If you enjoy an outdoor experience in a remote and unpopulated park with abundant wildlife, scenic views, hiking, biking, canoeing, horseback and trail riding, then Big Bend Ranch State Park is the place to go. The park is in the Chihuahuan Desert, in Presidio and Brewster counties in southwest Texas. Its western edge is bounded by the Rio Grande River. Big Bend National Park lies a few miles south. Texas Highway FM-170 runs through the park, connecting the towns of Presidio and Lajitas. Fort Leaton State Historic Site is near the park in Presidio County. Barton Warnock Visitor Center is in Lajitas in Brewster County.
Big Bend Ranch State Park, comprised of almost 300,000 acres, was opened in 1991, the largest park in the Texas system. It is a designated natural area and is, with Big Bend National Park, an international biosphere reserve under the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizations (UNESCO) program. The Chihuahuan Desert is the largest in North America, extending from Arizona to Texas in the United States, with most of its area in Mexico. More information about the Chihuahuan Desert can be found at: http://www.eoearth.org/article/Chihuahuan_desert, http://www.chihuahuandesert.org/.
Several endangered plants and animals live within the park area. Plants include desert grasses, several types of cactus, ocotillo, candelilla and creosote. Trees include cottonwood, mesquite, oak, ash and willow. Birds native to the area and those that migrate seasonally include the great blue heron, golden eagle and peregrine falcon. Wildlife includes beaver, deer, javelina (wild boar) and mountain lion. Several species of poisonous snakes include rattlesnakes and copperheads.
Almost one hundred archeological sites have been identified within the park, some from the Paleolithic Period, approximately 11,000 years old. Sheep and cattle ranches established in the area contribute to the area’s rich Spanish, Mexican and Texan historic cultural heritage.
Multiuse trails for horseback riding, walking and bicycling transect the park. Trail guide brochures, which can be downloaded from the park website, have superimposed the almost 70 miles of trails onto topographic maps so that users can see not only the routes, but the surrounding physical features. Trails are designated as easy, moderate and difficult, and the number of miles for each segment is also given.
The more than 23 miles of Rio Grande River frontage along the park’s western border provide access to exciting and scenic waterways. Activities include rafting, canoeing and kayaking. Day use access points are near FM-170. Although many segments of the river are easily negotiated, class II and III waters in the spectacular Colorado Canyon are also present. Free bank fishing is allowed.
Accommodation ranges from luxurious to back-country primitive camping. At the La Sauceda camp in the center of the park, a historic ranch house has been converted to a comfortable, fully equipped inn that can house up to eight people. For a more rustic experience, the Sauceda Lodge Bunkhouse accommodates up to 30 people in western style. Meals can be prepared for both the house and the bunkhouse upon request.
Camping is allowed within the park by permit. Designated campgrounds accessible by 2-wheel drive are located along the river road and the interior of the park. More rugged areas are accessible by 4 x 4 vehicles and backpacking. Equestrian staging areas are available in designated areas.
Several small perennial streams flow through the park, and more than 100 springs have been identified. Seasonal rains provide refreshing relief to the dry desert environment. After rains, the desert becomes a colorful expanse with blooming cactus and desert flowers. Water is, however, scarce and must be used wisely. The area is a fragile ecosystem which can be enjoyed by all if respect is given to the natural and cultural resources.
Park brochures explain what permits are required for day and extended day use. Details about what to bring and what is available within the park are also provided. Toilets and showers are scarce within the park boundaries, but portable privies can be purchased from permit centers.
Big Bend Ranch State Park is administered by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, 4200 Smith School Road
Austin, TX 78744
toll free: (800) 792-1112, Austin: (512) 389-4800.
A lot of information is available on line as well:
Fort Leaton State Historic Site
PO Box 2319
Presidio TX 79845
Barton Warnock Visitor Center
HC 70, Box 375
Terlingua TX 79852
El Solitario Newsletter http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/gibfk