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Texas Reader: Desert Sanctuaries of the Big Bend

By Wyman Meinzer
Introduction by David Alloway

Those familiar with the rugged, colorful landscape of the Big Bend know it is brought to life by the soft glow of early morning and late evening light. Those familiar with the work of Wyman Meinzer know those are the times he will be afield. Meinzer and the Big Bend region were made for each other, and the proof shines forth from each of the 50-plus photographs in Desert Sanctuaries: The Chinatis of the Big Bend (Texas Tech University Press, $32.50 cloth, $19.95 paper; (800) 832-4042).

Both Big Bend Ranch State Park and the almost-inaccessible Chinati Mountains State Natural Area are featured in the 96-page book. The photographs of the Chinatis are perhaps of greater interest, since the area has been closed, waiting funds for development since the Mellon Foundation donated the property to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in 1996.

Taken together, the park and the natural area comprise the wildest, most rugged part of the Big Bend. Meinzer does not shrink from showing the terrible beauty of the volcanic landscape, but then he can also capture the subtle majesty of a cholla cactus aglow in evening light and the delicate pattern of scales on the back of a Mojave rattlesnake.

Few of us will ever have the opportunity to see this forbidding land except in these photographs, and certainly not from the same vantage points. Meinzer acknowledges the contribution to the book of his friend Knut Mjölhaus, who sometimes balanced a helicopter on a cliff face in swirling winds to get Meinzer to exactly the right place to set up his camera. Those who view these pictures would do well to remember that serious risks were taken to get them.

David Alloway’s introduction to Desert Sanctuaries stems from more than 25 years of experience living and working in the Big Bend. Alloway brings home the immensity and violent origin of the Big Bend by pointing out that the volcanic eruptions that formed it ejected some 1,300 cubic kilometers of material, while the Mount St. Helens event of 1980 spewed out only one. “These are photographs of the spirit of Texas,” Alloway says, and he does not exaggerate.

Given the magnitude of its subject, the only criticism one might have of this book stems from its modest trim size — 81⁄2 by 73⁄4 inches — and the somewhat limited number of images. One is left wanting more and bigger photographs. But that hunger also reveals how successful the book is in making readers appreciate this marvelous place.

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