Big Bend Ranch State Park is Texas’ largest state park, at over 300,000 acres. It extends along the Rio Grande from southeast of Presidio to near Lajitas, in both Brewster and Presidio counties. Just a stone’s throw from Mexico to the south, the park is in an area so remote and rugged that it has been called El Despoblado, or “The Uninhabited.” In spite of that name, this awe-inspiring region boasts a rich human history.
George A. Howard bought a few tracts of land in the Bofecillos highlands in 1905 to add to his nearby uplands property. This became the Chillicothe-Saucita Ranch. The Bogel brothers—Gus, Gallie, Graves and Edward—began buying small ranches, including Howard’s ranch, in the 1910s. The buildings and corrals of their headquarters, Saucita, endure today at the heart of Big Bend Ranch State Park.
Hit hard by a drought and the Great Depression, the Bogels sold their 38,000-acre ranch to Manny and Edwin Fowlkes in 1934. The Fowlkes increased their holdings to near 300,000 acres, adding fences, stone dams and water pipelines. But the 1950s drought and a global wool market crash forced them to sell.
In 1958, Len G. “Tuffy” McCormick bought the ranch, listed as one of the 15 largest ranches in the United States and described as half the size of Rhode Island. Among other improvements, McCormick gave an easement for the river access road to the Texas Highway Department. That road is now the scenic Camino del Rio.
Subsequent owner Robert O. Anderson bought the ranch in 1969. He became, as owner of the Diamond A Cattle Company, the largest private landholder in the United States. In the 1980s, he partnered with Walter Mischer to market the ranch as a private hunting preserve.
Thanks to the efforts of individuals and groups involved in land conservation, TPWD purchased the ranch in 1988. The park opened on a limited basis in 1991. It opened fully to the public in 2007.