Fea­tures

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where tow­er­ing lime­stone cliffs rise 1,500 feet above the Rio Grande. One feels small and in­signif­i­cant against these mas­sive walls which ap­pear as sen­tinels within this unique en­vi­ron­ment.

Big Bend boasts nu­mer­ous eco­tones, formed by river, desert and moun­tains. This va­ri­ety re­sults in an ar­ray of habi­tats which sup­port more species of birds, plants, but­ter­flies, bats, rep­tiles and cacti than any other na­tional park in the coun­try. The park is a well-known bird­ers’ par­adise, as it’s along a mi­gra­tion route and ideal for bird di­ver­sity through­out the year. Peo­ple come from all over to spot the Colima war­bler, the rock star of birds in Big Bend. The only place this bird is found within the U.S. is in the Chisos Moun­tains.

Dur­ing my stay in the park, the crea­tures that were most preva­lent seemed to be road­run­ners and javeli­nas, both of which are fas­ci­nat­ing to ob­serve. Run­ning at speeds up to 20 mph, the road­run­ner pur­sues lizards and small rat­tlesnakes, which it pecks to death with blows of its beak. The javelina, though pig-like in ap­pear­ance, is a pec­cary, and not a mem­ber of the swine fam­ily as I had pre­vi­ously as­sumed. One walked right in front of our group as we walked down a trail at Bo­quil­las. It didn’t even bother to give us a glance, pre­fer­ring to go about its busi­ness with­out ac­knowl­edg­ing our pres­ence. I re­marked to my com­pan­ions that the crea­ture looked very pri­mor­dial with Old World ori­gins.

Af­ter a day on the trail, a sun­set soak in Lang­ford Hot Springs is the per­fect way to re­lax. This his­toric geo­ther­mal spring is ad­ja­cent to the Rio Grande and its nat­u­rally heated water is known for its heal­ing pow­ers. Lo­cals and vis­i­tors have sworn by it since the baths were first de­vel­oped in 1906.

Though Lang­ford’s once impressive bath­house is long gone, the spring is still con­tained by the foun­da­tion re­mains of the struc­ture. Soak­ing in the 105 de­gree water felt heav­enly and of course the un­par­al­leled scenery was a bonus. To top it off, as we left, there was a dou­ble rain­bow, fol­lowed by a glo­ri­ous sun­set that lit up the sky with in­tense hues.

Ac­tiv­i­ties not only abound in Big Bend, but within the nearby com­mu­ni­ties of La­ji­tas and Ter­lin­gua; both des­ti­na­tions are rich in Old West his­tory. Lo­cated in the low­land desert between the Na­tional Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park, these towns of­fer plenty of lodg­ing and din­ing op­tions, along with a host of out­door ad­ven­tures from mild to wild. A trail ride with La­ji­tas Sta­bles, for ex­am­ple, will take you into Big Bend Ranch State Park through ar­royos and along canyon rims, to La­ji­tas Mesa where the ter­ri­to­rial views are strik­ing. The horses climb up and down steep rocky paths like sure-footed moun­tain goats. Opt for a half-day ride with lunch and you’ll be treated to a smor­gas­bord of smoked chicken, black bean salad or “Texas caviar” as the lo­cals call it, cheese, fruit, olives and other as­sorted good­ies. The trail guides are knowl­edge­able about the area and will re­gale you with his­tor­i­cal and ge­o­log­i­cal in­for­ma­tion, as well as common horse sense – some­thing I al­ways need!

For a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive of the area and an­other un­for­get­table way to en­counter the re­mote wilder­ness of Big Bend, take a river trip with Far Flung Ad­ven­tures in Ter­lin­gua. Water flow con­di­tions and time of year, as well as length of trip, will dic­tate which sec­tion of the Rio Grande you will raft. Rest as­sured, it doesn’t re­ally mat­ter where you go, as the scenery along this mighty wa­ter­way is mag­i­cal. You’ll be wowed by the nar­row, shad­owy canyons and gi­gan­tic, steep walls, and if you’re lucky, you might see or hear red-tailed hawks as they soar and scream high above the rocks. Look for all the tur­tles sun­ning them­selves on rocks at the river’s edge.

La­ji­tas is also home to the La­ji­tas Golf Re­sort, a 27,000-acre prop­erty fea­tur­ing a world class 18-hole course, spa, pool, zi­pline, shoot­ing range, eques­trian cen­ter, shops, restau­rants and more. I found out the hard way that I’m def­i­nitely not An­nie Oak­ley when I tried out the re­sort’s “Cow­boy Ac­tion Shoot.” Though I’d been to a sport­ing clay skeet shoot­ing fa­cil­ity once years ago, I’d never han­dled a gun with live ammo be­fore, and it was very daunt­ing.

Each par­tic­i­pant is given a pis­tol, ri­fle and dou­ble bar­rel shot­gun to use on tar­gets that have been set up within a façade of an old Western town dubbed “Stargazer Springs.” Safety and proper han­dling tech­nique was the pri­or­ity at all times, but I still felt ner­vous, which I’m sure af­fected my abil­ity to shoot with any amount of ac­cu­racy. I quickly got used to the in­struc­tor telling me my shots were too high, too low, too far to the right or to the left. On the rare oc­ca­sion I was suc­cess­ful, I at­trib­uted it to just plain luck, as I had no idea how it hap­pened.

While you’re in La­ji­tas, I rec­om­mend mak­ing a cour­tesy visit to the mayor, as this will be one en­counter with a politi­cian I guar­an­tee you’ll never for­get. The il­lus­tri­ous Clay

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