The Chisos Mountains in Big Bend National Park are mountains of legend. Look closely at Pulliam Bluff in Chisos Basin, and you might see the profile of a reclining man's face. According to legend, this is Alsate, a mighty Apache chief whose ghost still roams the higher mountains. His campfire can still be seen at night, it is said.
The mountains are ideal for hiking, and many of the choicest outings begin from the trailhead in Chisos Basin. From the visitors center there, you can hike the Window View Trail to see The Window, where water drains out of the basin, or head down a trail towards the picturesque South Rim. On the South Rim, you will find a fine oasis of bigtooth maple, Douglas fir, and Arizona pine. This is the yellow Colima warbler's only home in the United States.
The other splendid part of the park is the region around the Rio Grande, which forms the southern border of Big Bend National Park for 118 miles. Canyon walls in this area range from 1,200 to 1,600 feet. Down along the river the thick subtropical vegetation forms a veritable jungle. Three great canyons can be found along the Rio Grande: Santa Elena, Mariscal, and Boquillas. It is always possible, along these junglelike stretches, for visitors to see some of the rarest wild felines in the United States -- the ocelot, the jaguarundi, and the jaguar.
The fauna and flora of Big Bend attract many nature lovers to the park, as the remarkable topographic variety provides a habitat for a surprising diversity of life. Here are over 1,200 plant species, many found nowhere else on earth, and more than 400 species of birds, which is many more than you will find in any other national park.
Desert vegetation covers most of the park's terrain; bunchgrasses, cactus, creosote bushes, and yuccas grow in vast profusion. Also abundant are sotols, bright green plants with sawtooth edges on their leaves that the Apaches roasted and ate. Fermenting the plant yields an alcoholic drink.
If you visit Big Bend in the spring, you may have the chance to observe the desert's transformation after a heavy spring rain. Normally dry creek beds rage with water, and dormant seeds create short-lived fields of wildflowers. Elsewhere in the park, the Rio Grande, with its deep canyons and floodplains, creates an ecosystem all its own, as do the cool Chisos Mountains, which harbor forests of pine and oak that provide a habitat for deer, mountain lions, and other animals.
Big Bend National Park Photo Opportunities
There are many sights to behold, with all the diverse wildlife and stark desert scenes framed by mountains. Here are a few of the views you'll want to capture with a camera:
- The Window: A short stroll up Window View Trail reveals a photogenic formation called the Window, a deep V-shaped opening through which water drains from the basin. This spot is especially lovely at sunset, when vivid colors streak the sky and long shadows add mystery to the landforms.
- Casa Grande: Visitors can also walk to the Window for a spectacular view of a mountain called Casa Grande, or "Big House." Dawn and dusk add to the spectacle of this especially stunning vista.
- The South Rim: The panoramic view from the south rim of the Chisos Mountains, looking out over thousands of square miles in northern Mexico, is one of the finest in the national park system.
- Santa Elena Canyon: From the vantage of the Rio Grande, the massive red and orange limestone walls tower overhead. The contrast against a cloudless blue sky is striking.
Big Bend offers more than 800,000 acres of wilderness for exploration, making it a perfect destination for nature lovers. The stunning canyons, mountains, and desert are the result of volcanic activity and shifting land. Learn how these wonders were formed on the next page.