Field Notes: Big Bend National Park, Texas

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Teva's blog editor Johnie Gall skirts up for a paddle in Big Bend National Park.

Words by Johnie Gall. Photos by Brandon Scherzberg.

Cacti in big Bend National Park.

@TheFunHog wearing Teva Original Universal sandals in Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park.

Pictured: Men’s Terra-Float Universal sandals

A kayaker looks at the towering walls of the Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park.

Americans spend three billion dollars a year on “bad” lighting, which is not just commentary on poor taste in home décor. “Bad” lighting is the type of electric light that illuminates our streets, back porches, and grocery store milk aisles. It’s the type of lighting that’s cheap to provide and expands up and out. It’s the type of lighting responsible for light pollution—and part of the reason why we can’t see the stars anymore.

Ninety-nine percent of the population in the continental U.S. lives in places considered polluted by light. Luckily, we have the IDA (International Dark Sky Association) doing something about all this bad lighting by studying its effects and trying to reform the ways we light our cities. One way they do this is by keeping a list of International Dark Sky Places—regions that have been awarded the distinction of having the “darkest and most pristine skies in the world.”

Big Bend National Park in Texas is one such place, boasting the lowest level of light pollution in the lower 48 states. It’s one of the few places in the country you can really see the Milky Way with the naked eye—more than 100,000 light years in diameter with more than 100 billion stars and at least as many planets.

Not to use an old cliché, but everything really is bigger in Texas, including the National Parks. Big Bend skirts along the bend of the Rio Grande and expands from the border of Mexico into the dynamic deserts of West Texas, veined by deep river gorges, the Chisos Mountains, and 150 miles of hiking trails. And, if bigger really is better, this place is the proof. It’s a hard park to get to, far from even the closest airport, but the trek is worth it for the solitude. Here’s my highlight reel.

Teva's blog editor Johnie Gall exploring a canyon in the Float Lite collection sandals in Big Bend National Park.

@TheFunHog wearing Teva Original Universal sandals in Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park.

Pictured: Men’s Terra-Float Universal sandals.

@TheFunHog on a hike in Big Bend National Park.

A canyon in Big Bend National Park.

Teva's blog editor Johnie Gall explores by climbing some rocks in Big Bend National Park.

Paddle the Santa Elena or Boquillas Canyons

Secure a shuttle service, rafting guide, or kayak outfitter and float down the milky waters of either canyon. Depending on water levels, Santa Elena requires some experience to navigate, but the reward is a more dramatic view and fun off-shoot canyons to explore. No boat? No problem—there’s a hiking trail that will get you back into the mouth of the Santa Elena canyon.

Teva's blog editor Johnie Gall relaxing in the Teva Float Lite collection sandals in Big Bend National Park.

Pictured: Women’s Terra-Float Livia sandals.

A sunrise-lit landscape in Big Bend National Park.

Teva's blog editor Johnie Gall relaxing in the Teva Arrowood WP sneakerboot Big Bend National Park.

Pictured: Women’s Arrowood WP in Black

@TheFunHog on a hike in Big Bend National Park.

@TheFunHog wearing Teva Original Universal sandals in Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park.

Go For a Hike

Lost Mine Trail, Window Trail, Emory Peak Trail, and Mule Ears Trail are all rewarding hikes on a moderate temperature day, but for an iconic Big Bend view, check out either the limestone slot canyon of Devil’s Den or the boulder-strewn Balanced Rock Trail. Just be warned that there is always the risk of running into a territorial mountain lion or aggressive Javelina (wild pig) should you still be on the trail at dusk. There are more than 600 species of birds, mammals, and reptiles in the park, including mule deer, coyotes, tarantulas, rattlesnakes, and bobcats.

 

Making an Impact

Most National Parks are highly trafficked, and even a park as isolated and large as Big Bend can feel the effects of visitors. One way to help cut down on your impact is to drive under or at the park speed limit: 45 miles per hour. That will prevent wildlife fatalities. Another easy way to help out? Staying on solid rock or established trails whenever possible, which helps cut back on erosion.

 

Stop, Look Up and Star Gaze

It’s likely Big Bend’s night sky could be the darkest you see all year (or possibly in your lifetime), so bring a chair or sleeping pad out into the desert and plan on spending at least an hour star gazing.

 

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