ENP 32.2 Big Bend: Insider’s Guide To The Best Of
07/21/2020Grapevine Hills. Photo by Ricky Morgan.
For the second in our Big Bend National Park series, Danielle chats with Courtney Lyons-Garcia, executive director of Big Bend Conservancy, a major advocate for the park. From scenic drives to family-friendly hikes, and fossil experiences Courtney shares practical tips and activities suited to every kind of traveller
Know Before You Go To Big Bend
You'd be hard-pressed to find a better satellite office location than Big Bend - or a more remote one. For that reason, Courtney encourages travellers to weigh their gateway city choices carefully; the shorter mileages from smaller airports aren't always the wisest options. Another of Courtney's brilliant suggestions is to combine Big Bend with national parks in New Mexico. As for accommodations, Courtney urges anyone hoping to secure rooms at Chisos Mountain Lodge should make reservations promptly on the first day the NPS system allows. That's January 1st for trips planned in the following year. Campsites fill up quickly as well. There again, it’s advised to book early.South Rim Vista and Claret Cup Cactus. Photo by the National Park Service.Lost Mine Trail Saddle 5-16. Photo by Courtney Lyons-Garcia.
Big Bend's Big Three
Once inside the park, visitors to Big Bend can explore three distinct ecosystems: river, mountain, and desert. In addition to the Rio Grande Visitors Center and a border crossing into Mexico, the river district boasts access to nearby hot springs and excellent birding. The Chisos Mountains offer hikers high-level views and multiple trails with varying levels of difficulty. As for the Chihuahuan Desert region, Courtney says Big Bend will challenge the notion that all deserts are hot and dry. "It's a desert but it's not the kind of desert that people think about. They think about the Sahara and wide stretches of sand, and that's just not [how] Big Bend is at all."Rainbow over Casa Grande Peak. Photo by the National Park Service.
Access, Animals, And Astronomy
Remoteness is a key ingredient to Big Bend's appeal. That said, Courtney says the park is ideally suited to families with young children as well as those with mobility issues. The Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, for instance, is a 32-mile showcase of big skies and easily-accessible overlooks while several trails are favorites for spotting the park's resident bears. And, if space is the final frontier, then Big Bend's sparsely populated surroundings position it as a perfect gateway to the cosmos. While Courtney enjoys simple DIY stargazing, she encourages visitors to take advantage of the park's Night Sky program. "[It's] just an amazing experience to really highlight the spectacular pieces of the universe."
With its big skies and acreage rivaling Rhode Island, Courtney says Big Bend offers surprises no matter when you go - she prefers February to just about every other month - or where you look. Courtney is forever grateful to the colleague who once turned her attention away from a picturesque sunset so she could take in the view behind her. "Casa Grande was the most perfect color of reddish-orange. It was just beautiful...it was just as pretty as the sunset."Courtney Lyons-Garcia with her daughter at the Boquillas Crossing Station. Photo by Courtney Lyons-Garcia.
DUE TO COVID-19 PRECAUTIONS, BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK WAS CLOSED AT TIME OF RECORDING AND PUBLISHING THIS EPISODE. PLEASE CHECK NPS WEBSITE FOR UPDATES.
Rock Layers - Hot Springs Trail Vista. Photo by the National Park Service.
Discussion includes the following:
[00:02] Introduction: HelloRanger
[02:22] Guardians of Big Bend National Park: Courtney Lyons-Garcia and Big Bend Conservancy
[03:15] Getting acquainted with Big Bend: An overview of the park and its conservancy
[05:35] Getting to the park: Interstate travel, suggestions for East and West Coast visitors
[09:03] Stocking up: Advice on retail options and supporting special dietary needs
[10:53] Best times of year to visit Big Bend
[13:21] Seasonal explorations
[16:28] An itinerary overview
[17:51] Perfect pairs: Suggestions for combining Big Bend with other areas of interest Big Bend State Park, Balmorhea State Park, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, White Sands National Park, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Del Rio, Fort Davis
[19:34] Do, see & learn - River District: Rio Grande Village Visitors Center, Nature Walk, Boquillas Crossing Port of Entry, Boquillas Village, Mexico, Ernst Tinaja Primitive Roadside Campsite, Hot Springs Historic Trail
[23:05] Do, see & learn - Dinosaurs & Desert District: Fossil Discovery Exhibit, Grapevine Hills Trail
[26:27] Do. See. Learn - Mountain District: Window Trail, South Rim Trail, Emory Peak Trail/The Pinnacles, Lost Mine Trail
[28:01] Spotting the bears of Big Bend: Pine Canyon Trail
[28:43] More To Explore: Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, Castolon Historic District, Santa Elena Canyon Trail, The Blue Creek/Horner Wilson Ranch
[30:27] Big Bend Accessibility
[31:53] More outdoor fun: River rafting with Big Bend’s preferred concessionaire Far Flung Outdoor Center, DIY paddleboard and canoe considerations
[34:58] An artists’ paradise
[35:25] Stargazing: Big Bend’s Night Skies program
[37:41] Lodging suggestions: Front country camping, Chisos Mountains Lodge. RV sites, Stillwell Ranch camping & RV sites
[41:06] Lodging suggestions: Backcountry camping reservations
[41:16] Courtney’s favorite park memoryCourtney Lyons-Garcia with her children in the Basin. Photo by Courtney Lyons-Garcia.
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