Texas Haunted National Park?
The Big Bend region has always been a spooky place, dating at least as far back as when the relatives of the pit-dwelling Anasazi roamed the region and only traveled through the Chisos Mountain region with great respect and much apprehension.
I’ve spent a lot of time in Big Bend down through the years. It’s my back yard for adventuring vast and magnificent and sort-of-scary places, and I’ll tell you up front, it’s not any different today, for the loneliness and vastness of the desert and its eerie mountains and the constant strange whispers of the wind around the peaks and canyons, coupled with an environment nearly void of modern sounds – makes the place seem more desolate and lonely if that’s even possible.
With little imagination at all, a visitor standing in Big Bend National Park could swear they were standing on an off-world landscape of color, beauty, vastness and mysterious allure.
But it’s not just what you see in this mythical land that can bring a chill to the back of the neck and make the hair stand up on your arms. It’s what you can’t see, or what you thought you saw, if even for a fleeting moment. At times like these you can easily understand why those ancient travelers through the area did so with great care and caution. According to their legends, it’s not the harshness of the environment or the hostile bands of bandits and renegades that troubled the region most, but the spirits of the mountains and the witches that live near the river. To the natives, the region was terribly haunted.
Today, you don’t have to look very far to find strange tales about the region. Not far away are the famous Marfa Lights, and on more than one occasion similar lights have been seen throughout the national park. Other strange events and encounters that are told often around Big Bend campfires are stories about moving, human like figures in the desert at night, but investigation the next day seldom reveals any footprints or other signs.
Big Bend Ghost Towns
There are also tales of spirits that still roam the Big Bend’s ghost towns and mining operations, and an old legend about an Apache maiden who was run down by Anglo or Mexican bandits and chose a drowning death in the Rio Grande over being violated by her captors. The place where it happened is called Canyon de Bruhas, or Witch’s Canyon, and park guests often report moaning sounds coming from the water.
Along a stretch beginning upstream of Rio Grande Village, a series of thermal springs emerge adjacent to the Rio Grande. All of the hot springs in this region are believed to be related to normal faults. These Basin and Range type faults formed between 18 and 23 million years ago. Today, groundwater circulating deep in the earth becomes heated before it returns to the surface as hot springs. The springs have been a popular spot for travelers for thousands of years. Perhaps they were the reason the pit dwellers came to the otherwise mysterious region. The springs have been said to possess healing properties and in ancient times such “magic” would have been irresistible
The Langford Hot Springs
The most famous of the thermal features along the Big Bend of the Rio Grande is the Langford Hot Springs. Located where Tornillo Creek enters the Rio Grande, some four miles upriver from Boquillas Canyon and the Mexican village of Boquillas. The natural springs at the site are known as Boquillas Hot Springs.
A few years back, traveling companion and I stopped at the Hot Springs near dusk. It may sound crazy climbing into 105-degree water when you’re standing in an environment where early temperatures can sour above 110-degrees. Call it part of the Big Bend experience if you will, but there’s no better way to cool off after a scorching Big Bend day than to climb into the hot springs just before evening brings it’s cooling winds. Once you step out, there’s almost a chill to the dry air.
On this particular occasion we enjoyed the healing waters of the spring a little too long. Soon the shadows covered the river and its canyon walls nearby and we were quickly consumed by the black of night that is common to an area where there are virtually no cities or subdivisions or electric lights to disrupt the pure magic of night. Armed with an Ever Ready flashlight and a big walking stick, we began to count the first stars above, and then the millions that seemed to blossom as the night began to close. As the river flowed briskly by an unnerving revelation occurred.
Where just a moment before we were sitting very much alone, chances are good with no one within miles around, the next moment we could vaguely make out silhouetted shadows of people standing on a narrow ledge that bordered the river maybe 50 yards up its banks. We sat in the hot water silent for a moment as our eyes attempted to focus in the starlight, what little there was. Like everything else in Big Bend, you find yourself looking hard at things you want to see in order to focus on them instead of the great distances and majestic landscapes of the land that seems to blur reality into a torrent canvass of colors and shapes.
After waiting for this group, maybe five or six shadowed figures, to approach in our direction and listening intently for the murmured sounds of speech, we finally turned on the flashlight – actually more like a small searchlight, and flashed down river to where the figures were huddled. Except there were no figures revealed in the light. Turning the light off, the faint silhouette outlines reappeared.
We turned the light on and off several times after that. We even called to the figures to identify themselves. In Big Bend, anywhere near the river, you must still be watchful and careful because of the drug smugglers and illegals that cross there frequently – the way it has been for centuries. But no one answered our challenge, and in spite of how many times we turned the light on and off, the figures would appear and seem to disappear respectively.
Finally, and rather quickly, we pulled ourselves out of the water, slammed on our pants over wet suits and slipped on our shoes. We were distracted for only moments, but when equipped with clothing and turning our attention down river to where the figures lurked we discovered they were gone – with the flashlight on and with the flashlight off.
To this day we can not say who or what they shadows were. But I can confidently tell you they were not living beings, for my trail companion and I went in search of those figures, looking over boulders and ridges and walking through the brush on the other side, listening intently and watching for signs. But no signs existed.
Perhaps the figures were nothing more than a play of shadows caused by the faint glimmer of the Milky Way on the river. Perhaps our eyes were playing tricks after a long day on the trail. But there are two us that were there that will argue it wasn’t what we saw, but the feeling that accompanied it. Sure, we all get strange vibes from time to time. But this was different; the real McCoy. My partner and I agreed if there were human figures huddled on the banks of the river nearby, then they were a rare breed.
In the poor light you could just discern that each seemed to have long, unruly hair, at least one of them sported what must have been a bandana on his forehead judging my the misshapen silhouette of his head. And these figures appeared to wear a minimum of clothing the best we could see, shirtless at least for their lower extremities disappeared into the shadowed darkness near the ground.
Chisos in Spanish is said to mean “ghosts” or “spirits” or “enchantment” – as in witchcraft. So it’s no surprise the Spanish called the moutons and the larger region by that name. But it’s not just Big Bend National park that appears haunted. Both Captain Shepard’s Inn, named after the retired sea captain who founded nearby Marathon, and the famous Gage Hotel there are both said to have their own haunts.
Haunted Arcon Inn – Marfa
In nearby Marfa, a casita behind the Arcon Inn is said to be haunted by a spectral young pioneering maiden who has been sent multiple times gazing through the north bedroom window and doors and windows open and close as a chill filters across the warm desert air.
Understanding the many haunts that this area is known for requires first hand experience. How do you explain a feeling or a fleeting apparition? How can you relate the strange feeling that overcomes you at moments as you stand in places that are oblivious to time, where ancient man once stood and before that the animals of the plains?
Haunted Canyons & Mountains
My advice is don’t leave to speculation. Find out for yourself and plan a visit to mystical Big Bend the next chance you get. Enjoy the majestic landscape, get to know the desert, walk through the haunted canyons and mountains and gaze upon the clearest night sky you can find in the world – then decide for yourself. Some things are just meant to be “felt” – not just seen.