Thursday, October 25, 2012

Enjoying Big Bend National Park by Gary Clark: A review

Gary Clark is a well-known naturalist and writer on Nature in my neck of the woods. He's also an educator who has taught "leisure-living" courses on birding at the local college, one of which I took several years ago. He is a very knowledgeable guide to all the birding hot spots in Texas, of which there are many since this is one of the birdiest states in the union. 

In Enjoying Big Bend National Park, Clark has not focused on the birds of the park but has given a general guide to the interesting geology and history, as well as the wildlife and flora of that wild and beautiful area. Big Bend, named for its placement at a big bend in the river that separates Mexico from the United States, is one of the wildest and largest of America's national parks. It covers more than 800,000 acres, making it slightly larger than Yosemite National Park. Moreover, it encompasses a vast variety of ecological systems that include the Chihuahuan Desert, the rocky Chisos Mountains that reach up to 8,000 feet, steamy riparian floodplains, and cool mountain forests. 

Sounds a bit daunting, doesn't it? But Clark has broken all of that down into bite-sized pieces that should lead the visitor to just the type of experience he or she is looking for. He has suggested adventures within the park that range from two-hour to half-day to full-day time frames and that can be had on foot or on a drive. He rates each trek on its degree of difficulty from easy to strenuous and includes sections for families and small children and for people with limited physical mobility. The message here is that anyone can find a way to experience and enjoy Big Bend.

Clark does not neglect the safety cautions in regard to being in the wild. He repeatedly warns about the dry air of this environment and the importance of keeping hydrated. His most urgent advice is to carry water at all times, even if you are only going on a short hike and even if you don't think you'll need it. Also, the sun is intense here and it is important to protect yourself from it with sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses. Long-sleeved shirts and long pants are not a bad idea either. And if you are going to get out of that car and go hiking, it is vitally important to have sturdy walking shoes or boots and to wear socks that will protect your feet. But if you forget every other warning, Clark begs you to remember this: "DRINK WATER! DRINK WATER! DRINK WATER!"

Big Bend has over four hundred species of birds that either live there or pass through at some time of the year and that's why I'll be heading that way in a few hours. The park also has a plethora of mammals from ground squirrels to striped skunks to gray foxes to the occasional black bear and mountain lion. One must always be on the alert when hiking or camping in this wilderness and respect these animals. 

Big Bend is also a Mecca for butterflies. Clark writes that there are "a mind-boggling variety of butterflies, many of which are still being cataloged." Yet another reason this butterfly-fancier wants to go there. 

Whether you are interested in butterflies or rocks, the Colima Warbler or the earless lizard, human culture of the past or preserving the environment for the future, Big Bend has something to offer and this guide will help you to find it.

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So, I will be on the road for the next ten days, most of it spent at Big Bend, and I do not expect to have Internet access for much of the trip. If you should happen to notice my absence from this space, that will be the reason. I hope you miss me!

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