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Book Review: "Death in Big Bend"

Most of us who have ever hiked or paddled in the Big Bend recognize the name Laurence Parent.  He has written many of the hiking guides to the Big Bend National Park and is renowned for his amazing photographs of the area.  But he has now written a book, Death in Big Bend,  that is a must-read for every visitor to the Park.

Although the book is not available on Amazon.com yet, here's what the site says about it:

Death in Big Bend is comprised of 17 Stories of fatality & rescue in the Park. Most visitors to Big Bend National Park enjoy a wonderful, incident-free vacation and return home with great photos, thrilling memories, and stories of excitement and adventure. But accidents, even catastrophes, can happen. For a rare few park visitors, a simple mistake, a lack of adequate preparation, or just plain bad luck has led to deadly or near deadly outcomes. Heat stroke, dehydration, hypothermia, drowning, falls, lightning, and even murder have claimed victims at Big Bend. This book chronicles selected serious injuries, dramatic rescues, and tragic fatalities that have occurred in the park since the early 1980s. Death in Big Bend contains useful information that could one day save your life.

One reviewer of the book.,  Billie London-Gray of  BLOGCRITICS.ORG,  says this:

Death in Big Bend by Laurence Parent takes the top slot on my fall reading list. While I settle into the school year pulse of the world around me, I fantasize about rough-and-tumble adventures in the expansive national parks of the American West. This book offers a grim foray to the harrowing extremes of survival in the minimalist desert of West Texas.


With the reserve and precision of a first-rate detective, the author retells 17 gripping true stories from the 1980s to the present about deaths and eleventh-hour rescues in Big Bend National Park. Set in the mountainous northern Chihuahuan Desert, these stories show how vulnerable we are as humans. From preventable tragedies caused by heat stroke and hypothermia to ill-fated encounters with lightning and homicidal bandits, Death in Big Bend proves that reality is more incredible than any fictional adventure.


The most intense story in Death in Big Bend is that of Bryan Brock, a climber who became stranded mid-air in an uncharted canyon. Against the advice of his climbing partner, Brock rappelled down a knotted rope without the equipment to get around a knot. Brock was left dangling with the onset of a freezing winter night only a few hours away. His climbing companion performed superhuman feats of navigation and endurance to summon a rescue team. Brock’s rescue story is told at an adrenaline-pumping pace as you wonder, “Will they make it in time?”


The tale of Shannon Roberts is the most bizarre in the book, reading like the brainchild of Yukio Mishima and Truman Capote. While chasing a drug smuggler on foot, a ranger discovered partially buried human remains under a dome of chicken wire. Tent stakes and duct tape were scattered near the mostly decomposed body. After discovering that the victim, Shannon Roberts, was a suicidal man with an unrequited crush on a young male friend, the investigation became focused on a theory of assisted suicide. The confession that closed the case, recounted at length in the book, was a gruesome fusion of naivete and depravity.


Laurence Parent’s extensive research and interviews create an insider’s rendering of each of these tragic events. His descriptions are unembellished and thorough, warmed by personal reflections from the family members of victims and punctuated by details from law enforcement reports. His characters are real people – inexperienced hikers, unlucky outdoorsmen, and stalwart park rangers and volunteers – whose lives intersected suddenly in life-or-death situations.


Many of these stories will make you grimace. A couple will make you altogether paranoid. But every story in Death in Big Bend will make you reflect upon the rapidity with which life’s certainties can evaporate. For those with a morbid fascination about survivalism, these accounts will take you to the edge. This is a recommended read for backcountry trekkers, adventure junkies, true crime fans, and survivalist voyeurs like me.

I bought my copy of Death in Big Bend at Seminole Canyon State Historic Park and I'm sure it's available at the Big Bend NP bookstore. My copy is loaned out right now but if you'd like to read it send me an email (lindagorski@cs.com) and I'll put you on the list.  It's a really good read.