Western National Park and Monument Info

US Park Info: Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park is a land of borders. Situated on the boundary with MexicoBig Bend National Park
along the Rio Grande, it is a place where countries and cultures meet. It is also a place that merges natural environments, from desert to mountains. It is a place where south meets north and east meets west, creating a great diversity of plants and animals. The park covers over 801,000 acres of west Texas in the place where the Rio Grande makes a sharp turn - the Big Bend. Authorized June 20, 1935; established June 12, 1944. Designated a United States Biosphere Reserve, 1976.

Big Bend National Park encompasses more than 800,000 acres in southwest Texas. For more than 1,000 miles, the Rio Grande forms the international boundary between Mexico and the United States; Big Bend National Park administers approximately one-quarter of that boundary. Within the 118 twisting miles that also define the park’s southern boundary, the river’s southeasterly flow changes abruptly to the northeast and forms the “big bend” of the Rio Grande.

Because the Rio Grande serves as an international boundary, the park faces unusual constraints when administering and enforcing park rules, regulations, and policies. The park has jurisdiction only to the center of the deepest river channel; the rest of the river lies within the Republic of Mexico.

South of the border, people call the Rio Grande by its Spanish name, Rio Bravo del Norte. South of the river lie the Mexican states of Chihuahua and Coahuila and the new protected areas for flora and fauna, which are comprised of regions known as the Maderas del Carmen and the Cañon de Santa Elena.

Big Bend National Park has national significance as the largest protected area of Chihuahuan Desert topography and ecology in the United States. 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 at the turn of the century.

The park exhibits dramatic contrasts; its climate may be characterized as one of extremes. Dry, hot late spring and early summer days often exceed 100 degrees in the lower elevations. Winters are normally mild throughout the park, but sub-freezing temperatures occasionally occur. Because of the range in altitude from approximately 1,800 feet along the river to 7,800 feet in the Chisos Mountains, a wide variation in available moisture and in temperature exists throughout the park. These variations contribute to an exceptional diversity in plant and animal habitats.

The 118 river miles that form the southern park boundary include the spectacular canyons of Santa Elena, Mariscal, and Boquillas. The Rio Grande, meandering through this portion of the Chihuahuan Desert, has cut deep canyons with nearly vertical walls through three uplifts comprised primarily of limestone. Throughout the open desert areas, the highly productive Rio Grande riparian zone includes various plant and animal species and significant cultural resources. The vegetative belt extends into the desert along creeks and arroyos.

Cultural resources in the park range from the Paleo-Indian period 10,500 years ago through the historic period represented by Native American groups, such as the Chisos, Mescalero Apache, and Comanche. More recently, Spanish, Mexican, and American settlers farmed, ranched, and mined in the area.

Throughout the prehistoric period, humans found shelter and maintained open campsites throughout the park. The archeological record reveals an Archaic-period desert culture whose inhabitants developed a nomadic hunting and gathering lifestyle that remained virtually unchanged for several thousand years.

The historic cultural landscape centers upon various subsistence or commercial land uses. The riparian and tributary environments were used for subsistence and irrigation farming. Transportation networks, irrigation structures, simple domestic residences and outbuildings, and planed and terraced farm land lining the stream banks characterize these landscapes.

Big Bend National Park lies in south Brewster County, one of the most sparsely populated areas of the country. Brewster County consists of 6,204 square miles and has a population of approximately 13,000 people. Most of the population resides in two towns: Marathon and Alpine, which lie 69 and 100 miles respectively to the north and northwest of park headquarters. The western gateway communities of Study Butte, Terlingua, and Lajitas have experienced growth in recent years but still lag behind Marathon and Alpine in terms of population.

Basic Information on Big Bend National Park

How to Get to Big Bend National Park

Nearest Airport to Big Bend National Park
-Air service is available into Midland/Odessa Airport on American Airlines, about 3 hours from Big Bend National Park.

How to Drive to Big Bend National Park - Three paved roads lead to the park: 1) U.S. 385 from Marathon, TX to the north entrance, 2) State Route 118 from Alpine, TX to the west entrance, 3) Ranch Road 170 from Presidio to Study Butte, and then State Route 118 to the west entrance. Big Bend National Park headquarters is located 70 miles south of Marathon, TX and 108 miles from Alpine, TX via Hwy. 118.

Weather & Climate
Fall and spring are usually warm and pleasant. Summers are hot, although temperatures vary greatly between the desert floor and the Chisos Mountains; May and June are the hottest months. Afternoon and evening rains often cool the desert from July to October. Winters are generally mild, although periods of cold weather (including light snow) are possible. Winter visitors must prepare for a variety of conditions. A hat, comfortable clothing, and sturdy walking shoes or boots are necessary for anyone planning to hike. Sunscreen is a must. Hikers must always carry plenty of water. One gallon per person per day is recommended.

Visitor centers are accessible. Wheelchair-accessible campsites and restrooms are located in the Chisos Basin and Rio Grande Village Campgrounds. The Chisos Mountains Lodge restaurant is accessible, as are some motel rooms. A Telecommunications Device for the Deaf is available at park headquarters. A brochure on accessibility is available by calling or writing the park. Employees with sign language abilities may be available.

Camping at Big Bend National Park

Chisos Basin Campground
Open All Year
65 campsites. Flush toilets, running water, grills, and picnic tables are available, but no hookups. $8 per night. No reservations. Elevation 5,400'. Due to the narrow, winding road to the Basin, and small campsites, trailers over 20' and RV's over 24' are not recommended at this campground

Cottonwood Campground
Open All Year
31 campsites. $8 per night. Pit toilets, picnic tables, grills, and water are available. No Hook-ups. No dump station. Elevation 1,900'.

Rio Grande Village Campground
Open All Year
$8 per night. This 100 site campground has flush toilets, running water, picnic tables, grills, and some overhead shelters. Dump Station. No reservations. Elevation 1,850'.

Rio Grande Village RV Park
Open All Year
25 sites. This is the ONLY campground with hookups in the park. It is a concession-operated trailer park, and sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Register at the Rio Grande Village Store/Service Station. Full hookup capability is required.

Activities at Big Bend National Park

Hiking is the best way to experience, enjoy, and appreciate Big Bend National Park. A permit is required for all overnight trips, and can be obtained up to 24 hours in advance of the trip in person only. It is virtually impossible to plan an extended backpacking trip prior to your arrival in the park. Bear in mind how much distance you want to cover and how much time you have. Based on that information and current conditions, personnel at park visitor centers can assist you with trip planning.

The park is very large and remote. Remember that you will be at least 100 miles from a bank, hospital, pharmacy, or supermarket.

A minimum of two days is needed to see most of the park from the main roads. For hikers and explorers, allow a week to see the park. A high clearance or 4x4 vehicle will allow you to see more of the park. Camping, birdwatching, wildlife viewing, and float trips are popular park activities. Commercial float trips on the Rio Grande are available through outfitters just outside the park.

















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