In our recent post about first impressions from Big Bend National Park, we forgot to mention the encounter with an animal revered and sometimes feared across the great west. She is known by many names; mountain lion, cougar, and puma are common. I think “mountain lion” suits her best, this shy but strong queen of the mountains.
We first saw her driving into the Chisos Basin on our search for a campsite. By this time the day was already night, and our headlights pierced into a darkness favored by those who seek solitude. Our lights felt like a sin in this sacred place as we wound around bends and descended into the bowl of mountains.
Then a flash of eyes forced our brakes.
There she was, but in an instant she was gone. Still there was no denying who she was, this mountain lion.
Later I read about sightings and discovered that over 90% of people see lions from the road for the same amount of time we did – mere seconds. The few who do have closer encounters with these predators often have wild tales to tell, as this story about a woman who faced off not one, but two mountain lions in the Chisos Basin. Her tale and calm reaction fascinated us, and we are grateful for the many signs informing us how to act if we crossed paths with a mountain lion on the trail. They truly helped her.
We are even more grateful for a park where mountain lions and bears alike can find a home. There are about two dozen mountain lions within the boundaries of Big Bend, and these predators play an important role in our ecosystems. They are considered an “umbrella species” which means their presence protects many other species, like an umbrella protects us from the rain (my interpretation of that term).
Mountain lions keep herbivores like deer in check, preventing them from overpopulating and overgrazing plant species. They help to preserve a balance in the overall system.
We honor this majestic animal with our latest Centennial Poster.
Inspired by a few of the many hikes offered throughout the park, we illustrated a mountain lion standing before Casa Grande in the Chisos Basin, imagining her looking out over the arid landscape.
In our interpretation, she is a symbol of the park, standing for resilience in fierce landscapes where you can discover a stillness as silent as her stare.
And so we left the park, a little sad not to have seen her longer, yet aware that her survival depends on our distance from her. She needs our respect in the form of space and plenty of time to cross a road. Thanks for the memories, Big Bend!
You are blessed to have seen her. I’ve hiked there many times and never seen one.