Avi and I spoke often about visiting Big Bend. We just hadn’t ever made the trip. When I was planning our Southwest Boogie I discovered the timing would be perfect for a couple of days at the end of the trip. So I booked a room at the Chisos Mountain Lodge in the park and put it on our itinerary.
When we got to the park, I realized we were ill-prepared to bird it. Even though you read about how large it is, the truth doesn’t sink in until you start driving through it. It’s a good 23 miles from the park entrance to the first signs of civilization. You find yourself driving and driving and driving through the Chihuahuan Desert.
Advice we were given about making sure you have water and sufficient gasoline are no joke. Even though you’re in a National Park, cars are few and far between and, even in October, the desert is hot. Dehydration can be a real problem without precautions.
We spent some time looking for birds as we drove. Unfortunately, I didn’t buy The Birds of Big Bend, a book I’m sure would have been useful. Good thing we plan to go back sometime this year!
We hiked a bit on one of the trails leading to the ruins of the Sam Nail Ranch. There was supposed to be some water there, which made us hope to see birds. The water was there, pumped up by an old, but still working, windmill. Alas, all we really saw was a group of Javelinas (Collared Peccaries).
We spent some time driving along an escarpment by the Rio Grande River, hoping for a glimpse of the water. The road down to the river access was closed and the escarpment prevented us from seeing the river itself.
We decided to leave the desert and drive up into the Chisos Mountains and to the Lodge.
Now comes the interesting part of what makes Big Bend National Park such a special place.
You see, you have the Chihuahuan Desert – this huge expanse of a land barrier. It acts almost like an ocean, a barrier for mammals, who need water and certain types of nutrition to survive. Then you have the Chisos Mountains – an oasis in the desert, almost like an island in the middle of the ocean. It’s an area offering greenery, cooler air, and water. And it’s a mountain range entirely within the confines of the park.
The success of the geography of the region is exemplified by the species of deer there. These are Carmen Mountains White-tailed Deer, found only in the Chisos Mountains within Big Bend National Park.
Birds also enjoy the higher altitude and cooler climate of the mountains. Cactus Wrens, in spite of their desert name, were in great abundance around the lodge, with their mess of a nest apparent in the cacti around the area.
We checked into our room at the lodge. There were fabulous views from our back terrace. I especially enjoyed the fact the lodge thought enough of its location to NOT include a television in our room (though you COULD rent one if you really couldn’t live without it).
Of course, we made sure to hit “Sunset Point” at the appropriate time to enjoy the beauty of that time in this setting.
We had dinner at the lodge’s dining room and spent some time sitting outside, enjoying the sky (and virtually no light pollution) with its millions of stars. It was so incredible it was everyone who passed us commented about it.
We turned in early, anticipating an early hike in the mountains and some birding around Rio Grande Village the next day.