Big Bend National Park first appeared as a cover story in April 1980, in which Stephen Harrigan celebrated, among other things, the wonders of Santa Elena Canyon, Emory Peak, and the South Rim. This month’s cover story on Big Bend National Park, written by a team of authors, also celebrates, among other things, the wonders of Santa Elena Canyon, Emory Peak, and the South Rim. I suppose we can be forgiven for covering the same ground, so to speak. This issue marks the fifth time in the magazine’s history that Big Bend has been on the cover, but you can’t live in Texas for any period of time without returning to the things you love most. Over the years we’ve written about the Aggies, the Gulf Coast, and barbecue (coming in 2017!) more times than I can remember, but we keep coming back because they are an essential part of what it means to be a Texan.
Each time we return to any of those topics, however, we always find something new to write about, or a better way to tell the story. Harrigan crafted an exquisite, seven-thousand-word travel essay called “On the Edge of Texas.” In “Big Bend 2015,” our writers fanned out across the park to tell multiple stories. Veteran outdoorsman Dan Oko offers smart, reader-friendly service divided into categories: novice, family, adventure, and extreme adventure—plus an essay that is all-too-familiar to me about hiking the famed Outer Loop at the age of forty, when he is encumbered by “a stubborn beer gut and decidedly less-responsive leg muscles.” Matt Bondurant writes about driving to the Chisos Mountains Lodge with his wife and two small children in their family Volvo for a camping trip. And John Spong recalls an anniversary jaunt to Boquillas with his wife, who perhaps did not expect the full-on lack of accommodations. Spong writes diplomatically, “It occurred to me that we might be taking two entirely different vacations.” Oh, and if you’d like a poem about the wonder of the stars, Naomi Shihab Nye has got you covered.
Of course, the stunning photographs by the likes of Laurence Parent, Aaron Bates, and James Evans bring everything to life in stunning detail. I think this package represents the most ambitious and most comprehensive approach to Big Bend that Texas Monthly has ever published. And yet, something tells me that when we decide to return to it next time, we’ll find an even better way to cover the beloved park that has more than 10,000 years of history.