Day 11 – Closure of Big Bend National Park . . . discovering Big Bend State Park

Day 11 of the closure of Big Bend National Park has brought some interesting news. While I’ll still be sharing new information each day about Big Bend State Park – both the people and the places – today’s news is important. The states of Utah, Colorado, New York, South Dakota, and Arizona have donated funds to the National Park Service to temporarily reopen several parks. Primarily this has to do with the impact to tourism but it validates the impact the closure of the Parks has on so many.  My attempts to reach the appropriate folks with the state of Texas to determine if there are efforts underway to temporarily reopen Big Bend National Park were futile; I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt as it’s Saturday. For now, the National Parks that will temporarily reopen, and the respective dates, are listed below:

Arches National Park (Utah, open October 11-20)
Bryce Canyon National Park (Utah, open October 11-20)
Canyonlands National Park (Utah, open October 11-20)
Capitol Reef National Park (Utah, open October 11-20)
Cedar Breaks National Monument (Utah, open October 11-20)
Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (Utah, open October 11-20)
Natural Bridges National Monument (Utah, open October 11-20)
Zion National Park (Utah, open October 11-20)
Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado, open October 11-20)
Statue of Liberty National Monument (New York, open October 12-17)
Mount Rushmore National Memorial (South Dakota, open October 14-23)
Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona, open October 12-18)

The agreements that the National Park Service have reached with these states stipulate that they can petition for repayment once the shutdown ends, but Congress is under no obligation to make refunds.  Stay tuned but, for now, back to the emphasis on joy that the discovery of Big Bend State Park has meant to so many.

In yesterday’s installment I noted that there has been an influx of hikers to Big Bend State Park since Tuesday of last week.  Some of these hikers comprise a group that has taken an annual trip together for the past several years; their planning efforts take upwards of a year and 2013 was no exception.  This year’s destination was Big Bend National Park and they had reserved the majority of the Lodge in the Chisos Basin of the Park.  With only 2-weeks notice, they had to shift gears.  Some of these individuals are now camping at the State Park and some are staying in nearby motels in Terlingua, Study Butte and Lajitas.  They’ve told me that the employees of BBRSP bent over backwards to help them pull off the change in plans.  I’ve had the pleasure of encountering many of them at the coffee shop where I work including three of the coordinators who worked closely with Park personnel.  Several individuals are stopping in daily to ask me about the hikes I’ve taken if on the trails they’ve planned for the day.  While the best source of information remains the State Park employees at the Barton Warnock Center, the Sauceda Ranger Station, or the Fort Leaton Historic Site, it’s been wonderful to share my experiences with them (and see their photos).

Today began with two women who were off to hike the West Rancherias trail.  When they didn’t realize there is a Rancherias Loop Trail and a Rancherias Canyon Trail, I reminded them (as I had the day before) to check with the good folks at Barton Warnock before heading in (the Rancherias Loop Trail is a 19-mile loop and the Rancherias Canyon Trail is a 9.6-mile loop).  I shared a few tips as they were heading in via the West Rancherias trailhead and was so glad to see them toward the end of the day when they came back to the coffee shop for lunch and to tell me of their day.

As I was closing, a man from Colorado stopped in and asked me if he was “in the Ghost Town.”  I assured him he was and he asked if I was a ghost or one of the living.  I suggested that, if he couldn’t tell without asking, we were both in trouble.  He told me he was in the area with a group of hikers and had just returned from a hike in the State Park; “we were supposed to be in the National Park but Congress had other plans.”  I asked which trail he’d taken and it, too, was the West Rancherias.  He had planned to do 6 miles but said he ended up hiking in for 2 hours and turning around as the heat had more of an impact on him than he’d anticipated.  He also told me that he’d never have thought of experiencing the “rugged beauty” of BBRSP if the National Park had been open and, while initially frustrated to the point of considering cancelling his trip, he was extremely glad he hadn’t done so.  That said, he made it a point of telling me that he had driven to the National Park entrance just to see if he’d actually be prevented from entering.  He was.

The last time I hiked the Rancherias Canyon Trailhead was Mother’s Day of this year.  I was solo with no other cars at the Trailhead and no other people on the trail.  As much of a joy as that is to me, I now appreciate the fact that others are just as enthusiastic about getting to experience this place.  Even better, I’m getting to hear about their experiences while their joy is still fresh, like a child first witnessing something new and amazing.

Before sitting down to write this, I met two other groups who had also hiked some portion of the Rancherias trails today. To give you some idea of the expansiveness of the hike, none had run into any other party despite knowing others were somewhere along the way. As of today, most of these people have primarily hiked some combination of Closed Canyon (thankfully open), the Hoodoos, Contrabando, and Fresno Canyon. The best news is that they each said they’d be back and would be telling their friends of their discovery of the hidden treasure that is Big Bend Ranch State Park.

Sharron Reed is a resident of Terlingua and has been visiting the Big Bend area since 1971; prior to the opening of Big Bend Ranch State Park.  She is a correspondent for KRTS/ Marfa Public Radio.

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