There are 3 year-round visitor centers in Big Bend National Park. The first one Ruth & I saw was down U.S. Highway 385 and just inside its North Entrance. Called Persimmon Gap, it’s surrounded by the Chihuahuan Desert and is in a historic adobe building that once was the Cooper’s Store servicing nearby ranching families and welcoming early Big Bend National Park visitors. Built in the mid-1940s when BBNP was new, Cooper’s hasn’t been a place to buy gas and drinks since the National Park Service bought it and turned it into a Ranger Station.
In this interesting, well-kept building, I checked out a display about the Great Comanche War Trail here before talking to Gary Karasick, a man enjoying his first experience as a National Park volunteer host. Even though it was almost an hour past his 4 pm closing time, Gary remained patient and welcoming to the Park visitors lined up to speak to him. He gathered us together and pointed on the map to his 5 favorite Park experiences: Boquillas Canyon Overlook, a hot spring, Rio Grande Village Nature Trail, Elena Canyon Trail, and some balanced rocks. Ruth and I made it to all 5.
The Chihuahuan Desert is one of 4 in the United States. It’s flora is different from the other three deserts with several types of yucca dominating its landscape. My favorite is the impressive Giant Dagger that looks like an undersized, over-eager palm tree. Ocotillo and prickly pear also abound.
Chihuahua extends across the Rio Grande, which Mexicans call the Río Bravo del Norte, and dominates 2 Mexican States, Chihuahua and Coahuila (Wha wee’ la). Big Bend National Park is in the Chihuahuan Desert’s northern third. Its residents include 4 types of rattlesnakes, plenty of mountain lions, javelinas, coyotes, and black bears. However, visitors are unlikely to have contact with any of these. There have been only 1,000 lion sightings in the past 60 years despite the fact that 2 encounters in 2012 resulted in injuries. Although Chihuahua appears to be a dry and empty vastness with no trees, windswept uplifts, and desolate crevices, it’s far from lifeless. The Park’s part of Chihuahua is home to 11 species of amphibians, 40 types of fish, 75 species of mammals, and 56 kinds of reptiles. The only humans in somewhat steady residence are Park personnel.
I asked Gary if there were actual persimmons at Persimmon Gap and he said, “Yes, non-edible Texas persimmons.” before Ruth & I headed south in late afternoon sun to the very center of BBNP 35 miles away in the majestic Chisos Mountains. The very fine Chisos Mountain Lodge at the end of an ever-upward, twisting road offers the only accommodations other than camping facilities in the entire Park. Nestled in a very high valley surrounded by high peaks, the CML complex also includes the only restaurant in the Park. The nearest place to book a room and find a cafe is 35 miles away in the town of Terlingua. Both the Lodge and its restaurant are 5 Compass experiences.