Monday, October 7, 2013

Big Bend Ranch State Park

A piece in today's Chronicle tells the harrowing story of an Arkansas couple who, after getting booted out of Big Bend National Park due to the federal government shut-down, got lost for four days and almost died in their alternate destination, which was the adjacent Big Bend Ranch State Park (BBRSP). 
Sorry, try again later:  Souvenir notice on the national parks website. 
Moral of that and many other storiesDon't mess with west Texas.  BBRSP is an extraordinary destination and, in fact, I prefer it to the national park because it remains unpopulated and completely wild and open for discovery.  But west Texas is utterly unforgiving of those who make mistakes.  It is defined by beauty and potential danger in equal measure.  None of the regular rules of society apply there. 

I myself don't have a BBRSP story of personal danger to tell you, but I can show you a story of beauty, so I thought that's what I would do today.
This is what the only "improved" road through BBRSP looks like, for miles and miles and miles. 
Here it is that road shown on a roadside park sign.  Sixteen miles into the park, you're still nineteen miles from the end of the park road!!  Many people simply cannot conceive of these distances in a public park.  There is nothing else in the brain's experience for context. 
All of the other roads inside BBRSP look basically like this - old primitive ranch roads from years and years ago.  I learned to drive in a foreign country that had its share of bad road conditions, so I have successfully taken my consumer-grade two-wheel drive vehicle into locations like this both in BBRSP and in Big Bend National Park without incident.  But people who have no driving experience in these conditions break down in droves (punctured tires are probably the most common result). 

Yes, there is a leash rule in BBRSP, but with 300,000 acres, you'd be hard pressed to find someone to argue with you about what you're doing or why.  Our dog is a well-trained trail animal.  You'll notice that she's carrying her own equipment and has her head turned sideways with both my husband and I in her field of view, and with herself positioned equidistant between us.  Her shepherd instincts are superb.  She won't allow any hiking pack member to become separated from the group. 

It was the park rangers in BBRSP who originally taught me about the hazards of bringing dogs and wild pig species into spatial proximity.  They have several amusing anecdotes that they use to underscore their message about how dangerous javelinas can be when something (such as a dog) puts them into the wrong frame of mind. 

With the situation being what it is along the Mexican border, camping down by the Rio Grande is not something I necessarily recommend unless you are well armed with both canine and other defensive strategies (plural).  People cross the river at night... and let me just leave it at that.  We have copped campsites such as this one within a hundred yards of the river, but only on those days when we ran out of sufficient daylight for getting deeper into BBRSP. 
But this is why we really go to west Texas - not to camp by the river but to camp by ourselves.  To the best of our ability to discern, there were no other human beings within eight miles of this particular campsite.  And there's no other public land in the state of Texas where the likes of this solitude can be achieved. 

Think about that.  When is the last time you were eight miles from another person?  Or have you ever been?  There is no cellular coverage here.  No development.  No roads, no buildings, no trace of modern civilization.  That's exactly what makes it special. 

Yes, there is the issue of drug-related violence in Mexico.  But I tend to think that most folks are going to remain pretty safe if they are tucked miles and miles back into the desert like this.  Anyone attempting to do harm would first have to make one gut-busting hike to even find the targets.  And then they'd have to hike themselves back out.  Hardly seems worth it when there are easier targets who have more to offer than granola bars. 
There are also interesting things to see of a more intimate sort.
Near Presidio, there's Fort Leaton, which is where one of the park headquarters is located. 
And there is also evidence of native cultures within the park. 
This little piggie has never even heard of a market.  Remember when I was talking about feral hogs in Clear Lake, I mentioned that I treat them like javelinas in west Texas.  Just stay as far away as possible.  Do not approach for a photo op. 
Not every natural feature in BBRSP is defined by endless wide open expanses of space.  This is Closed Canyon, which is my favorite spot.  Husband and trail dog for scale. 
The FM road out of Presidio and the stark but vibrant beauty of the place.  If you're an outdoorsy person, make sure BBRSP is on your bucket list. 

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