There’s an old saying that a window doesn’t close that a door doesn’t open. In this case, that window is a proper noun . . . The Window at Big Bend National Park. The door that’s been opened to so many as a result is Big Bend Ranch State Park. Living in Terlingua, I’ve been amazed this past week how many people who live in Texas, as well as those visiting from abroad, aren’t aware of the State Park. While I’ve been surprised by the number of people who have still traveled here, not understanding that the U.S. Congress’ inability to agree on measures that would have kept the country – and federal agencies – from going into a partial shutdown on October 1 meant that National Parks would be among the “non-essential” agencies included in the shut-down, the gift has been that hundreds of folks have discovered Big Bend Ranch State Park.
On the porch at the Starlight Theatre and in the local coffee shop, Posada Milagro, I’ve met people from England, Finland, Poland, Maine, California, and many points in between, who said they were at a loss having traveled here to find BB National Park closed. When I mention the State Park they said they had no idea.
The folks at the Barton Warnock Center – the State Park entrance closest to Terlingua – say they can’t remember a busier time; it’s truly unprecedented. If looking for the gift in a tragedy – and the closing of our National Parks and National Forests is indeed a tragedy – the discovery by so many of the State Park is that gift.
It’s been 10 days now that the National Park has been closed and, regardless of who you’re listening to and what you believe, there’s no hard deadline to reopen the national treasure that resides here in Big Bend.
Each day going forward, I’ll be sharing new information about the State Park – both the people and the places. Up until the closing of the National Park, most days have felt like I have the State Park to myself. I’ve only once been at a trailhead that had another car parked at it and I’ve never been on a trail where I’ve encountered another human being. At sunset yesterday, there were three other cars at the trailhead for the Closed Canyon. There were two at West Rancherias. Two at Contrabando. It was pure selfishness on my part not to want to share, then I reminded myself that my visit to Big Bend National Park for the first time in 1971 was because someone chose to share that experience with me. Then Edward Abbey’s quote, “Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself” came to mind as well.
I stopped at the Porch on my way home and spoke with one of my favorite river guides. He shared some of my same sentiments but we both agreed, bottom line, that the Parks – State or National or otherwise – are important because they allow people to experience the beauty of these places in a somewhat controlled manner, protecting what wilderness we have left, and are managed by folks whose lives have been dedicated to preserving this beauty and making it accessible for us. This guide also said (and I paraphrase), ‘besides, there’s still more rugged beauty in the State Park than anyone will ever get to experience.’ He’s right. Despite the influx of people who I hope will come to love it and share that love with others, I’ve still managed to find hikes that I otherwise would not have. I live here. I hike and volunteer at the State Park as much as I possibly can. I know that even if I spent all day, every day for the rest of my life doing so, I’d never see even one fraction of this treasure at our back door. Here’s hoping that The Window reopens very soon but that the door to Big Bend Ranch State Park remains wide open and her threshold crossed more often.
Sharron Reed is a Terlingua correspondent for Marfa Public Radio.
The road goes on forever and the Park seemingly never ends.