Big Bend Beckons

How can one county, the largest in our state, be so unknown to so many Texans?

Brewster County is home to Alpine, Sul Ross University and Big Bend National Park, and it’s all been calling the names of Matt and Cyndy Smith of Frisco since their first visit less than a year ago.

Matt and Cyndy have been friends for most of the past 20 years. She is an incredible graphics designer. We’ve worked together back when I did annual Texas Gardening Calendars and Neil Sperry Lone Star Gardening, the book the two of us along with editor Carolyn Skei did together.

I had talked enough about Big Bend National Park that Cyndy and Matt made the trip last May. They loved Alpine, the Davis Mountains and Fort Davis, and most especially Big Bend. So much so that they couldn’t wait to go back, and last week was their time.

Cyndy took a big batch of photos. I’m going to share only a few in the hopes that they’ll inspire you to do as she and Matt did. Go. See. Explore. Love your state.

Cyndy’s photos from Big Bend National Park…

Such a simple sign belies the complex beauty that hides behind it.
The desert awakens from winter. Big Bend bluebonnets are starting to bloom. It’s a taller species, Lupinus havardii, but the Texas Legislature declared all species of bluebonnets that grow wild in our state to be our official state flower.

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The Chisos Mountains from The Basin Junction. Click image for larger view.
As a youngster I would sit looking out through “The Window” in the Basin in the center of the Chisos Mountains that make up Big Bend National Park. I would try to imagine how far I was seeing – whether that was clear into Mexico or halfway across Texas. This is an iconic view from the park. Click image for larger view.
I asked Pastor Tommy Brumett (First United Methodist Church, McKinney), an avid birder, lover of Big Bend, and our pastor, to identify this handsome friend. He says it’s a Mexican scrub jay fluffed up in bright spring plumage in the cold. Cyndy says they were all over the Lost Mine Trail on the way up the mountains.
Toward the top of the Lost Mine Trail. This is one of the most popular hiking trails in the Southwest. Hard to believe this is your Texas, right?! Click image for larger view.
We should be so glad that Cyndy shot us a panorama of the top of the Lost Mine Trail. She said there were hikers of all ages on the trail. Click image for larger view.
Wild horses along the road to Rio Grande Village. Click image for larger view.
The geology of the Big Bend Country is fascinating. Click image for larger view.
The native plants are just as unusual, whether ocotillos (left) or opuntias (prickly pears) and yuccas (right). Click images for larger view.

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This is where the water pours off exposing all the geologic wonders. Yes, it does rain, sometimes in torrents, out here. Click image for larger view.
The javelinas are here, and they don’t look happy. Click image for larger view.
With a photo taken from their car on the way to Big Bend National Park, Cyndy gives proof that Big Bend has elk. (And, in the mountains, black bears and mountain lions.) Click image for larger view.
Once you get out of the Chisos Mountains and down toward the ghost town of Terlingua, the desert is terribly hot from late spring into fall. This once was somebody’s home. My guess is that they had a rougher time of it than most of us. Click image for larger view.

Let’s head back to Alpine…
Before we leave Brewster County entirely, I want Cyndy and Matt to take us back to Alpine. You may remember two weeks ago my mention of Hancock Hill and the fact that they would be climbing it to see “The Desk” that students from nearby Sul Ross University carried up there (1-1/2 miles) more than 40 years ago so that they could have a place of solitude to study and reflect.

Well, here is that desk. Slightly weather-worn over time. They brought their book and Cyndy decided to catch up on a chapter or two.

“The Desk” on Hancock Hill. (The gardening reference book isn’t always there.) Click image for larger view.
Cyndy Smith looks through her handiwork. She was the graphics designer of my book. And now, my book has been to Hancock Hill! Click image for larger view.
And not far from The Desk is the Bicycle Tree. I guess it makes as much sense as my bottle trees at our house. You just gotta love the senses of humor these students have at Sul Ross.
And so we sign off with the sign that greets you as you come into town. This is Alpine, Texas, sitting almost one mile above sea level. Click image for larger view.

This part of Texas will win your heart. Just ask Matt and Cyndy.

On a personal note…
It was 92 years ago that my mother and father, newlyweds Dr. Omer and Lois Sperry, moved from the University of Nebraska to Alpine, Texas, where he would develop the Department of Biology at Sul Ross State Teachers College.

Dad was elected Dean of Students all but one of their 16 or 17 years in Alpine. I was adopted as an infant in 1944, and we moved to College Station in 1946 where Dad co-founded the Range and Forestry Department at Texas A&M.

But the real irony in Cyndy’s photos and descriptions of their hikes has been that the trails Matt and Cyndy walked were mere paths that my dad took during the Depression as he researched the Plants of the Big Bend, the book that he published about the time I was born.

Dad traveled on gravel roads the 118 miles from Alpine to Big Bend every other weekend for a decade to collect the hundreds, perhaps thousands of unusual plants that grow in that unique place. One of Dad’s students, Dr. Barton Warnock took over when we left for College Station. Dr. Warnock did a hero’s task of continuing that work for his entire lifetime.

Now you know why I love this place as I do.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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