Death in Big Bend

I love adventure.

Over the years, I have participated in amazing adventures from the Lone Star State to dozens of locations around the planet. I not only enjoy participating in adventures that make my heart race, I like everything about researching, planning, making lists, packing gear, and every little thing associated with preparing for a grand adventure.

I have made an agreement with myself to always make wise decisions when adventuring. In many cases, this means not venturing out alone because alone is dangerous. On a few occasions I have had to make the tough decision to turn around and head back in order to live to adventure another day.

More than once I have thought about Sir Ernest Shackelton, one of my adventure heroes. In 1908, he made the hard call to turn back when he was within reach of the South Pole. After assessing his situation, he determined that if he pressed on he would run out of food and die on the way back. He later wrote to his wife, “I thought you’d rather have a live donkey than a dead lion.”
I recently purchased a copy of “Death in Big Bend” by Laurence Parent. I spotted the book at a gift shop in Terlingua. I was immediately intrigued because, now that we have an off-grid cabin outside of Big Bend National Park, I am doing a bit more hiking at the park. The book is a collection of 17 stories of death and rescue in Big Bend National Park.

While most visitors to the park enjoy an incident-free vacation that becomes a memorable part of their adventure narrative, a few have not been so lucky. The stories in this book are well written and illustrate what can happen when only one small things goes wrong on an adventure. Once one thing gets misaligned, then it often triggers a series of other missteps that often lead to tragedy.
I recommend this as a must-read for any adventurer or anyone thinking about hiking at Big Bend National Park or Big Bend Ranch State Park. Too many times I have come across people on the trail who appeared ill-prepared, hiking miles from the trailhead with, at most, a 16-ounce bottle of water.

Once while hiking in McKittrick Canyon in the Guadalupe Mountains on the Texas / New Mexico border, I came across a couple in serious need of water and nutrition. I had it and offered it freely. I recently wrote about what I carry in my day-hike backpack. I carry this little extra weight even on short day hikes just in case. I was able to help this couple on one of those just in case days.

The stories in the book are captivating. I could not put the book down once I started reading. Spoiler alert — most of these stories are heartbreaking but instructive. Some of those who got in trouble overestimated their abilities and underestimated the hostility of the Chihuahuan Desert, resulting in tragedy. In each case, just one small thing could have changed the equation to equal life instead of death.

Whether your adventures take you to Big Bend or other locations, I recommend reading this book. If nothing else, the stories will cause you to reevaluate your planning and to take a second look at your gear, your route, and your preparedness. I remain committed to careful planning lest I become the next story of death or rescue in Big Bend.

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