This ecological crossroads packs two continents’ worth of natural beauty into a single national park.
By Tim Fitzharris
Here in the 800,000-plus-acre Big Bend National Park, the Chihuahuan Desert meets the Rio Grande. The U.S. meets Mexico. Northern species meet Southern ones as the boundaries of many plant and animal ranges overlap, making this remote treasure as famously diverse biologically as it is geologically.
Each year I visit this place in the great south-dipping curve of the Rio Grande, where brittle desert gives way to badlands. The land undulates with jagged rocks, flat mesas and jutting plateaus, falling and rising until finally, at its heart, soaring more than 7,000 feet skyward into the Chisos Mountains.
This is my destination. By squatting low among clumps of agave and filling the frame with rising rock formations, I capture my most treasured and majestic desert landscapes.
Everywhere, stunning subjects appear before my lens, from the sunbaked and cactus-studded Chihuahuan Desert to the Rio Grande winding a green ribbon between dark, narrow canyons. Inside the Chisos basin, a steep waterfall fools you into forgetting, for a moment, that you’re deep inside an arid region. Always, Mexico’s verdant mountains dominate the southern horizon.
Each season lends a distinct flavor to the terrain. A winter dusting of snow adds zing to the desert landscape. As spring rains arrive, wildflowers and cacti burst into bloom. Springtime also means bird migration, and Big Bend hosts more bird species than any national park in the country.
By late summer, visitors are treated to afternoon thunderstorms, with lightning, rainbows and rolling cloud banks embellishing an already spectacular landscape. By autumn, the fiery colors of trees and shrubs ignite mountains and bottomlands.
Yes, deciduous trees grow alongside the Southwestern pinyon pine and juniper, which—like many other Northern and Southern, Eastern and Western species—meet in this central region.
Straddling continents and subclimates, Big Bend might be the foremost place to experience the best of North, Central and South America combined.
Photos by Tim Fitzharris