On September 15, Texas State University System Chancellor Brian McCall, Ph.D., and Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson announced the transfer of the Christmas Mountains to the Texas State University System. The rugged 9,269-acre tract of land in Brewster County will become an outdoor classroom, open to all, with conservation of the land guaranteed forever.
McCall said the Christmas Mountains will be a tremendous asset for The Texas State University System. “All of our universities are engaged in research in the Big Bend region and, as a result of this transfer, we’ll be able to provide new and exciting learning opportunities for students and faculty in biology, geology, archeology and many other fields,” McCall said. “We also recognize that this land was a gift to the people of Texas, so we will continue to allow the public to access the Christmas Mountains so they can enjoy this natural treasure.”
Under the transfer agreement between the Texas General Land Office and the university system, TSUS will receive the land at no cost. Commissioner Patterson said the value of the Christmas Mountains was offset by the value of the university system’s educational goals and commitment to conserving the property. “In fact, I think the college students of Texas will be richer for the opportunity to study in a Texas-sized open-air classroom,” Patterson said.
Several of the university system’s top academics from Sul Ross State University, Sam Houston State University, Lamar University and Texas State University-San Marcos are planning new research efforts on the land. The Christmas Mountains offer an extraordinary opportunity for both graduate and undergraduate students at nearby Sul Ross State University to study bears, mule deer and bighorn sheep and a variety of birds and lizards that inhabit the Chihuahuan Desert.
Sul Ross geologists are also eager to explore outcroppings of volcanic rock in the area—among some of the oldest in the Big Bend region—to see what secrets they can reveal about the area millions of years ago. Archaeologists with Sul Ross’ Center for Big Bend Studies have already pushed back the earliest known date for human activity in the region by more than 1,000 years through finds on a nearby ranch. These same archaeologists think the Christmas Mountains may contain a buried treasure trove of archaeological sites.
Sam Houston State University’s Center for Biological Field Studies, which examines climate change and sustainability issues, is interested in establishing a long-term ecological monitoring site in the area. Lamar University researchers have studied the area’s plants, small mammals and reptile populations for years, and plan to expand their studies in the higher elevations of the Christmas Mountains. And Texas State University’s biology, geography and anthropology departments, as well as Center for the Study of the Southwest, are planning to conduct field studies on the property.
In 2005 the Gazette broke the story about the possible sale of the 9,269-acre General Land Office owned Christmas Mountains tract in Brewster County (above, as seen from near Terlingua Ranch lodge). After a six-year struggle that drew national attention, the Land Office last month announced the transfer of the property to the Texas State University System. (Marlys Hersey, photo)