Big Bend National Park is located in Southwest Texas on the border with Mexico. It is a long way from anywhere, but it can be reached from the west or the north on good roads. It is open all year long, but not all of the facilities within the park are open throughout the entire year. Because of the hot summer weather, the park is visited from November to April more than at other times of year. At peak seasons the lodge and all of the campgrounds fill up, so it is advisable to call ahead and make reservations, particularly if you are planning a trip over a major holiday or during the peak season.
The park is characterized by diversity in just about every way that it can be measured. The land is a tumble of rock, gravel and sand and geologists talk in terms of hundreds of millions of years as they describe ocean faults, continental plate friction, mountains that were thrust up and winds that ground them down. Over the eons, volcanos poured their magma over the land as the very crust of the earth was stretched into new forms and earthquakes made their contribution to the rearrangement of the landscape. Where once dinosaurs roamed, today a variety of unique mammals, birds and vegetation flourish as nowhere else in the continental United States.
Big Bend is positioned at the northern extremity of the great Chihuahuan desert. The vast majority of the land area of the park is desert, but a small area close to the center of the park is characterized by mountains. Romantics call the Chisos Mountains the heart of Big Bend and the Chihuahuan Desert it's soul. The juxtaposition of these two vastly different regions is one of the most important elements of this magnificent park. Everything changes as you go up or down in elevation. Temperature, humidity, flora and fauna, are all different in the two regions of the park. Then add in the Rio Grande River and you have another unique ecology which adds yet another dimension to the melange. Our romantics call the river the lifeblood of Big Bend.
People have lived in the Big Bend area for a very long time. The National Park Service has identified thousands of archeological sites within the park and scholars believe that humans have lived there for at least 10,000 years. In more recent times all of the people living in this region were labeled Chisos by the Spanish, even though the term is now thought to have been the name of only one of the tribes living in the area. Their language indicated that they might be related to the Aztec and Toltec peoples of Central America. Early in the eighteenth century, Mescalero Apaches were pushed south by Comanches into the Big Bend area. The Apaches absorbed or displaced the Chisos peoples. Comanches did not settle in Big Bend, but they frequently passed through on their way further south to raid Mexican population areas up until the end of the nineteenth century.
It is thought that Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca and his three colleagues may have passed through Big Bend long before the Spanish settled in the area. The Spanish never did settle in what is today Big Bend, but they did briefly establish small presidios on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande River late in the eighteenth century in a vain effort to deal with indian raids from the north. After the Mexican/American War ended in 1848, the United States surveyed the area and Anglo and Mexican ranchers started moving into the region, bringing their sheep and cattle among with them. In the early twentieth century, mining started and small communities grew up around the various mines. Neither rancher nor miner prospered for long and early conservationists began to urge state and federal governments to take an interest in preserving the region for future generations. This effort resulted in the inclusion of Big Bend in the national park system on June 12, 1944.