Soundscape / Noise
The silence can be deafening. Hike into the desert, away from the roads and developed areas, and just sit and listen. What do you hear? Virtually nothing. Aside from the occasional breeze or small animal scurrying by, the desert is an incredibly quiet place. This phenomenon can be unsettling at first, but ultimately is one of Big Bend's greatest assets. Few places in the world can boast the uninterrupted peace and quiet that you find here. The solitude is unique, precious, and attracts visitors from around the world.
Look up and listen. Today it is rare to see or hear airplanes flying overhead in the park. The sound of a plane is a major event for the children that live here. During your visit, you will probably never hear or see one airplane. In fact, the only human-made object you see in park skies may be a lonely satellite, silently steaking across a palette of stars.
Soundscapes are important natural features of national parks. Besides contributing to the visitor experience they may be indicative of natural resource conditions. Wildlife may use particular sounds during courtship and mating or other behaviors which all make up the acoustic ecology of the area. Sudden sounds stem from trees or branches falling or when rock slides occur. Wind gusts across the desert landscape often provide a constant backgound noise, replaced in the dead of night by the call of coyotes. Natural sounds may also be indicative of a given season. For instance, the songs and calls of birds may only be present during spring or fall migrations indicating their transient presence.
The soundscapes of parks should be valued by visitors. Most visitors live in locations where they do not experience the sounds of natural settings. Instead, their soundscapes are dominated by the sounds of human activity – motor vehicle traffic, airplane traffic, sirens of emergency vehicles, construction equipment operation, and so forth. Even in park settings, these sounds are sometimes present.
Park staff here at Big Bend are concerned about soundscapes particularly as they relate to wilderness experiences. By agency policy and legal requirements of the Wilderness Act, specific measures are taken to eliminate or greatly reduce the opportunity for visitors to encounter the sounds of motorized equipment while in the wilderness.
Next time you are in Big Bend, step away from paved or dirt roads, the lodge, and visitor centers and take stock of the natural sounds around you. Your park experience will be enhanced.
Useful references related to soundscapes include:
Krause, B. 2002. Wild Soundscapes, Discovering the voice of the natural world. Wilderness Press, Berkeley , California .
Krause, B.L. Wild Soundscapes in the National Parks: An Educational Program Guide to Listening and Recording. October 2002
Helpful websites related to this topic include:
Did You Know?
Traveling through the Big Bend during the 1860 camel experiment, Lt. William Echols reported that camels did well in the desert, but that they suffered from sore feet.
“I would recommend to any one using the camels over rough country, in case of tender feet, to shoe them with a piece of raw hide…” More...