and Arizona , but its eastern boundary was unclear . Once the war was successfully concluded , its leaders began to agitate for New Mexico ’ s admission to the Union . They proposed the Pecos River as an eastern boundary of the new state , all the way to the Rio Grande . This would add 125,000 square miles east of the Rio Grande to New Mexico and put Santa Fe and El Paso , the two biggest towns in the region , into the new state .
New Mexico ’ s status , and the fixing of its boundary lines with Texas , was caught up in the national debate over slavery , with the Trans-Pecos as a bargaining chip . Under the Compromise of 1850 , Texas held on to El Paso and the Trans-Pecos but surrendered all the territory north of it to the national government in return for federal assumption of $ 10 million of Texas ’ s debt . Congressional dealmakers debated several configurations for the western boundary of Texas before settling on the map we know today :
My romance with the Trans-Pecos began a couple of falls after I graduated from high school in San Antonio , when I went with three of my high school classmates on a camping trip to the Big Bend in a Volkswagen Beetle . I have no idea how we got four of us and all our gear in a Volkswagen Beetle , but it worked out fine at the time .
We spent a couple of days on the river , camping near Santa Elena Canyon . One night , under the spell of a full moon and some intoxicants , I concocted a story about “ The Scourge of the Pampas ,” South American
Steve , Ed , John , and I prepare to head into the backcountry , August 1973
vampire bats which grew to be the size of a condor and were the bane of the gauchos . Hunting only at night , they could capture and kill a young calf , sucking it dry of its blood in one horrible sitting . I described how the vampire bats had strayed from their former territory and , unhindered by man or beast , were working their way up through Central America .
“ But don ’ t worry ,” I concluded . “ They ’ ve only gotten as far as northern Mexico .”
One of my companions sat bolt upright in his sleeping bag . “ Hell , man ,” he cried out , pointing into the darkness . “ Northern Mexico is right over there !”
I camped in the national park a few more time during the 1970s and 1980s . Then , during the late 1990s and early 2000s , I visited the Trans-Pecos at least annually , most often with a group of Austin-based friends celebrating the New Year .
Around 2015 or so , I began spending longer periods of time in the Trans-Pecos , courtesy of a friend who made his house available whenever I wanted . His generosity made it possible to visit the region for longer spells and to explore its treasures at a more leisurely pace . This was when my infatuation with the Trans- Pecos grew into a full-blown love affair .
There is , first and foremost , so much natural beauty to take in . Although Texas is not perceived as a mountain state , there are ninety mountains whose summits are at least a mile above sea level . All of them are in the Trans- Pecos . While many of them are on private land , others can be visited , hiked , and climbed , as at Guadalupe Mountains or Big Bend National Parks .
The mountains lend topographic texture to the vast stretches of the Chihuahuan Desert ,
crisscrossed with canyons and arroyos , that make up the Trans- Pecos . That landscape , sere and unforgiving , is nevertheless home to an incredible biodiversity , much of it unique to the region .
Humans have coexisted with this forbidding country for centuries . Prehistoric rock art can be found throughout the region , for example , at Hueco Tanks State Park . The contest between human and nature continues into modern times . Nature is the frequent victor , as witnessed by the abandoned adobe houses , collapsed windmills and ghost towns that dot the territory . The population density of the Trans-Pecos is 27 people per square mile , less than a fourth of the population density of Texas as a whole . Outside of El Paso County , the population density of the Trans-Pecos is 1.765 people per square mile .
The sense of open spaces and few people is one of the charms of the region for me . There ’ s always the sense that human habitation has been wrenched from the unforgiving countryside and may be consumed by it at any time . The ongoing struggle to survive , much less thrive , in such unforgiving country is part and parcel of the mythos of Texas .
For me , though , the most enduring charms of the Trans-Pecos are the simple ones . A drive to Balmorhea for a picnic and a swim . The view of the Rio Grande , shimmering in the afternoon light , from the Big Hill west of Lajitas . Watching the sunset from the Post Road south of Marathon , in silent companionship with the wind . The pleasure of watching a storm roll across the desert ; lightning flashes in the distance and muted thunder rolling through half a minute later . The Milky Way , its light unimpeded by city glow and smog , wheeling silently overhead as it has for millions of years .
It is these simple pleasures that keep me enchanted and coming back .
Molly Ivins famously said , “ I dearly love the state of Texas , but I consider that a harmless perversion on my part , and discuss it only with consenting adults .” I , too , love the state of Texas , and feel most at home – most Texan – in the marvelous Trans-Pecos . �