Far West Texas offers iconic panoramas that are instantly recognizable to anyone with even a passing familiarity with the Lone Star State–vast swaths of rugged desert topography accented with muted scrub brush, cactus flowers and rocky plateaus that seem to rise from the terrain like a mirage. But there is more to this region than meets the eye. Tucked into a section of this weathered arid landscape, at the heart of the Trans-Pecos, is a pocket of expansive grassland that now includes The Nature Conservancy’s Marathon Grasslands Preserve.
Located in the northern portion of the Marathon Basin region, the 2,701-acre preserve is comprised of diverse grasslands that extend up to the Glass Mountains. The preserve represents some of the most diverse Chihuahuan Desert grassland habitat in Texas and supports an array of wildlife, including migratory raptors and grassland birds, pronghorn, kit foxes, burrowing owls, golden eagles and the federally endangered northern aplomado falcon.
The preserve also harbors a portion of the largest black-tailed prairie dog town in the Trans-Pecos region of Texas. Scientists refer to prairie dogs as the architects of North America’s grasslands—and they are vital to maintaining the diversity in the Chihuahuan Desert. The herbivorous animals gnaw off woody shrubs like mesquite that would otherwise overtake the grassland habitat. They are also excavators; colonial prairie dogs burrow as much as 10 feet below ground to build their elaborate dens, breaking up hard-baked desert soil in the process, which makes for more fertile grasslands and better foraging.
The Conservancy’s work at Marathon Grasslands Preserve will highlight conservation-friendly ranching techniques and complement more than two decades of conservation work in the Davis Mountains and Marfa grasslands. This iconic region faces myriad threats—including the cumulative effects of drought and climate change and the suppression of a natural fire regime—but with the cooperation of regional landowners and partners, we can protect the heritage wildlands of the Trans-Pecos.