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