Big Bend National Park

There is a point in every journey—never at the beginning, but somewhere in the middle—when, and only then, do you feel that you’ve actually arrived at your destination.

Standing alone on the shattered ground of the Chihuahuan desert, where the sun bakes my neck and the wind breathes hot air onto my face, I truly know that I have arrived in Texas. Nothing smells quite like the desert, especially in March, when the bluebonnets are wide open and blowing their perfume across the dusty expanse—and nothing compares to the wild colored mountains of Big Bend.

I drove for so many days to get here—Big Bend is especially remote, and though my life hasn’t lacked in travel, this was (for me) the national park that got away. Few Americans (and fewer Texans) ever get out to Big Bend. I suspect it’s that final hundred-mile drive across the sand-shaded nothingness that prevents so many from committing to come all this way—a Texas-style buffer zone to keep the fainthearted away.

The eerie silence of the desert follows the hum of the road and the ground is so dry and cracked that my boots leave no prints. Plate-size cacti offer the only dash of green, though a million wildflowers are scattered about like colored confetti among what might otherwise be the deadest corner in Texas.

The rough landscape is almost cartoonish in its red and orange geometry. Wind-worn buttes jut up from the flat earth and jagged knife-edged promontories contrast the smoothest, rounded solid stone hills. Though I hold a map with names and places of interest, I quickly realize that time is all that matters at Big Bend.

If it is early morning, it is cool—even frigid—and if it is midday, you will cook in the heat, and at night, you will see a thousand white stars. Every hour in between reveals a different mood, expressed in the chameleon colors of the Texas desert. Above all, Big Bend is a national park dedicated to the sun—its power and warmth and beauty.

Too many are too anxious to hike, to raft, and to ride motorbikes, but I feel no rush to speed quickly through this place. Instead, like a lizard, I wait on a rock and watch the sun move slowly from one point in the sky to another. In the afternoon, the clouds migrate past me until the sun begins to leave its daytime post, descending ever so slowly towards twilight.

Here is the magic moment when I am caught completely off guard, looking up from the ground to see the row of mountains turn from evening’s violet shadow into a deep, flaming red. This is the grand finale of the day, flashed in front of me, nature’s blinking sign to make extra sure that I know that I am in Texas.

Sunset on the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend National Park (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)
Sunset on the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend National Park (click to enlarge) // (Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler)



  1. Ray
    March 11, 2013, 10:34 am

    Spent 2 weeks exploring Big Bend NP last March. Love it! Great hiking and sunsets. Boquitas and Santa Elana Canyons are spectacular. Also the drive along the Rio Grande in the neighboring Big Bend Ranch State Park is beautiful. Very special part of the world that so few visit.

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