Big Bend National Park, the first national park in Texas, comprises more than 1,250 square miles (about the size of Rhode Island) in the Big Bend of the Rio Grande along more than 100 miles of the Texas-Chihuahua-Coahuila border southeast of El Paso in Brewster County. It has been described as a land of "killing heat and freezing cold; deadly drought and flash flood; arid lowland and moist mountain woodland; and a living river winding its way across the desert." The Rio Grande flows for 107 miles on the park's southern boundary, through Santa Elena, Mariscal, and Boquillas canyons, the deepest gorges on the river. In 1978 the United States Congress designated a 191-mile section of the Rio Grande a Wild and Scenic River, sixty-nine miles of which lie on the park boundary. Most Big Bend acreage is arid alluvial plains, the most representative example of the Chihuahuan Desert in North America. The Chisos Mountains, the southernmost range in the continental United States and completely enclosed in the park, rise over 7,800 feet above sea level. They support relict forests from the late Pleistocene era of ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, Arizona cypress, quaking aspen, and bigtooth maple. The popular Basin, a topographic depression in the Chisos range, offers visitors a cool respite from the desert heat and spectacular panoramic vistas. Annual precipitation in the arid to semiarid climate ranges from five inches in the desert to twenty inches in the mountains. The National Park Service considers Big Bend "one of the outstanding geological laboratories and classrooms of the world." Geological processes readily visible at the park are sedimentation, deformation, and volcanism. Recovered fossil forms of ancient plants and animals include a bivalve three feet wide and four feet long, the largest known pterosaur (a flying dinosaur), and the skull of a chamosaurus, a horned dinosaur, all of which help make Big Bend an invaluable resource for paleontological research and preservation.

The topographical and climatic extremes provide habitats for a varied flora and fauna, including over 1,000 species of plants, 78 mammals, 56 reptiles, 10 amphibians, 35 fish, and 434 birds (more than any other United States park and more than half the species of birds in North America). Endangered species found at Big Bend are the peregrine falcon, black-capped vireo, Mexican long-nosed bat, and Big Bend gambusia (a tiny fish found only in the park). There are several species in the United States that can only be found in Big Bend: Del Carmen white-tail deer, colima warbler, Mexican drooping juniper. The Chisos agave lives nowhere else in the world. In 1976 the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization designated Big Bend a "Man and the Biosphere" international reserve, one of only twenty-eight in the United States. Cooperative research and educational programs subsequently began with Mexico. Although human beings came late, the park contains archeological and historical sites representing more than 10,000 years of inhabitants, including Jornado Mogollón, Jumanos, Chisos, Mescalero Apache, and Comanche Indians; Spanish explorers and missionaries; and farming, ranching, mining, and military activities of the last two centuries. Nine National Register archeological and historic sites or districts document the Indian and Anglo-Mexican presence at Castolon Historic District (trading post), Hot Springs Historic District (recreational and therapeutic springs), Mariscal Mining District, Homer Wilson Ranch Site, Rancho Estelle, Luna's Jacal (a Mexican goatherd's abode), Burro Mesa Archaeological Site, and two additional archeological sites. There are also exhibits in the visitor centers as well as recreational opportunities, including hiking, river rafting, horseback riding, birding, and back-country camping. Park Service staff schedule interpretive programs throughout the year.

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John Jameson | © TSHA

Handbook of Texas Logo

Adapted from the official Handbook of Texas, a state encyclopedia developed by Texas State Historical Association (TSHA). It is an authoritative source of trusted historical records.

Belongs to

Basin is part of or belongs to the following places:

Currently Exists


Place type

Basin is classified as a Town

Associated Names

  • [Chisos-]
  • (in Big Bend National Park)


Latitude: 29.33436610
Longitude: -103.25656320

Has Post Office


Is Incorporated


Population Count, 2009