Desert Blooms

Jetports and elite resorts may do what border bandits and blistering heat couldn't: rob Big Bend of its rugged beauty

But other national parks have lost their "splendid isolation." Big Bend may be on the same road that Yosemite and the Grand Canyon ended up on, he says.

Development almost always affects the entire range of values that make parks special. Air and water quality, the silence, wilderness, biological diversity and migration corridors are all threatened.

Simon blames the Big Bend problems squarely on encroaching civilization and increased occupation and development. As an example, he fears that the Lajitas expansion will soon add another sight to this wilderness: cell phone relay towers.

Lajitas was rebuilt to resemble an Old West town, but the Old West in Big Bend may have to make way for cell phones and golf courses.
Allan C. Kimball
Lajitas was rebuilt to resemble an Old West town, but the Old West in Big Bend may have to make way for cell phones and golf courses.

"Cell phones not working in Big Bend reminds us of our place in the universe," he explains. "You can quickly erase the quality of a park experience the first time somebody whips out a cell phone on the South Rim Trail."

Smith says he doesn't want cell towers in Big Bend. Others wonder how long he'll listen to the complaints of frustrated millionaires--cut off from their businesses--before he puts up a tower.

Other threats to Big Bend extend far beyond its borders, however.

Once, the views here could stretch for 200 miles and more. With the increasing air pollution, those vistas have been reduced to as little as eight miles. Initial studies blame power plants in both Mexico and the United States, and some experts say part of the haze may be drifting in from as far away as Asia.

But whether the problem is air or water, the solution must be a binational one, Simon points out. "We are at a watershed point for Big Bend," he says. "If we don't take steps right now to nourish this region, we'll regret it."

Ivey believes Big Bend is big enough to handle it.

"I think there'll be some areas here that will be more popular--some areas where it'll become chic to own a big condo or upscale home," he says. "But there'll always be the Big Bend, and you'll always be able to look for miles and miles and not see much evidence of people.

"At each stage of development we're still pioneering. I think there will always be islands where it stays the same."

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