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What Is Big Bend National Park?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 08 November 2016
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Big Bend National Park is one of the largest national parks in the continental United States. Founded in southern Texas in 1944, Big Bend is noted primarily for its unique flora and fauna and proximity to the United States-Mexico border. There are many activities and opportunities for cultural and historic exploration within the park, including hiking, natural trails, horseback riding, and visiting cultural sites.

The name refers to the park's most distinctive feature, the broad and winding Rio Grande river. Within the park, the normally southeastern pattern of the river abruptly shifts to a northeast course, creating a large “bend” in the river. The Rio Grande also serves as the primary border between the southern United States and two large Mexican states, Chihuahua and Coahuila.

The plants and animals resident in Big Bend National park include several fascinating species rarely seen in the wild. The park is home to several groups of cougars, or mountain lions, which are frequently sighted by guests, despite being a generally retiring species. The greater roadrunner, which can run more than 25 miles per hour (40 kph), is also a widespread resident of the park. Big Bend National Park is also notable for its wide variety of cactus, including the edible prickly pear species, and many stunning types of wildflowers.

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As a cultural site, Big Bend National Park is a trove of wonders, and Native American artifacts and cultural sites dating back at least 9000 years. Through time, the park area has been home to several different Native American tribes, including the Comanche and Chisos tribes. As Big Bend National Park covers an enormous range of territory, even casual visitors may be lucky enough to discover new artifacts that can contribute to the historical research being done in the region. Park officials request that any discoveries be reported to a park ranger to ensure proper excavation and care.

In the modern era, Big Bend National Park provides a wealth of opportunities for exploration. Historical hiking trails, guided nature tours, river rafting trips, and extensive horseback rides all provide access to the wonders of the region. Nevertheless, visitors must be adequately prepared for hot, dry desert conditions and the potential for dangerous wildlife encounters or natural hazards such as wildfires. Park hours, admission and camping costs, and closure or hazard information are all regularly updated on the park website, or available at the main visitor centers of the park.

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