Awake long before sunrise for other purposes, I decided it was a good opportunity to check on Capella and the kids.
I was camped with friends in a West Texas arroyo on a gravel bed just wide enough for two tents. On either side of us were a jumble of limestone boulders and the cliffs they came from. In the distance were humpback desert hills along the Rio Grande.
The arresting part of the landscape, however, was overhead. It was the night sky alight with stars.
I took out my phone, fired up the star-finding app and pointed it in what I thought was the right direction. I dug out of memory the first lines of a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay I memorized in high school.
See where Capella with her golden kids
Grazes the slope between the east and north . . .
Alas, I couldn’t find the “goat star” (as Capella is less romantically known). I had done so the night before. But it didn’t matter. Her light had traveled 42 years to reach Big Bend National Park, and there would be another chance. Back in the tent, a scrim of mosquito netting between me and the universe, I saw two shooting stars.
There are many reasons to visit Big Bend, which seems to announce, in true Texas fashion: “No need to go anywhere else; we have it all here.”
It’s big — bigger than Rhode Island. It’s empty, accounting for less than 1 percent of Americans’ 65 million visits to national parks each year. It’s dangerous; three hikers died of heat-related illness there in 2013. It has a world-class desert and river, three canyons, its own mountain range, more species of birds (450) than any other national park and 1,300 kinds of plants, most of which seem to be barb-protected. People who saw last year’s Oscar-nominated “Boyhood” got glimpses of it late in the film.