Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Big Bend Heritage Hike: Sam Nail Ranch

There's a great little hike in Big Bend National Park that's loaded with things to see, Sam Nail Ranch off Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive.  Here's what the park's website says about the hike:

Sam Nail Ranch
Difficulty: Easy; Distance: 0.5 mile loop
Begin at Mile 3, Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive
An easy, well-maintained trail leads through the old homestead of Jim and Sam Nail and Sam's wife, Nena. There are interesting historic remnants here, including part of the adobe walls of the house and two windmills, one which is still in operation. This is a beautiful desert oasis and a great spot for birding and wildlife viewing.

Trailhead just off Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive
Looking back at the Chisos Mountains from the trailhead
"Sam R. Nail and his brother, Jim, moved to the area just east of Burro Mesa, in 1916.  The two borthers (sic), with little outside assistance, constructed a one-story adobe house following the building techniques of the native Mexican-Americans along the river. The house had a concrete floor, a vega-and-cane ceiling, and a corrugated metal roof. In addition, they dug a well, put in a garden, and constructed a small holding pen for a milk cow, chickens and to hold horses. 

The two brothers lived there along for two years, or until June of 1918 when Sam married Miss Nena Burnam.  They drove from the Burnam place to Government Spring to the Nail Ranch home near Burro Mesa in a surrey with fringe around the top.  The surrey was pulled by two young mules. 

Here the Nails lived, reared a family, and ranched seventeen sections which the owned, plus about an equal number of leased or otherwise used sections which were within their fence. The Nails, like most other ranch people of the area, produced much of their living on the ranch. They kept milk cows, had chickens and hogs for additional food supply, and developed a garden, in which they produced many types of vegetables, melons and fruits. 

Although life on the ranch was difficult at times, on the whole they loved the place, and while they were in sympathy with the  movement for the establishment of the park, they gave up their ranch with considerable amount of regret.  --from an interview with Mrs. Sam R. Nail, April 13, 1967.  (Soldiers, Ranchers, and Miners in the Big Bend, by Clifford R. Casey, 1967.)

Today, the short hike (on easy terrain, with a few steps and suitable for just about anyone)  takes you through the homestead.  The growth of pecan, walnut and willow trees and grasses provide great habitat for birdwatching.  There are also benches to rest and perhaps enjoy a sack lunch and listen to the birds.

Our Far West Texas Wildlife Trail provides this guidance for birders:

"Sam Nail Ranch contains a working windmill and remnant woodland that is a hot spot for birds especially during migration. It is also just a short walk from the parking area along the highway. This is a good place to go during the hotter times of the day, as bird activity can be quite intense during non-rainy periods. A majority of the species will be vireos, wrens, thrushes, thrashers, warblers, tanagers, towhees, sparrows, grosbeaks, buntings and orioles."

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