Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Cerro Castellan

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Cerro Castellan and Prickly Pear 0091

One natural landmark in Big Bend National Park is Cerro Castellan, which you can read about in The Handbook of Texas Online. You can also gaze upon it in this picture from November 22. The cactus in the foreground looks like it could be Opuntia rufida, known as blind prickly pear, which mostly lacks the long spines common to almost all of its genus-mates.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 26, 2015 at 4:46 AM

9 Responses

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  1. I’ve been having fun with a hunch. The linked article says that “the name Cerro Castellan seems to mean “castle-warden’s hill,” though the reasons for this name’s adoption are obscure.” Maybe, or maybe not.

    In a section on the cultural history of the area, the Park Service site says, “The expedition of Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca passed near the Big Bend, and was followed by other expeditions in the search for gold and silver, farm and ranch land, and Indian slaves. In an attempt to protect the northern frontier of Mexico, a line of “presidios,” or forts, was established along the Rio Grande in the late 1700’s.”

    But here’s an interesting historical tidbit. In Max Moorhead’s book, “The Presidio: Bastion of the Spanish Borderlands,” he writes,

    “The fortification of the northern frontier against rival European powers actually began in 1565 with the establishment of San Augustin on the Atlantic coast of Florida… that bastion, and such subsequent others as Santa Elena, San Mateo, and Pensacola sometimes were called presidios in the contemporary records, but they were most often categorized as fuertes (forts) or castillos (castles) and were unaffected by the royal regulation of presidios of 1729.”

    “In Texas, however, those which were established to stem French encroachment were officially considered presidios and subject to that code.”

    So: my hunch is that the various Spanish expeditions passing through the Big Bend area included people who were famliar with both terms — castillos and presidios — and who thought the hill looked a good bit like the sentry posts at places as widely separated as San Augustin and Presidio La Bahia in Goliad.


    December 26, 2015 at 11:20 AM

    • That’s an elaborate conjecture you’ve worked up, clearly based on your time at Goliad and the research you’ve been doing about it. When I was preparing this post I checked the Dictionary of the Spanish Royal Academy for castellán but I didn’t find that word. Separately I found that in Aragonés it’s the form of the word that corresponds to Castilian castellano, meaning ‘Castilian.’ Then I found castellan (without the accent) in English:



      I suspect there’ll never be enough historical evidence to know how the high place in Big Bend came by its name, but who knows what might one day turn up?

      Steve Schwartzman

      December 26, 2015 at 1:30 PM

      • Well, it’s always possible that Juan Castellan said, “Why don’t you guys ever name a hill after me? Everybody else has a hill!” I’m sure that some of these place names happened just like that.


        December 26, 2015 at 1:42 PM

        • That would be one step (or several steps) up from carving your name into a tree trunk or scratching it onto a rock.

          Steve Schwartzman

          December 26, 2015 at 1:48 PM

  2. […] but when I stopped to photograph Cerro Castellan in Big Bend National Park on November 22, as you saw last time, I looked the other way and was rewarded with this view across the road. In a few other photographs […]

  3. I raised a few pots of Opuntia rufida back in the day. You do not want to touch those tiny spines. Removal requires tweezers and a magnifying glass.

    That’s quite an impressive hunk of rock and the wind worn features are very attractive…to me anyway.

    Steve Gingold

    December 27, 2015 at 4:40 PM

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