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Big Bend inspires big dreams

Big Bend inspires big dreams
Authors Jennifer Zimmerle (left) and Margaret Wortham flank illustrator Allison Freeman. The three collaborated on a children’s book, Big Bend Is Not in London.

Margaret Wortham, recently retired fine arts teacher from La Vernia Primary School, and Jennifer Zimmerle, a retired high school math teacher from San Antonio, have been best friends since they met in their early 20s at the Fiesta Dinner Playhouse, where they were servers. The two young women hit it off and began to travel with each other. One of their favorite destinations was Big Bend National Park in western Texas.

Jennifer first traveled to Big Bend in 1973 when she was a junior in high school. Margaret and Jennifer have visited and camped in Big Bend almost every year since 1982 during Fiesta week. Margaret loved the park so much that she got married there in 1982 at "The Window" rock formation. Jennifer, five months pregnant at the time, happily hiked the 4-1/2-mile round trip for the ceremony. Margaret’s parents also were happy to make the trek to the ceremony.

"You see something different every time," Margaret responded, when asked if they get tired of revisiting the same place.

"You find something different to experience every time," Jennifer explained.

Each lady had a boy and a girl child. When their children were old enough, Margaret and Jennifer introduced them to the Junior Ranger program. The Junior Ranger program is a National Park program, but some states have adopted the program to suit their state parks. The children earned their Junior Rangers badges from several different national parks, such as Yellowstone in Wyoming and Montana and Denali National Park in Alaska. Now Jennifer’s grandchildren have earned their badges, too.

Because of their shared love for Big Bend National Park, the two friends decided to write a book about it, and weave in details of the Junior Rangers program. Jennifer started writing the book in 2009, and she and Margaret have been editing and tweaking it ever since.

The book, geared toward readers ages 7 to 11, features a boy and girl, just like children of the book’s authors. The children participate in the Junior Ranger program, and play an important role in the preservation of the park.

Big Bend is 801,163 acres, the 15th largest national park in the United States. Visitors come from all over the world to enjoy it. Margaret and Jennifer’s book touches on that subject.

The book’s title, Big Bend is Not in London, came from Margaret’s mother, Billie Keim.

Each of the 25 chapters begins with an illustration; these were drawn by Allison Freeman, a 2013 graduate of La Vernia High School. Her beautiful sketches were done in graphite, while the cover illustration is in watercolor and ink and features a landscape of Big Bend. Allison earned her bachelor’s degree in fine arts/3D animation from The Academy of Art University in San Francisco.

The book is available at,, and Kindle.

Autographed copies are available for purchase at the La Vernia News office on Chihuahua Street in downtown La Vernia.

The three ladies are now working on marketing the book, which includes distribution to stores and libraries. The team is contemplating working on a continuing saga adventure in which their Junior Rangers will venture to the Grand Canyon.

Junior Rangers

What’s a Junior Ranger?

This activity-based National Parks program is geared toward children ages 6 to 13. Participants complete a series of activities during their park visit, share what they learn with a park ranger, and earn an official Junior Ranger patch and certificate.

Backpacks are available to borrow at national parks. These may contain a pair of binoculars and a magnifying glass; an animal tracking key and guides to flowers, birds, butterflies, trees, rocks, wildflowers and plants; and pencil, crayons, and watercolors, along with a journal and sketchbook.

According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife website, "Children who spend time in nature are healthier, happier and smarter. They will also become the future stewards of our wild lands and beautiful spaces."

"They even have Senior Ranger programs," said Jennifer Zimmerle, adding that a ranger asked if she wanted to participate in the Senior Ranger program, but she declined.

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