If you are me, you’d rather me in some awesome wilderness area hiking around than, well, about anything else. Meanwhile, in the three years I lived in Texas, I never got out to Big Bend National Park and I regret that a lot. To be fair, it’s far from anything. But still…..now it’s been 13 years since I left Texas and I still haven’t been there so maybe I never will. In any case, here’s a nice Texas Monthly piece considering the park over the last 50 years, for good and for less good.
The park is also grappling with environmental issues that were barely on the horizon fifty years ago: Air pollution that obscures the view into Mexico from the South Rim. Invasive species such as aoudads (also known as Barbary sheep) and feral hogs running roughshod over the terrain. Cactus poaching. Climate change that is making the region hotter and dryer, which in turn is causing exotic grasses to spread and increasing the severity of wildfires. And a Rio Grande that has withered from a wild river into a glorified irrigation canal. Last spring, many visitors to Santa Elena Canyon were startled to find themselves walking beneath the 1,500-foot bluffs on a dry riverbed.
But in other ways, Big Bend has changed for the better. There were no breeding pairs of black bears in the park fifty years ago; today visitors have a very good chance of seeing Ursus americanus in the Chisos or even by the river. My most prized close encounter with a bear came in 2015 while I was canoeing the Lower Canyons of the Rio Grande, an 83-mile stretch of “wild and scenic river” partly managed by the National Park Service. On a lonely, treeless stretch of water, in broad daylight, we came upon a mama bear and her two cubs slaking their thirst on the Mexican side. With no cover near them, we were able to watch the family scamper upslope for several minutes.
Personally, I’d far rather see the bears on the other side of the river than mine and having turned a corner on a trail in Glacier National Park to find myself 15 feet from a grizzly, I’m good on bear encounters now. After that happened, people were asking me, “Did you take a picture?” I was like, “No, was trying to survive.”
In any case, though there is no winter in New England this year, it’s still worth thinking on a February Sunday about some good hiking and wilderness. That it is Super Bowl Sunday somehow makes me want that even more, although I will of course be watching the game like every other right thinking American.