A big birthday for West Texas Big Bend National Park

Starry Canopy over Big Bend, Zion NP

Seventy-five years ago today, on 12 June 1944, Big Bend officially became a US national park.

CRIMSON TAZVINZWA//The park, which covers 801,163 acres in West Texas, along the Mexico border, contains mountain, river and desert ecosystems, including the largest protected area of the Chihuahuan Desert in the United States. But the ‘big’ doesn’t stop there.

Deep in the heart of Big Bend National Park//David Brown

deep down big bend
The campsite on the Chihuahuan Desert. (David Brown)

It’s big — bigger than Rhode Island. It’s empty, accounting for less than 1 percent of Americans’ 65 million visits to national parks each year. It’s dangerous; three hikers died of heat-related illness there in 2013. It has a world-class desert and river, three canyons, its own mountain range, more species of birds (450) than any other national park and 1,300 kinds of plants, most of which seem to be barb-protected. People who saw last year’s Oscar-nominated “Boyhood” got glimpses of it late in the film …By David Brown

It’s also the best place in America to fall asleep under the stars.

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Brake for Nature:David and Christina standing under Balanced Rock on top of Grapevine Hills at Big Bend National

Big Bend National Park Similarities’ with Zimbabwe’s Balancing Rocks, Matopos National Park (see below);

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“Balancing rocks near Rhodes grave Matopos; Zimbabwe”

Over the past five years, Big Bend has eliminated or retrofitted the outdoor lights on the park’s 289 buildings, as well as in its parking lots and campgrounds. In 2012, it received gold-tier certification from the International Dark-Sky Association, based on five measures of nighttime darkness and clarity. Only 13 parks in the world have that designation. Big Bend shares with three other places the claim to having the least light-polluted sky in the Lower 48 states.

Big Bend is home 1,200 species of plants, over 450 species of birds, 75 species of mammals and 56 species of reptiles. (We’re not sure how many of those are snakes, if you’re wondering.)

Because of its remote location, Big Bend also has among the darkest skies ever measured in the contiguous US. So tonight, the only light you’ll likely see is the glow from 75 birthday candles – and a few million stars.

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