Interesting Facts About Big Bend National Park

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Big Bend is known for its natural splendor.
Big Bend is known for its natural splendor. (Image: fdevalera/iStock/Getty Images)

Big Bend National Park opened in 1944 and encompasses over 800,000 acres of territory along the Texas-Mexico border and the "big bend" of the Rio Grande that gives the park its name. Hundreds of miles of trails crisscross the park, traversing both mountain highlands and desert lowlands. You can go whitewater rafting, horseback riding, fishing and camping, among other recreational activities. The enormous park has several particularly interesting geographic and historical aspects.

An Entire Mountain Range

The Chisos Mountain range is contained entirely within the bounds of Big Bend National Park -- the only mountain range in the U.S. to be so enclosed. The highest point, Emery Point, rises 7,835 feet above sea level. The Chisos Mountains used to be the home of the Mescalero Apaches, and later the Comanche Trail passed through this area. The Chisos Mountain Basin, a shallow valley in the heart of the range, is home to the only hotel and dining facility in the park, and acts as the hub for numerous hiking trails as well. Day hikers do not need permits, but overnight campers do.

Home of the Colima Warbler

Birdwatching in Big Bend is a rewarding experience year-round. Over 450 species of birds make their home in the park -- more than in any other national park. One of the most sought after is the Colima Warbler, which spends the months of April and September residing in the high mountain canyons and cannot be found anywhere else in the United States. This songbird is about 5 inches in length and has grayish brown plumage, with a spot of orange on the male birds' heads. Other species you might see include the elf owl, Mexican jay, several species of hummingbirds and the golden eagle.

Stargazing Is Better Here -- Guaranteed

Thanks to its size and lack of development, Big Bend National Park is among the best places in North America for stargazing. In fact, it has been certified as an International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association. Clear desert nights help give visitors the chance to see thousands of stars nightly. The park service offers guided night hikes and telescope viewings throughout the year.

Long-Time Human Habitation

Big Bend is vast, has relatively few visitors, almost no development and few nearby towns. As a result, it can seem like pristine, untouched wilderness. But humans have inhabited the region for at least 10,000 years; the oldest archaeological site in the park is 8,800 years old. The Chiso Indians gave their name to the mountain range they inhabited; later groups of Apaches and Comanches encountered the Spanish colonial settlers in the 1500s. Spain and later, Mexico, mostly left this land alone, until the 1890s, when silver and cinnabar were discovered in the mountains and a small mining boom followed. Traces of the Big Bend area's long history can be found in pictographs at the Hot Springs site and at the Chimneys; there are also eight National Historic Register sites within the park's borders.

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