In the late 1800’s, people in the United States began to seek protection for many beautiful tracts of land in the country so that they wouldn’t be bought up and used by private entities and corporations. In response to this push for protected lands, some of the first national parks and monuments were born into the world. Following this, more and more protected lands were set aside for protection and enjoyment. Unfortunately, at the time there was no specific entity created to maintain these parks, and they were just thrown under the control of multiple bureaucratic departments.
In August of 1916, President Woodrow Wilson formally created The National Park Service, a government entity designed specifically to promote and maintain these protected lands. Now, one hundred years later, the National Park Service is still going strong maintaining the nation’s park system, which has grown to a staggering 59 national parks. In order to celebrate this centennial, we decided to trek out to the middle of nowhere in southern Texas to explore one of the most remote and beautiful parks in the lower 48: Big Bend.
Established as a park in 1944, Big Bend sits right on 118 miles of the Rio Grande river. The name Big Bend is derived from the large bend the river makes as it winds the Mexican border. While the national park was created in 1944, the land’s history extends far beyond that. Historic buildings from centuries ago dot the landscape, and various historical artifacts continue to be found to this day, some estimated to be over 9000 years old. Some of the oldest things in the park however, were crafted by nature. The Santa Elena and Boquillas Canyons have been carved over thousands of years by the rushing waters of the Rio Grande, and are some of the most spectacular sights in the park.
As the 7th largest national park in the lower 48, Big Bend has an area 1,252 square miles. In addition to this, it contains an astounding amount of diverse life. Despite being located in a desert with temperatures that range from freezing, to over 110 degrees fahrenheit, Big Bend contains more than 1,200 species of plants, more than 450 species of birds, 56 species of reptiles, and 75 species of mammals. A large contributor to this vast diversity is the fact that the park, while mostly desert, contains an entire mountain range within itself. The Chisos Range exists in the center of the park, and offers a wild change in scenery from the desert floor that makes up most of the park. As you drive up the the main park road to the Chisos Basin Visitor Center, the desert gives way to steep red cliffs, lush vegetation, and cooler air.
One of the most breathtaking things about the park comes after the sun dips below the horizon. While the desert sunsets and sunrises always provide a beautiful view, what happens long after the sun disappears is not to be missed. Because of its remote location, Big Bend is home to some extremely dark skies. In fact, according to the International Dark Sky Association, Big Bend has the darkest skies of any place that exists in the lower 48. At night, the sky is bright with more stars than you’ve ever seen in your life. Looking up into the sky on a moonless night, you can see thousands of stars, planets, and the clear outline of the Milky Way band without any type of visual aid.
Because of our national parks, almost 500,000 square miles of land have been set aside to be protected and preserved for future generations, and without the National Park Service these lands would be mismanaged and unorganized. Wherever you are, make it a point this year to get out to your nearest protected lands and celebrate the National Park Service.
Photo Credit: @chandlerbondurant