Quiet And Loud: How The Pandemic Has Changed The Sounds Of West Texas

By Carlos Morales

Quiet and Loud is 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.

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)

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.

About Carlos Morales

Carlos Morales is Marfa Public Radio's News Director, Border and Immigration Reporter, and Morning Edition Host.
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