As national parks traveler Mikah Meyer continued exploring the numerous national park sites within the vast state of Texas, he's been overwhelmed by the beauty of Big Bend National Park and the Rio Grande Wild & Scenic River.
Located in southwestern Texas, on the U.S. border with Mexico, the huge park is larger than Hong Kong. It’s 80 kilometers from east to west, and 200 kilometers of the Rio Grande River form its southern boundary.
Big Bend - named after a big bend in the river - was established as a national park in 1944, preserving the largest tracts of Chihuahuan Desert topography and ecology in the United States. Mikah spent several packed days exploring the vast terrain.
“I didn't have a lot of expectations going in, but it's just kind of this magical landscape,” Mikah observed, one that he learned has evolved greatly over time.
“Over the past two centuries, largely due to a lot of human influence, it used to be a very different climate with grass as high as a horse's head. And essentially through ranching, through farming, through human interaction, we as humans have taken away a lot of the natural, green growth.”
But despite its harsh desert environment, the park boasts a spectacular landscape that’s home to more than 1,200 species of plants (including 60 types of cactus), 450 species of birds, 56 species of reptiles and 75 species of mammals.
The variety of life is largely due to the diverse ecology and changes in elevation, from the dry, hot desert, to the cool mountains, and the fertile river valley.
Flirting with fossils
Mikah’s first stop was the “incredible dinosaur exhibit” at the newly opened Fossil Discovery Exhibit.
“They had these amazingly huge fossils and did a really top-notch job at showing you the history of the area that is now Big Bend National Park that goes back a hundred million years,” he said.
“This area used to be a shallow ocean, so there were massive gators, large fish with huge teeth that were big enough to eat sharks, and they have fossils of those fish that existed in this area that's now a desert.”
Also on display at the site is “an insane amount of dinosaur bones,” Mikah added, including a massive T-Rex skeleton and one of the largest flying reptile skeletons in the world.
“It was incredible!” Mikah marveled. “I mean, what little kid doesn't love dinosaurs and doesn't geek out and squeal at seeing a giant T-rex skeleton? It really puts it in perspective when you can sit in a giant alligator or T-Rex mouth that they have right on the ground at this exhibit.”
Visitors to Big Bend can also enjoy the many recreational opportunities on and around the Rio Grande, which forms the 1600 kilometer long international boundary between Mexico and the United States.
Mikah immersed himself in nature at Rio Grande Village, the largest campground in the park, on the banks of the Rio Grande.
“The campground is in a little bend of Big Bend National Park that dips down, so basically if I look to my left or to my right I'm looking at Mexico, but straight in front of the United States.”
“There is a little nature trail hike which is right by the campgrounds which is gorgeous and gives you stunning views of the Rio Grande River,” Mikah said.
On day two of his visit, Mikah decided to cross the river into Mexico for lunch in the small border town of Boquillas in the Mexican state of Coahuila. “It’s shallow enough that it only goes up to your knees right now,” he observed as he waded across the warm water.
Once he crossed into Mexico, Mikah headed to town -- about a kilometer and a half away down a dusty path -- on a horse. It trotted along at a leisurely pace, allowing Mikah to soak up the beauty of the stark desert around him. After checking in with Mexican customs, he stopped for a tasty lunch of tacos and cold drinks at Jose Falcon’s, one of the town’s two restaurants.
While lunch was satisfying, he said the highlight of his little adventure was the sweeping vista around him. “You’re on this horse, so you’re a little higher than you get to be normally, and there's mountains everywhere and desert trees.”
More to come…
Mikah has many more adventures in Big Bend National Park to share with VOA. They include stops at some of the most remote areas of the park, a surprising canoe ride on the Rio Grande, a visit to the historic hot springs and an exhilarating hike up to the highest peak of Chisos Mountains.
In the meantime the young traveler, who hopes to visit all 400 plus sites within the U.S. National Park Service, invites you to learn more about his journey across the American southwest by visiting his website, Facebook and Instagram.