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Two major national parks reside in Texas - Guadalupe Mountains and Big Bend National Park. Digital files and prints are available from the images and panoramas contained within this gallery.
Big Bend first became a national park on June 12, 1944. In 1933, the Texas Legislature recognized the area as Big Bend State Park. The park is well known not only for its geology, but also for its diverse array of plants, birds, reptiles and mammals. In 2012, the International Dark-Skies Association honored the park as one of the premiere locations in the world to stargaze.
Best known for its geology, Big Bend is defined by the curving and twisting Rio Grande. Just to the west of Big Bend is its smaller namesake, Big Bend Ranch State Park, though equally as stunning in geology and landscapes. Its name comes from the bend in the river on the southern border. One famous tourist location is the seven-mile long limestone Santa Elena Canyon at the western end of the park. Big Bend covers more than 800,000 acres, and its Chisos Mountains sit in the middle of the Chihuahuan Desert. Big Bend offers countless miles of hiking trails, including a the well known Lost Mine Trail and South Rim Trail. The tallest peak in the park is Emory Peak, rising 7,285 feet above the Chisos Basin, and offers a 360 degree view that stretches into Mexico. One of the classic hikes in Texas is also found in Big Bend - the South Rim. Trekking to this remote part of the park, whatever route you choose, provides amazing views east west, and south from atop the Chisos. On the South Rim, a 1,500 feet tall cliff overlooks the Chihuahuan Desert, the Rio Grande, and the north territory of Mexico, and the round trip is 12+ miles. It can be done as a day trip or as an overnight camping adventure. In either case, the vistas and landscapes make it well worth the effort.
One of my recent trips to the Big Bend involved trekking to a remote part of the park - Mariscal Canyon. The adventure to reach this location not only involved a 3.5 mile path marked only with rock piles called cairns but also a 30 mile drive over difficult 4WD terrain that took nearly two hours. They payoff, though, was one of the most amazing vistas anywhere in Texas.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park, while just as old and with as rich a history as Big Bend, was not recognized as a national park until September of 1972. Several of the highest peaks in Texas reside within the 86,000 plus acres, including the highest, Guadalupe Peak, at 8,751 feet. Even more distinguished is El Capitan, the 8th tallest, but most well known, point in Texas at 8,064, as it rises from the Chihuahuan Desert. The view of this mountain has been used for hundreds of years as a waypoint by travelers in this area and can be seen many miles away by approaching tourists.
One of the most enjoyable hikes in the Guadalupe Mountains is the McKittrick Canyon Trail. This wandering path is relatively easy until the four-mile marker. You'll find yourself strolling through remnant groves of bigtooth maple trees, a beautiful sight from a long ago time period. In fall, the maple leaves turn red, creating a wonderland of color. If you hike to the "Notch" in McKittrick Canyon, you'll have stunning views of both the north and south portions of the canyon. While it is a grunt to reach that point, it is worth the sweat.