Big Bend Ranch
Brochure of Big Bend Ranch State Park (SP) in Texas. Published by Texas Parks & Wildlife.
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PHOTO: E. DAN KLEPPER texas parks and wildlife Interpretive Guide to: WATER: THE DESERT’S WEALTH Water, the desert’s life-giving wealth, softens and tames el despoblado to make it habitable, even welcoming. An important water source, the Rio Grande carves a verdant ribbon through the harsh grandeur of the Chihuahuan Desert along the park’s southern boundary. Other perennial watercourses and abundant springs provide unexpected oases in an otherwise dry environment. BIG BEND RANCH STATE PARK Barton Warnock Visitor Center MORE INFORMATION Barton Warnock Visitor Center, named for a prominent area botanist and educator, serves as the eastern entrance for Big Bend Ranch State Park. The center interprets 570 million years of geological history and the five biological landscapes of the Chihuahuan Desert and includes the exhibit, “Una Tierra – One Land.” A self-guided two-acre botanical garden allows visitors to walk among the characteristic plants of the Big Bend region. Big Bend Ranch State Park Presidio, TX (432) 358-4444 www.tpwd.texas.gov/bigbendranch Barton Warnock Visitor Center Lajitas, TX (432) 424-3327 www.tpwd.texas.gov/bartonwarnock EL DESPOBLADO MEANS “THE UNPOPULATED PLACE.” IT’S A NAME LONG USED TO DESCRIBE THE NORTHERN CHIHUAHUAN DESERT, INCLUDING THE BIG BEND REGION, WHICH MAY IMPLY A SENSE OF EMPTINESS. YET BIG BEND RANCH STATE PARK IS FAR FROM EMPTY. THE PARK OFFERS 500 SQUARE MILES OF UNRIVALED GEOLOGY, SPECTACULAR VISTAS AND NIGHT SKIES, DIVERSE PLANT AND ANIMAL LIFE, AND EVIDENCE OF OVER Proud Sponsor of Texas Parks and Wildlife Programs © 2016 TPWD. PWD BR P4501-152H (7/16) In accordance with Texas State Depository Law, this publication is available at the Texas State Publications Clearinghouse and/or Texas Depository Libraries. TPWD receives funds from the USFWS. TPWD prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, disability, age, and gender, pursuant to state and federal law. To request an accommodation or obtain information in an alternative format, please contact TPWD on a Text Telephone (TDD) at (512) 389-8915 or by Relay Texas at 7-1-1 or (800) 735-2989. If you believe you have been discriminated against by TPWD, please contact TPWD or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office for Diversity and Workforce Management, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041. 10,000 YEARS OF HUMAN OCCUPATION. OO OO O Vegetation throughout the park exists in a moisturedependent mosaic – sometimes lush, more often sparse. Native plants range from arid-adapted cacti to waterloving cottonwoods. Animals exhibit similar variety, from water-dependent beavers along the river to desert specialists like the blackthroated sparrow. R A N C H S T A T E P A R K GEOLOGY: WINDOW INTO THE PAST T he geology of Big Bend Ranch State Park reminds us of profound changes over the past 600 million years of Earth’s history – changes born of water and fire. A deep ocean, the Ouachita Basin, covered the Big Bend and much of the southeastern United States some 570 million years ago, long before the age of dinosaurs. One may see remnants of the Ouachita Mountains in parts of Arkansas, Oklahoma and West Texas, including The Solitario at Big Bend Ranch State Park. The ancient Ouachitas formed through the tremendous forces of plate tectonics, which folded-up layered sedimentary rock from the ocean floor like a rug being pushed against a wall. Water continued to shape the region as a shallow inland sea spread from the Gulf of Mexico to Alaska. Erosion and uplift worked together to expose the limestone rock of this ancient sea floor in the Contrabando lowlands and the upended “flatirons” that form the rim of The Solitario. The Solitario is a feature born of fire. Between 36 and 35 million years ago, magma from deep within the Earth pushed upward in three pulses to create a blister-like bulge nearly 10 miles across near the park’s eastern boundary. Following erosion and a complex series of eruptions, the uplifted sedimentary rock and the underlying lava chamber collapsed to form the almost circular basin-like feature known today as the Solitario. Volcanism remained at work in the region. As you pass the dark peaks and mesas between Redford and Lajitas or along the Sauceda road, imagine glowing cone-like vents and gaping fissures that once spewed red-hot ash and molten rock. Lava from these eruptions eventually hardened into the rhyolite and basalt rock that form the Bofecillos Mountains, whose many cracks and fissures trap groundwater and account for the region’s numerous springs – life-giving oases in the desert. H U M A N H I S T O R Y Diverse people have lived among the canyons, mountains and valleys of Big Bend Ranch State Park for centuries, typically near water sources. The materials and structures they left behind tell stories of triumph and hardship in this sometimes hospitable but often relentless land. Hundreds of prehistoric camps, cooking areas and rock art sites dot Big Bend Ranch. Grinding stones, bedrock mortars, flint tools and burned rock middens indicate that the hunter-gatherers living here used every natural resource available to survive in the demanding environment. The wide variety of prehistoric pictographs (rock paintings) and a few petroglyphs (rock etchings or carvings) document the amazing diversity A variety of rock art styles of these peoples. are represented at the park. The Bogel brothers – Gus, Gallie, Graves and Edward – began consolidating small ranches in the 1910s until they amassed over 38,000 acres. The buildings and corrals of their headquarters, Saucita, endure today at the heart of Big Bend Ranch State Park where the area is now known as Sauceda. But subsistence was one thing, and profit another. The ranching boom ended when only two inches of rain fell in 1933. Precious water sources evaporated and desert grasslands withered. Hit hard by drought, the Bogels sold the ranch in 1934. Mannie and Edwin Fowlkes risked limited funds to purchase the Bogel property and additional land. Conditions were so dry once again during the 1950s that the Fowlkes fed their cattle ground sotol, an abundant desert succulent, to keep them alive. Gus Bogel A handful of traders and freighters such as Ben Leaton and Milton Faver were the first Anglo-Americans to settle the area in the mid-1800s. By the 1870s, small family ranches began to spring up, raising much of their own food and herding sheep and goats. Those who survived the drought of 1892 were soon thriving. Park visitors today can see remains of the Crawford-Smith, McGuirk, Reza and Madrid houses among others. Early ranchers supplemented their incomes in innovative ways. A wax factory and The “flatirons” form the Solitario rim. When Len G. “Tuffy” McCormick purchased the ranch in 1958, it was described as half the size of Rhode Island, and listed as one of the 15 largest in the United States. Subsequent owner Robert O. Anderson and his Diamond A Cattle Company partnered with Walter Mischer to increase the size of the ranch before selling the property to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in 1988. several camps remain in Fresno and Contrabando Canyons, where thousands of pounds of wax were extracted from candelilla plants and sold as waterproofing for World War I army tents. Nearby, the Whit-Roy Mine produced flasks of mercury from cinnabar ore into the 1960s. PHOTO COURTESY OF MARFA PUBLIC LIBRARY B E N D Mountain bikers explore Fresno Canyon. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE MUSEUM OF THE BIG BEND B I G A load of native chino grass is delivered to Crawford Ranch in 1920 for livestock feed. ENJOY YOUR VISIT Today, people visit Big Bend Ranch State Park for many reasons. Some come to glimpse the region’s vibrant past. Others come to commune with nature. Over 300 species of birds alone have been recorded here, and other forms of wildlife abound – from lizards to javelina to mule deer. Many more come to test themselves. Camping, hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, river rafting and backcountry driving in this wild and remote land can push the limits of human endurance and fortitude. Still others come for the peace, quiet and solitude that Big Bend Ranch State Park can offer like no other place. Whatever your motivation, the park awaits you.