Enjoying Southwest Texas: Mexico, Cattle Drives and Lots of Sun

El Paso, Texas is a medium sized city that looks much bigger than it really is. The reason for this illusion is that it is located in sprawling wide open country, full of blue sky and sunshine, in the Southwest corner of Texas. The Rocky Mountains end here. The desserts of White Sands National Parks start here and all around are dunes, canyons and caves. Historic missions are everywhere. This is also an area where the Spanish Conquistadors passed. Legends of famous and infamous lawmen and gunfighters can be found on almost every street. El Paso is also home to one of Texas' oldest Indian tribes, the Tiguas.

The one thing that binds all of Southwest Texas is the sun. The climate ranges from mild and sunny to warm and sunny to hot and sunny. This climate allows for lots of outdoor activities like golf, swimming, horseback riding and last, but not least, eating and relaxing. Eating is important because the food in El Paso is very good. It is Tex-Mex, tender juicy steaks and cold beers all served against a blazing hot sun.

Juarez, Mexico is El Paso's sister city. Juarez is located just across the Rio Grande and is a thriving city, but it is also a good way to get a taste of old Mexico. The best way to cross the border is to walk or take the "border jumper trolley." Crossing the border is a fun way to go to the market, visit a museum or old mission. It is also the best way to enjoy a fine Mexican meal in one of Juarez' many fine restaurants. May we recommend Ajuua Fiesta Mexicana Restaurant and Bar.

Big Bend, Texas, on the other hand, is old west country, left untouched for the last century and it looks as it did in 1880. This formidable expanse of rocks, desert, mountains, canyons, and cactus that colors the southwestern-most corner of Texas is absolutely tailor made for a cowboy adventure. Big Bend National Park is over 800,000 acres, which makes it bigger than all the New England states combined, is an untamed wilderness like nothing you have ever seen before. When God made the world He took what was left over and put it here! The terrain features dessert scrub, sheer rock canyons and rugged mountains.

If you want to be a cowboy, you can do that too. Ever hear of the Longhorn Cattle Drive at Big Bend Ranch State Park?

The purpose is to maintain a Longhorn cattle herd and to provide an educational and recreational experience to participants. It is also an excellent way to get a taste of what Longhorn cattle ranching is all about. It is a trip into the past where cowboys rode horses all day herding cattle from one pasture to another then went on long cattle drives as they took the herds to market in the north.

Soldiers who returned home to Texas after the Civil War found a shattered economy and no job prospects. There was however, a demand for beef in the North. It was a demand that was met by the vast herds of cattle roaming the wilds of Texas. Cattle that had been breeding and grazing freely in Texas since the Spanish first brought them here three centuries earlier.

These early cattle drives became famous for the trails and the men who opened them. The Chisholm Trail and the Santa Fe Trail are now part of our Western heritage. The cowboy, the wild wild west and Texas Longhorns have all evolved into folklore and myth, however it must be noted that although the Longhorn was perfectly suited for the long drive, rough terrain and dangerous river crossings they were not a domestic animal.  In fact, Longhorns have a nasty temper and stampedes could result in death for the cowboy.

By the end of the 19th century the range was fenced and railroads were coming to Texas, thus ending the long trail drives.  At that point the cowboy of yesteryear slipped into history and legend. If not for the fact that a small group of cowmen kept a few herds of Longhorn, the Longhorn as we know them today may have become extinct. At Big Bend National Park today the herd is managed and preservation is a priority.

The Longhorn Cattle Drive at Big Bend is a fun way to be part of this American heritage. It is a way to learn firsthand what it was like to live on the range and sleep under the stars.


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