Amazing First Days of Training at Big Bend

The days have been going by very quickly! I arrived Saturday, did some light hiking and got acclimated Sunday and have completed two days of training already. None of us can believe they are giving us this wonderful 2-week orientation! First, some pictures from the Nature Trail hike by the Rio Grande Village. Before I started the trail I strolled around the campground and encountered this lovely, young roadrunner that was very unafraid and came to within 4 feet of me. The first day I was here, my next door neighbors, Paul and Judy from Massachusetts, almost had a curious roadrunner walk right into their trailer while we stood there talking! That same night at about midnight there was a horribly loud, long scuffle within 20 feet of my rig between a pack of coyotes and a stray dog from Mexico. Most nights I can hear the coyotes yipping and we often see lone coyotes striding purposefully along the roadways outside the campground.

s-Roadrunner campground

There are a lot of cardinals in this area this time of year too. Somehow they seem even more brightly colored than the ones back in Illinois:

s-Cardinal

Photos Below: The town of Boquillas, then the nature trail crosses a spring fed pond with walkways surrounded by tall cane, then the campground area all as seen from a hill overlooking it all.

s-2a1-Boquillas

s-2a2-Nature Area

s=2b-Looking back over Rio Grande-campground

One of the spur trails goes down to the Rio Grande. Along many of the trails within easy distance of the river are little kiosks where the Mexicans (illegally) cross the river and set up their wares. The border crossing to Boquillas is supposed to open any day and should revive the economy of this little village somewhat. Probably not as much as in the past, though, because a U.S. concessionaire will now run the “crossing” (which was formerly run by Mexicans with little leaky boats) and the Mexicans will no longer be allowed to carry back much-needed gasoline back into Mexico.

s-beads cropped

One of the girls in our training class, Jaclynn, is a wonderfully intelligent, worldly 23 year old who will be one of the 2 people staffing the crossing. She is going to share her pup tent with me on the river float trip this weekend. For a young person she has traveled extensively in Europe, Mexico and Africa, has studied linguistics and has a hobby of inventing alphabets. Most of us doodle when we are sitting in a class, but she invents those alphabets and artistically writes in her “new letters”. Amazing!!

We also have 2 young men from the Student Conservation Association in our class. The SCA pays the students a modest $80-100 per week (Hence their unofficial nickname “Slave Company of America” Ha!) Something for young people to consider!

The afternoon of our first day we took a walking tour of the Chisos Basin. Here are some photos from that trip. Last year this is where I did one of my longest hikes – I think it was at least 9 miles in the high country. First, visiting the horses, mules and livestock captured wandering from Mexico. I found out that they always need help taking care of the horses and mules used by the Border Patrol so I may volunteer to help with them. Also, the livestock that wanders in from Mexico decimate the landscape so they have to be captured by the Border Patrol, too!

s-BB Border Patrol Horses

Castle Rock: (Note the resemblance to a. . . castle!)

s-Castle Rock

Starvation Rock: It is rumored that during the CCC days the men did not like the cooking too much (lots of food but palatability depended on the skills of the cook), so they were told to go out and climb up and down this hill (shown behind the visitor center) until they were hungry enough to eat what was put in front of them!

s-Chisos Vis Center Starvation Hill

s-On the lookout for mtn lion

s-Chisos Trail

s-Chisos Background

Calico Rock common to this area: (our lesson on geology is upcoming)

s-calico rock

Lastly, just showing off the zoom capability of this camera!

s-Showing off camera zoom

Today David Elkins, the Director of Interpretation here at the park gave us a great history of the park. Big Bend was established as a National Park because of its panoramic vistas, wilderness and wildlife diversity. Big Bend leads all other national parks in these categories:

  • Most birds: More than 450 species plus 20 species that are accidental/hypothetical (blown in by hurricanes, etc.)
  • Most butterflies: 180 species
  • Most reptiles: 56 species
  • Most cacti: 59 species
  • Most scorpions: 15 species (none of which are deadly, most are just like bee stings and are treated with a meat tenderizer paste to destroy the protein of the venom)
  • Most bats: 22 species
  • Most ants: sorry, we did not have the exact number of species!

Why does Big Bend have such diversity? Many reasons:

  • 3 major ecosystems (river, mountain and dessert)
  • It is on major bird migration routes
  • Several major mountain ranges: the Basin Range, Rockies and Appalachians(!) (Yes, we learned that the Appalachian range is subsurface and pops up again in Big Bend!)
  • More than 20 soil types including loams, clays, sand, dessert pavement, volcanic, sedimentary, metamorphic, lime, etc.
  • Proximity to Mexican ecosystems and
  • Springs of water throughout the park which provide habitat for orchids, columbines and many other flowers that one might not expect to find here

Mr. Elkins also quizzed us about how the national parks came into existence. Hmmmm – he reminded us of the Ken Burns PBS series. Pre WWII the lands for the parks were usually transferred from one government department into the Department of the Interior, such as land no longer used by the Department of Defense transferred to the DOI. Post WWII the NP lands were mostly bequeathed by wealthy families such as the Rockefellers. In the case of Big Bend, the park land was donated by the state of Texas to the DOI as a gift to the nation to protect it and so that all people would benefit from it. If I understand what we learned, the land was considered “school land” – any taxes from the lands benefited the schools of Texas. So before Texas gave the land to the feds they made sure they were not giving away significant mineral or similar valuable rights. In return, the federal government pays Texas PILT – Payment in Lieu of Taxes – which goes into the school system here.

We then had a brief pre-river trip meeting, ate lunch and spent the afternoon  hiking the first half of the Lost Mine Trail in the Chisos and listening to Park Biologist, Raymond Skiles, talk about mountain lions and bears. Awesome, of course, since I am a big cat lover! There are about 2 dozen mountain lions in the park and most of the cats and bears are in the Chisos mountains. Unfortunately, there has been a decline in the numbers of these animals due to the ongoing severe drought. Also, since there are fewer prey for the big animals they are tending to be more active where there is water, good smelling stuff and (at times) an easier prey among all the mammals – people. Hence a lot of caution and education of the public is necessary so they can safely enjoy the park and hopefully not get attacked. Those “negative encounters” (my term) are rare but still people need to be careful! (Photos of our group on the Lost Mine Trail with Raymond Skiles and the mouth of the Chisos Basin as seen from the trail.)

s-Lost Mine Trail-mtn lions-bears

s-Mouth of Chisos from Lost mine

We also learned about the Big Bend Natural History Association. It is one of 68 similar not for profit organizations in the United States which bring in an aggregate $128mm, $48mm of which goes directly to the National Park Service. In addition here at Big Bend there is a very active employee committee that sponsors chili cook-offs, various fundraisers for the local communities, and a host of social activities. We are now part of that community!

Sunset from the campground tonight: (Good night & sweet dreams everyone!) (As I was writing this I am in front of the Rio Grande Village Camp store, chatting with other travelers and listening to the intermittent yipping and yowling of the coyotes.)

s-Sunset from RGV Campsite

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