Aland of striking contrasts , at the confl uence of multiple ecosystems , Big Bend National Park is a place unique in Texas and the American southwest .
Human use of the area dates back almost 10,000 years . The Chisos and Jumano tribes , nomadic hunter-gatherers , practiced agriculture on a limited basis . Mescalero Apaches and Comanches began to move into the area in the early 1700s . Spanish explorers fi rst reached the region in 1535 , when Cabeza de Vaca passed through . Over the next two centuries , the Spanish established several presidios along the Rio Grande , serving both as monasteries for the Franciscan friars who sought to convert Native peoples to Christianity and forts for Spanish soldiers protecting the northern boundary of New Spain . After the Mexican- American war , the U . S . army began to survey the area . In the 1870s ranchers began to establish sheep and goat ranches , followed by the discovery of valuable minerals such as mercury and fluorspar .