Big Bend's Chisos Mountains
The Ghost Mountains of Far West Texas
By Logan Hawkes
It's a lonely place, removed from the world by more than mere distance; a place reserved for only the most adventuresome and hearty. It stands in the middle of the desert like a great monolith constructed by the Gods to relieve the countryside of its constant harsh environment and its isolation and misery.
It is surrounded by miles and miles of nearly nothing; a land where only the fit survive, and the strongest prevail. Big Bend National Park is unparalleled in beauty and isolation in a part of the world reserved for survivalists. It has been described as one of the most remote places on Earth; an empty land full of hellish summers and harsh, lonely winters. And it is indeed these things...and much more.
For the visitor to Texas, however, Big Bend is a must see and should be scheduled in your travel plans regardless the distances involved in traveling to this unique natural landmark. Be aware though, there is no such thing as a quick trip to Big Bend. To get there, no matter your point of origin, you must travel through the greater part of West Texas. The nearest airport with commercial service is located hundreds of miles away in El Paso, or San Antonio. Even the Interstate highways are hours away from the park entrance. There's no such thing as "stumbling" upon the site, so far removed from civilization. To get there, you must intend to get there, and, in addition, you must be full of determination and patience. To many, the trip is not worth the gasoline (which can be hard to find). To others, it is the trip of a lifetime to one of the most remarkable, majestic and humbling spots on the planet.
Located deep in the desert, the park lies adjacent to the Mexican border. The little Mexican village of Boquillas stands just across the Rio Grande River; a community so remote it doesn't have electricity; no Mexican federal police; no local law enforcement; no grocery store or theater. In Boquillas time passes as it always has; a day is like a year; a year like a century, a century like a thousand years. To walk the streets here is like stepping back in time.
Central to the park are the Chisos Mountains, rising out of the desert and serving as a landmark for countless miles in every direction. The mountains were named a thousand years ago by natives who roamed the region in search of food and water. 'Chisos' in native language means ghost, or spirit, and most native people avoided the pristine mountains like the plague, believing them to be alive with the spirits of the dead. Standing in the primary campground of the Chisos Basin and listening to the wind whistle through the desolate range, you can easily understand their reputation and the many myths and legends associated with them.
Here the winds blows ever eerily, whispering with every gust, luring you to abandon the familiars of campsite to recklessly wander through the canyons and arroyos and wilderness that make up the geographic wonder. Rattlesnakes, bears, mountain lions all avail in this remote wonderland, and the presence of man is foreign to the terrain. One can't avoid the feeling of being out of place; alone. Travelers should be aware that the park is a remote and desolate landscape and assistance, even emergency service, is slow in coming.
But to encounter the strangeness that is this place is a life changing event. Many have described their visit as amazing; eye-opening. On my first visit as a youth, an extended weekend getaway, I found in this rough and desolate country a real wonder. And it forever changed my perception of what I consider beautiful and majestic. I have camped in the beauty of Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park; gazed in wonder at the spectacle of the Grand Canyon. But never have I "felt" a place so much as Big Bend and the glorious Chisos mountains. Here the sunrises and sunsets rival any in the world, and here you discover nature and self in the silence of the 'end of the world.
Nearby lies Canyon de Brujas (Witch Canyon), often the site of moanful cries from an Apache maiden who is said to have drowned herself rather than be defiled by her white captors. The spirit of the maiden is said to wander the canyon in search of a way home to her Apache village. In the nearby towns of Study Butte and Terilingua, ghost stories abound. Once great mining villages, there are countless tales of haunts and evil spirits who plagued the minors here.
Actually the national park is made up of a large area that includes more than just the ghostly mountains. There is the Rio Grande and its several unbelievably grand canyons where adventurers can spend a day or a month on the fast running waters headed to the Gulf of Mexico nearly a thousand miles away. Here, rafters from across the world enjoy this remote part of the world nearly year round. Just to the west of the park boundary lies the ghost town of Study Butte; further down the road the one-time U.S. outpost of Persidio. But by far and wide, the greatest attraction are the mysterious Chisos mountains, full of mystery and awe; ageless and mighty among all the grand sites of the world.
To properly experience the area, you should plan on some rugged backcountry camping. Be warned: Be prepared! It's not unusual to find yourself the only camper in the campground (there are several to choose from). There is a lodge in the Chisos Basin, a beautiful place where the rooms are adequate and comfortable. From here you can venture out to more remote areas of the park and still take short trips throughout the Basin to discover the appeal of the environment.
But to really get the feel of the Ghost mountains, there's nothing like sleeping underneath the stars, and the stars are not brighter at any other spot on earth! Legend has it that many a Comanche and Apache braves wandered too deep into the mountains to never to be seen again. On some nights, one can still hear the moans and cries of the lost.
One of the best starting points of a venture into this remote part of the world is the common gathering area in the Basin, where park rangers nightly re-tell the stories and legends of Big Bend.
No matter what wonderful sites you have visited before, life is not complete until you have made the arduous but worthwhile adventure into the remote stretches of far West Texas to discover the mysteries and wonders of the great Chisos Mountains of Big Bend National Park. Happy traveling!