BIG BEND TEXAS: No Place to Think Small.
That’s the truth. With a landmass of more than 135,000 square miles, Big Bend National Park is huge.
The southern edge of Big Bend borders Mexico for 118 miles—a stretch #45 would like to see walled.
Which is how “Wally,” the talisman you’re about to meet, got his name.
Magellan and I wanted to see Boquillas Canyon on the eastern edge of the park where the Rio Grande forms a natural border between the US and Mexico. The walk in is less than a mile and we’d read that it was a great place to see the “Rio Sand,” the grandness of this once majestic river having trickled down to only a few yards in some places now.
Easy for a flood of illegal immigrants to enter the US here you’d think? What’s stopping them is a natural wall. The mighty Sierra Del Carmens in Mexico behind Boquillas Canyon loom, forebodingly—creating an almost mile-high fortress above the Rio Grande. The canyons in Big Bend are steeper, sheerer and narrower than any in the Grand Canyon. According to Indian legends, after the Great Spirit created the earth, he deposited all the leftover rocks here.
Boquillas Canyon (Boquillas means “little mouths” in Spanish, named for the numerous small openings in the limestone wall) shares its name with a village across the Rio Grande on the Mexican side. Magellan had read about the US Border Patrol shutting down access from Big Bend to Boquillas after 9/11, devastating for the villagers who are 160 miles from the nearest town in Mexico. The border reopened in 2013. The Boquillas International Ferry (a rowboat) enables visitors to daytrip or overnight in a B&B in the village. We decided a peek of the village from the road into Boquillas Canyon would suffice.
“Look at these creatures,” I said to Magellan. Fashioned from copper wire and jewel-coloured beads, an assortment of birds, insects and the like were positioned on rocks alongside the trail. Some were stickered with prices, like the scorpion I was especially drawn to. A sign on a small can read “Donations to the Boquillas School Fund.” The can was empty.
We have a rule in our house that I expect other jubilados also adhere to. The purchase of any new objet d’art must have unanimous approval. You can guess how Magellan felt about buying one of these hand-made Chihuahuan Desert creatures by his comment. “Let’s wait until we’re on our way out.”
We’d read about discussions to establish a bi-national park. But they’re moving slower than a scorpion, having begun even before the US declared Big Bend a national park in 1944. The Mexican government has designated more than four million acres of parkland on its side and Cemex, a Mexican multinational company, has bought up ranches along both sides of the river in the interests of land preservation.
We were the only people on the trail but above us on a huge sand dune, a handful of young people were climbing up and surfing down, taking cellies and selfies, their laughter echoing down the mountainside. Across the river, a green rowboat and a thatched shack indicated local presence.
We ambled along the river, refreshing in the 42° heat of the afternoon, until the path ended, blockaded by the canyon wall. It’s a pleasant stroll among reeds, grasses, opuntia (a more tender name for prickly pear cactus), creosote bushes, yuccas, mesquite and a few ocotillos, their orange flowers bright as the beads at the Boquillas Canyon “art market” that I could hardly wait to return to.
A guy about our age was checking out the merchandise when we arrived, a hiker from Montreal who has been coming to Big Bend for years. He told us about the contraband art market, that the money would be collected and go to the school in Boquillas, a village that he’d visited many times that now has about 200 people.
“I’ve been thinking we should have a talisman for Rove-Inn, like Lynn and Ward’s moose or Tashi’s Bhutanese good-luck charms. How about this one?”
For more than a year now, Wally, a few of his legs digging into the air vents on Rove-Inn’s console, has performed his duty—Rove-Inn has been accident-free. Will his namesake wall be built? One thing seems certain. There’ll be no big thinking about a bi-national park for awhile.
Parent, Laurence. Hiking Big Bend National Park. Guilford, Conn: Falcon Guides by Rowman & Littlefield, 2015.
Paumgarten, Nick. “Water and the Wall.” The New Yorker: April 23, 2018.
Williams, Terry Tempest. The Hour of Land. New York: Farrar , Straus & Giraux, 2016.