Facts About Big Bend National Park

Facts About Big Bend National Park
Big Bend National Park, established in 1944, hugs the US-Mexico border created by the Rio Grande River, whose looping southeast to northeast turn through deep canyons inspired the park's name. Big Bend takes in several stunningly different wilderness environments, including the river gorge, the Chisos Mountains and the Chihuahuan Desert plain, and produces a wide variety of plants and animals. From Marathon, Texas, the park is about 70 miles south on Highway 385, and the nearest airports are in El Paso and Midland-Odessa, each over 200 miles from Big Bend.

The Basics

Big Bend National Park covers 801,163 acres, is open year round, 24 hours a day, seven days per week, but plays host to an average of less than 350,000 visitors each year. The park includes about 244 miles along the Rio Grande River.

The Desert

Park boundaries protect the largest amount of Chihuahuan Desert topography and ecology in the US, with more than 1,200 species of plants, 450 species of birds, 56 species of reptiles and 75 species of mammals (including mountain lions and bears), many of these species are rare.

The Distant Past

The park has petrified trees and artifacts of prehistoric cultures which archaeologists say date back 9,000 years, recorded in pictographs and petroglyphs on rock walls and mortar holes along the river's bank.


The park is vast and varied. Besides the camping, hiking, backpacking, fishing and sightseeing pastimes, Big Bend has great cross-country and snowshoeing routes from November through March, fantastic wildflower displays in spring and early summer and world-class bird watching (170 species) between May and October. In August or September, crowds are gone. Floats on the Rio Grade offer a unique perspective to the country.

Plant Adaptation

Cactus, which efficiently collect water and then gives it up sparingly, is joined by desert annual plants which survive by staying dormant until rains come to the desert, sometimes more than a year, then germinating when water is available and progressing through their life cycles to insure future generations. Often, the seeds are coated with chemicals prohibiting germination until sufficient water is present to wash the coating off. When they are ready, they move more quickly through life stages than do plants in temperate environments.

The Rocks

Sedimentary rocks, laid down by seas which invaded the area millions of years ago, predominate the Big Bend landscape in complex formations of limestone, sandstone and shale. The mountains and the 40 mile wide trough with attending cliffs in Big Bend were created by uplift and sinking along fault lines, respectively, millions of years ago. Volcanoes also chipped in to create the setting.

What To See

Canyons: The shale and limestone cliffs of the Rio Grande's Santa Elena Canyon and Blue Creek's lava-layered Tuff Canyon.
The Chisos Mouintain Range and it's basin, which holds much of Big Bend's rich geology sites.
Casa Grande ("big house," in English): fortress-like 7,325 foot rock mountain.

Fees, Permits

Seven day permits cost $20 for car and driver, $10 for additional individuals or bicyclers and are free to youngsters 15 years old or younger.

Article Written By Barry Truman

Barry Truman has published many outdoor activity articles in the past five years with International Real Travel Adventures, the Everett Herald and Seattle Post Intelligencer newspapers, Backpacking Light Magazine and Trails.com. He has a forestry degree from the University of Washington.

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