Quiet and Loudis a new series exploring the way the pandemic has changed the soundscape of West Texas.
One of the first places we’ll explore is the desert expanse of Big Bend National Park, where the pandemic has led to two closures and restricted visitors to day-time use only.
Standing outside of the park’s ranger station at Panther Junction, Tom VandeBerg, Big Bend’s chief of interpretation and visitor services, looks out over the empty desert stretching out in front of him for miles.
“Big Bend is known as a very quiet place,” He said. “But (the pandemic) took it to a whole new level, because what sound we typically hear would be, traffic in the distance, and cars coming by at night, and people coming and going, and staying and camping, and arriving early in the morning, and you could see lights miles and miles away coming.
“And none of that, this is quiet. This is strange,” said Vandenberg.
The park has completely closed on two occasions since pandemic restrictions began in March, at the height of the region’s busiest tourism season.
During the closures, animals began to reclaim parts of the park rangers never had seen them before. Javalina’s would hold up in campsites usually filled with families. Bears became more adventurous as they looked for water. And bird songs took the place of running motors along the park’s empty roads.
Visitors have since returned, but park officials aren’t allowing overnight camping at the moment. While the sounds of hikers have returned to some of the park’s trails, visitation numbers are still lower than normal for this time of the year.
Visitation to Big Bend National Park normally drops during the hotter months of the Summer, but closures and restrictions have slowed travel to the Far West Texas destination even more. (Carlos Morales / Marfa Public Radio)
Deer and other wildlife, like javelina and black bears, have been found in now-empty campgrounds and other corners of the park. Staff say the recent drought is a factor, pushing animals into rarely-traveled areas looking for water. (Mitch Borden / Marfa Public Radio)
Since pandemic-related restrictions began in March, Big Bend National Park has closed on two occasions. During closures, only staff and residents of the park are allowed in. (Carlos Morales / Marfa Public Radio)
While in the park, visitors are encouraged to wear facial coverings and practice social distancing. (Carlos Morales / Marfa Public Radio)
In Marfa Public Radio’s new series, Quiet and Loud, we’ll travel across the region to listen and record how our environments have transformed during the pandemic. (Carlos Morales / Marfa Public Radio)
With no overnight camping currently allowed in the park, visitors leave at sundown. (Carlos Morales / Marfa Public Radio)
The nighttime sky in Big Bend National Park is known as one of the best places for stargazing in the state. (Mitch Borden / Marfa Public Radio)
As the sun sets, visitors clear out of Big Bend National Park. Without the sounds of people setting up camp, preparing a meal or driving to their destination, the nighttime soundscape of Far West Texas has become that much quieter. (Carlos Morales / Marfa Public Radio)
Our new series, Quiet and Loud is an audio portrait project exploring the way the pandemic has reshaped the sounds of West Texas. How have your daily sounds changed?
(Carlos Morales / Marfa Public Radio)
About Carlos Morales
Carlos Morales is Marfa Public Radio's News Director, Border and Immigration Reporter, and Morning Edition Host.