The Rio Grande, flowing through 1500ft-high canyons, makes a ninety-degree bend south of Marathon to form the southern border of BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK – thanks to its isolation, one of the least visited of the US national parks.

The Apache, who forced the Chisos out 300 years ago, believed that this hauntingly beautiful wilderness was used by the Great Spirit to dump all the rocks left over from the creation of the world; the Spanish, meanwhile, called it terra desconocida, “strange, unknown land”. A breathtaking 800,000-acre expanse of forested mountains and ocotillo-dotted desert, Big Bend has been home to ranchers, miners and smugglers, a last frontier for the true-grit pioneers of the American West.

Today, there is camping in designated areas, but much of the park remains barely charted territory. Its topography results in dramatic juxtapositions of desert and mountain, plant and animal life: mountain lions, black bears, roadrunners and javelinas (a bristly, grey hog-like creature with a snout and tusks) all roam free. Despite the dryness, tangles of pretty wild flowers and blossoming cacti erupt into colour each March and April. In the heightened security measures since September 11th, it has become illegal to cross the Rio Grande into Mexico.

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