Poets tell us where young men's thoughts turn in the spring, but the staff at Big Bend National Park knows the arrival of warmer weather means life in that park is going to get crazy. Big Bend's busy season is here, and a spate of recent incidents proves it must be spring in the desert.
Late February may still be winter in much of the country, but it's already looking like spring in far West Texas, and that brings the busiest season of the year for this park. If you've ever wondered what rangers find to do in a remote location like Big Bend, here's a sampling from a park report covering a recent five day stretch—and this didn't even include a weekend.
On Monday, February 22, park dispatch received a request for help following a motorcycle accident on Old Ore Road, part of the park's extensive network of primitive dirt roads. Rangers Phil Basak and Rob Dean responded and transported a 63-year-old man with a broken clavicle to the regional hospital, a round trip of over 200 miles.
Did you catch the length of that trip to the hospital? Accidents are never convenient, but this is definitely a place where it pays to be safe.
On Tuesday, February 24 Rangers Mark Franklin, Rick Roberts, Phil Basak, Sean Marick, David Yim and John Craig responded to a vehicle rollover on Route 14. The driver of the vehicle was subsequently cited for failure to maintain control and possession of a controlled substance. The road was temporarily closed as the road crew performed clean up and the vehicle was towed from the scene.
The following day, "park dispatch received a satellite phone call from a school group hiking on the Marufo Vega trail, located in a very remote section of the park. A 14-year-old girl was reported to be suffering from dehydration. The party was unsure of the group’s location, so park pilot Curtis Cebulski took to the air to find them. He was successful in locating them and directed horse patrol rangers Joe Roberts, Sean Marick and David Yim to her location. The victim was treated and transported back to the trailhead on horseback."
Dehydration is a serious problem in this dry climate, and the park website offers some excellent advice on a page with an appropriate title: "How NOT to die in the desert".
Thursday, February 26 — Rangers Keith Gray, Rick Roberts, Jost Zwiebel, Manuel Uribe, John Craig and Phil Basak responded to a report of a serious motorcycle accident near the midpoint of the remote River Road, a dirt road near the Mexican border that traverses the length of the park. A 73-year-old man had sustained multiple serious injuries in the accident, and was airlifted by Carestar helicopter to Fort Stockton, Texas.
TGIF doesn’t apply if you work in a busy park. On February 27, dispatch was notified of a pair of incidents: a motorcycle accident at Castolon and a separate single vehicle rollover at the remote Black Dike backcountry campsite. Rangers Keith Gray, Phil Basak and Jost Zwiebel responded to the calls. The driver of the motorcycle was treated and released; the driver of the vehicle was not injured but the vehicle had to be trailered from the scene.
A recent article in theTraveler mentioned some of the delights of Big Bend, and spring can be a wonderful time to visit this park. The wide range of elevation in the area, from the desert canyons along the Rio Grande to the mountains around the Basin, means the park has a lot of variation in the weather.
In his report of the above incidents, the park's chief ranger also noted the area "experienced both warm sunny days and an accumulating snowfall at midweek." If your spring trip to Big Bend is still coming up, just be prepared for plenty of variety in the weather—and expect some company when you get there.
The park website offers the following reminder for anyone planning a last-minute trip to the area:
Spring Break (March 6-20, 2010) is here! Be advised that almost all Chisos Mountains Lodge rooms, all reservable campsites, and RV hookup sites have been filled during this time. There may be cancellations but do not count on finding overnight accommodations in the park. Due to the rush of visitors, backcountry roadside and backpacking sites will also likely be full. Have a backup plan and expect to stay outside the park during this busy period.