Senior editor Joe Nick Patoski tells the story behind this month's cover story, "Big Bend 2002."
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texasmonthly.com: Whose idea was it to do another story on Big Bend? Why now?
Joe Nick Patoski: Good question. I’ve always been ready, but Evan made the call.
texasmonthly.com: Since you have previously written about Big Bend National Park for this magazine, did you find it challenging to write about new things? Why or why not?
JNP: Sure. You don’t want to repeat yourself. But I didn’t go back and reread my story either. I just tried to be aware of how my interests have changed and how I have changed the way I look at the park.
texasmonthly.com: How did you decide to break this story down and what was the reasoning behind it?
JNP: We talked about how people use Big Bend differently. Since the previous piece nine years ago, the questions from readers never stopped, which inspired the question and answer format.
texasmonthly.com: How many trips to Big Bend did you go on while you were working on this story?
JNP: Three trips specifically for this story: one with my family, one alone for hiking and driving, and one alone for river running.
texasmonthly.com: What is your favorite thing about Big Bend? Why?
JNP: How big it is and how little it makes me feel in the grand scheme of things. For me, it’s as much spiritual as it is physical, but either way, it’s just not like anywhere else on earth.
texasmonthly.com: What advice do you have for a novice camper-hiker who wants to see the park for a weekend?
JNP: Read the article. I’ve cooked up a couple of ways to see it over a long weekend, which really isn’t long enough in my book. Then again, it’s longer than the Japanese woman I met in San Antonio, who says she’ll drive out all day just to see sunset, then turn around.
texasmonthly.com: What kind of research did you do for this story?
JNP: I did the park—like I enjoy doing it, and like I envision others might enjoy doing it.
texasmonthly.com: What was the most difficult aspect of working on this story? Why?
JNP: Getting there and back. I love driving, but one-thousand-mile round trips start to take it out of you.
texasmonthly.com: At the end of your piece, you state that you have been going to the park since you were a young boy. Has the park changed since then? If so, how?
JNP: It has changed lots as far as declining air quality and river flow are concerned. But it has changed much more in how I see it. Areas I had dismissed as desolate wastelands or otherwise unappealing have been beckoning more and more.
texasmonthly.com: When do you plan to go back? What do you plan to do on your next trip?
JNP: Probably in March. I hope my next trip out there will be floating the Lower Canyons, a stretch of the Rio Grande technically downstream from the park but under park supervision. It’s one of the most isolated river trips you can take in the United States.
texasmonthly.com: Is there anything you would like to add?
JNP: Only that I can’t believe I get paid to have so much fun.