiles, and 75 species of mammals. The park covers 801,163 acres (3,242 km2). Few areas exceed the park's value for the protection and study of geologic and paleontologic resources. Cretaceous and Tertiary fossil organisms exist in variety and abundance. Archeologists have discovered artifacts estimated to be 9,000 years old, and historic buildings and landscapes offer graphic illustration of life along the international border in the 1800s.
Because the Rio Grande serves as an international boundary, the park faces unusual constraints when administering and enforcing park rules, regulations, and policies. In accordance with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the park has jurisdiction only to the center of the deepest river channel as the river flowed in 1848. The rest of the land south of that channel, and the river, lies within Mexican territory.
Flora and fauna
Given its harsh environment, Big Bend has an amazing variety and number of plant and animal species. It has more than 1200 species of plants (including 60 different cacti species), more than 600 animal species, and about 3600 insect species. The diversity of life is largely due to the diverse ecology and changes in elevation, ranging from the dry, hot desert to the cool mountains to the fertile river valley.
Most of the animals are not visible in the day, particularly in the desert. The park comes alive at night, with many of the animals foraging for food. About 150 mountain lion sightings are reported per year, despite the fact that there are only a total of two dozen mountain lions. Other species that inhabit the park include jackrabbit, kangaroo rat, roadrunner, golden eagle, and coyote. Black bears are also present in the mountain areas.
The variety of cactus and other plant life add color to the Big Bend region. Cactus species in the park include prickly pear, claret cup and pitaya. In the spring, the wildflowers are in full bloom and the yucca flowers display bright colors. Bluebonnets are prevalent in Big Bend, and white and pink bluebonnets are sometimes visible by the road. Other flowering plants such as the desert marigold, desert willow, ocotillo, rock nettle and lechuguilla abound in Big Bend.
The first U.S. record of the Tufted Flycatcher, a Central American species, was from this site in November 1991. Birders also flock to the park as it is home to the only area in the United States within the breeding range of the Colima Warbler.
By Air: Flying to Big Bend can be somewhat difficult, mainly because the closest commercial airports are in Midland, which is about 3 hours from Marathon, and El Paso, which is about 4 hours from Alpine. So, you'll most likely need to rent a vehicle to drive from these airports. Alternatively, you can travel via private aircraft to Alpine or Lajitas, both of which have paved airstrips. Several dirt strips are available in Terlingua and Terlingua Ranch.
By Bus: Getting to Alpine via bus is easy, and service is available from the Midland Airport. This is not a scheduled stop, so visitors must alert the Midland Greyhound Terminal one hour prior to pick up. The drive takes about 4 hours. Options are also available from El Paso (2 departures per day) and San Antonio (2 per day).
By Train: Traveling by train in West Texas is a long-standing tradition. Schedules can vary, but Amtrak's Sunset Limited runs through Alpine 3 times a week from each direction. From there, you'll probably want to rent a vehicle to continue south towards Big Bend National Park. It is wise to allow extra time and flexibility in your schedule if you are traveling by train, but the scenery will be worth it.