The US has four types of warm weather deserts: Great Basin, Mojave, Sonoran and Chihuahuan. Big Bend National Park protects a good sized chunk of the Chihuahuan ecosystem. Hot and seasonal winds make the desert a very harsh and arid place. Summer ground temperatures can reach up to 180F.
Cactuses are symbollic of the desert. They are water conservation champions. No leaves from which they can lose water, but spines to protect the body of the plant - all stem. Sit or walk on one of these fellows and you will wish you hadn't!
It's the desert here! Drink lots of water, protect your skin from the unforbidden sun (long sleeve, hat, sun cream). The typical hiker needs 1 gallon of water (about 4 liters) per day. Make sure you have enough gas in your car.
Finally, I read that winter days can be cold, and winter nights freezing, and it sometimes snows.
Scorpions, snakes (in particular rattle snakes), spiders... just use common sense and caution. Do not lift stuffs from the ground with your bare hands before checkking under it by nudging it with your shoe, do not stick your fingers in holes. At night, walk with a flash light (most desert animal are active at night) to light the ground around you!
I spotted this venimous spider, a black widow, in an outdoor plant pot at the Marathon hotel, along with some of its victims. It is small (body 1 cm or 1/2 inch), black, and has a tiny red spot on its belly. It hides in rock or wall holes... or in pots apparently!
If you see a bear or a mountain lion (also called cougar), walk away from them. Do not run in front of a mountain lion. Make yourself appear bigger than you are by waving your arms around.
Do not leave food in your tent, not even toothpaste or perfume (put it in a "bear box" if available like in the official campgrounds)! Avoid hiking with smelly food in your back pack.
Big Bend National Park is located at the border with Mexico. It is along a bend of the Rio Grande River (hence the name of the park) which is the separating line between Mexico and the USA. Illegal Immigration through that border being a big problem in the US, you will have to pass through controls, permanent or temporary, set up by the US border patrol. Make sure all your official travel documents are in order and with you at all times. I never was stopped by Border Patrol inside the park, but they controlled us on the roads to the park.
I doubt you might encounter and run into trouble with some illegal immigrants or the people who help them pass through for horrendous amounts of money (called "coyotes"). Indeed, Big Bend is a harsh desert, with no civilisation for hundreds of miles in Mexico or in the US. There are probably easier places for illegal immigrants to make it through from Mexico to the US than the Big Bend region.
Okay, it is a desert, and most of the time it is bone dry. But, when it rains, it is generally violent thunderstorms that pour a huge quantity of water in a short time. River beds (called wash here because most of the time they are dry, but get washed from time to time) suddenly fill up, and there has been people deaths by being swept away by strong sudden water floods.
Be especially careful when you plan to visit a canyon like Santa Elena, Boquillas or less famous ones, as these can fill up real quick with torrent water. Make sure no rain is in the forecast (to make sure, go see the weather forecast posted at all the park's visitor centers).
Javelinas, also called collared peccaries are not related to the domestic pig at all. Living throughout Big Bend National Park they were frequently seen in our campground. I was sitting outside our trailer one day reading when I head this rather loud huffing sound. I turned and here comes a javalena. He stops and investigates the campsite grill, which my husband had cooked polish sausages on the night before. He then moved over to a clump of small trees next to our camper. Soon the rest of the family group, both adults and juveniles arrived. They came within three feet of me eating some plants and sniffing around. What a smell! Javelinas have a scent gland that they can use to mark their territory, and obviously the largest male had decided to mark our campsite. Although these animals are not normally aggressive, be aware that they have learned about food and campsites, including tents. If you leave coolers or food boxes on a picnic table or inside a tent, your food may become a meal for the javalinas. They have become quite the expert at unzipping tents and letting themselves inside. In the process you may come back to a damaged or torn up tent. For this reason, if you are camping with a tent you should always remove all food items and flatten your tent to the ground while you are gone.
If you look real close in the picture there was a Tarantula killer, a very large wasp (Pompilus formosus), which captures the Texan tarantula (Mygale Hentzii) and places it in its nest as food for its young, after paralyzing it by a sting. I killed the wasp while it was on the spider, because it was the first tarantual I had ever seen in the wild! So beware of both the Tarantula and the Tarantula Killer!!!
-Turn your shoes/boots upside down on a stick in the ground while you're sleeping to prevent crawlies and rain from getting in.
-Bring a snake-bite kit with you.
-If bitten, stay calm and seek help immediately. Try and remember the markings on the snake, spider or scorpion if you managed to see it. Have a buddy take a photo! The medical professional will ask.
-Study the flora and fauna of the area before your trip
-Have the number and location for the nearest hospital or evacuation operation with you at all times
-Don't travel alone and ensure your buddy(ies) are at least as mature, experienced and resourceful as yourself :-)
You'd be completely mad to travel into this park without copious supplies of drinking water on board. The heat in summer sucks all the moisture out of you as you sweat trying to keep cool. Despite the aircon, any short walks to the visitor sites had me drenched in sweat. Drinking water all day long was the only solution. I also had plenty of food on board and blankets in case I broke down.
Very often your mobile phone will not work here as there are no masts nearby, so you cannot call for help.
I stepped out of the car wearing flip flops to take some pictures and this small brown snake, right by the door struck at me. Wear sensible shoes please if you get out of the car. It missed, fortunately, but I really didn't see it in time.
The mistake I made was not having my passport with me when I was travelling near the border with Mexico. I did not actually cross the border, but they have built border patrol posts on the roads leading through the park to trap the unwary.
I was stopped by two fierce guards and an even fiercer guard dog, I was made to wait in the car while they looked for me on the computer. Couldn't find me, I was getting hot and sweaty so I approached the hut with some more paperwork which I thought would help. The dog nearly tore my throat out. I was informed that I did not exist even though I had my e-ticket and flight details and my travel insurance details on me. Apparently I could have forged all that. Well, it was a bit beyond my capabilities and it would have been much easier to photograph or photo copy the passport and have that with me.
They took AGES to find me, having put my last name in as my first name. They let me off the $1,000 fine and 30 days in jail as I clearly was a nitwit and not Mexican.
Please take a copy of your passport with you. Just in case.
Desert plants have lots of spikes and thorns and all sorts of stuffs that one should not put their hands on!