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Calvin Huffman - Big Bend Champion

The largest national park in Texas is in the most remote area of the state. Occcupying about 140,000 square miles of West Texas, Big Bend is the largest protected patch of Chihuahuan Desert in the United States. It receives hundreds of thousands of visitors every year who are interested in ecology, archaeology, paleontology and tourism. It and the Padre Island National Seashore are the crown jewels of national parks in Texas and Calvin Huffman rightfully takes a good deal of credit for Big Bend’s creation. Huffman was a member of the Texas House of Representatives in the 47th and 48th Legislatures and represented Eagle Pass and many of the surrounding counties. In 1995, the National Parks Service named a mountain after Huffman.

By its very nature, Big Bend encompasses many different environments from the Rio Grande River and its canyons to the Chihuahuan Desert and the Chisos Mountains. Mount Huffman is located in the Chisos range. Many people think that desert areas harbor little or no life and that can be true in some deserts such as Death Valley in California or the Rub al Khali, a vast sand desert in Saudi Arabia or parts of the Kalahari Desert in Africa.  However, the true definition of a desert is that it receives little precipitation. By that definition, the largest desert in the world is Antarctica, which gets eight inches of rainfall a year and harbors almost no life in its deepest recesses. Big Bend is bursting with life compared with Antarctica.

The park is home to 1,200 species of plants, hundreds of species of birds, many reptiles and many mammals. The Chihuahuan deserts gets an average of 10 inches a year and in the far wastes of the desert there are fewer animals and plant species, but some still manage to make a living. The park is named after the bend in the Rio Grande River that defines the United States border with Mexico. The river supports aquatic life, fish and amphibians and serves as a water source for mammals such as cougars, coyotes and black bears. Though rare elsewhere, there are many cougar sightings a year in Big Bend. Though many animals drink from the river, most are adapted to desert living and can eat plants as a prime source of water in times of need.

The biodiversity of Big Bend is due to its three distinct environments, mountains, desert and river. Camping is allowed inside of the park, but for the most part, there is little human activity today making it a true wilderness. In the past, the area was occupied by a variety of Native American tribes. Archaeological evidence suggests humans have lived in and around the park some 10,000 years ago.

Calvin Huffman was the prime mover in the effort to protect the area, through his actions the state bought the land and in 1944 deeded it to the federal government to become a national park. Huffman died in 1980 and every news article and obituary we have found gives him the credit for creating the park.

Today, the park receives 300,000 tourists a year, all interested in seeing the sights. If you go, be prepared, it’s the 14th largest park in the country at over 800,000 acres. You might need an extra day or two to see the whole thing.




- Will Erwin