by Kacey Barton
One of my favorite drives in the Big Bend is the short 24 mile drive between Alpine and Fort Davis. Looking up at the mountains and driving past immense boulders under the Texas sky is nothing short of breath taking. Although I’ve taken this drive numerous times, it was only recently I noticed a sign that advertised a botanical garden: The Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center. My first thought was that there was little chance this place would be like the botanical gardens I’ve been to in the past; there would probably be no Japanese gardens, no fields of wild flowers, no lakes and ponds with fish and frogs.
Driving up the road to the Visitor’s Center, you are surrounded by vast fields of grass and small hills. The Center itself is filled with informational pamphlets and framed guides on the wall. The gift shop has home-made soaps, field guides, hiking supplies and educational sets for children, such as papermaking.
Within the 507 acres of the Center are many attractions, including a desert botanical garden, five miles of hiking trails, a bird blind, a mining exhibit, Modesta Canyon, and Clayton’s Overlook. Upon entering the gardens, I was met with a unique experience; a small hummingbird on one of the feeders, completely still except for the occasional tired blink. I had never been so close to a hummingbird before and certainly never seen one so still. I alerted a staff member to the issue and they immediately set to action, observing the small bird, until it eventually took to the skies and flew away. I would see him once again at the end of my exploring, drinking from a feeder before flying away.
I decided to take the Hummingbird and Butterfly Trail which promised an easy hike, beautiful views, and fascinating rock formations. I was able to find a boulder to climb up on to get a great view of the Big Bend landscape I’ve come to know well over the past year. Mountains framed the horizon while green shrubs dotted the landscape as far as the eye could see; the expansive sky invited everything to get lost in its rolling clouds. Feeling the cool air blow through my hair and listening to the sounds of the desert was a wonderful experience.
One of the things that stands out to me about the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center is their conservation efforts; their projects range from xeriscaping (with native plants which need either no or little irrigation) to solar power and water management. The work the Center does shows their dedication to the environment they are helping to preserve. I saw nothing but diligence from the staff towards the animals and plants that call the Big Bend area home – friendly faces with actions behind their words.
Botanical gardens across the United States are a key resource in wildlife conservation. Many of these gardens feature seed banks, education for the communities they serve and research opportunities that are unparalleled. With the diversity that comes with each area, botanical gardens help to assure genetic diversity of plants and animals; all of this is possible through the help and dedication of staff, volunteers, donators, and visitors.
Try finding and visiting botanical gardens in your area; bring the kids along and make a game of finding the different plants and animals in the gardens, or just sit and enjoy the nature that surrounds you. Many botanical gardens don't charge admission, so consider giving a donation to ensure that their work can continue far into the future. Tell us about it when you do!