• Sierra del Carmen

    Big Bend

    National Park Texas


Stipa grasses in the Chisos

There are large patches of stipa grass in the Chisos Mountains.

NPS/Big Bend National Park

Grasses in the desert?
Sure enough, even though Big Bend is mostly a desert environment there are a few large expanses of grassland and even some open savanna type areas in the park. Some early settlers to the Big Bend suggest much of the park was once a grassland. For example in J. O. Langford's book "Big Bend: A homesteader's story" he describes the Big Bend lush with grasses and "(I)t stood knee-deep to a horse everywhere".

Langford was most likely referring to the grasslands north of Big Bend National Park in the Marathon basin or just east of the Davis mountains. However, even logs from earlier visits to the Big Bend by Spaniards in the 17th century reported the area to be lush with grasses.

Nonetheless, today much of the old grasslands are since gone. Without them many species have struggled to survive in the park. Animals like pronghorn, prairie dogs, wild turkey, Mexican gray wolf, and bighorn sheep were more common before the ranching and settlement in the Big Bend country. Wether or not it was hunting by the ranchers, competition between species for resources, or overuse of the water sources that ended their persistence in the area we may never know.

We do know that grasslands were once part of the park and we are involved in a process to reintroduce this ecosystem to the park. This process will be a challenge with ever increasing numbers of introduced species, the problems associated with disturbed land, and drought which is typical in this desert environment.

Learn more about our grasslands restoration projects in the park.

Did You Know?

Horseback rider in Tornillo Creek, 1930s

Tornillo Creek drains the eastern portion of Big Bend National Park. The usually dry creek bed is named for the screwbean (tornillo) mesquite. For brief periods after summer thunderstorms, this desert stream roars. Tornillo Creek joins the Rio Grande at Hot Springs. More...