The Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute was established in the spring of 1974 as a nonprofit scientific and educational organization. Its mission is to gather and publicize data on the Chihuahuan Desert of the United States and Mexico. Its activities include scientific investigation, instruction, and the operation and development of the Chihuahuan Desert Visitor Center. The institute's twenty-nine-member board of directors is assisted by a board of advocates. The organization was originally housed in an unused school building in Alpine, Texas. In 1984 the building was sold by the Alpine Independent School District, and the CDRI was moved to Honors Hall on the Sul Ross State University campus, also in Alpine. In 1989 the institute was moved to its present location in the Barton Warnock Science Building on the Sul Ross campus. There the CDRI staff conducts business, produces its publications and newsletters, and maintains the 2,000 volume W. Frank Blair Library.
The CDRI is supported through grants, donations, contributions, and membership. It had 500 members in 1991. It is endowed through a sister corporation, the Chihuahuan Desert Foundation, Incorporated, which was established in 1985. Research activities are generally funded through contracts and grants. The institute has studied fire ecology, restoration and revegetation of disturbed areas, organismal biology, systematics, range management, environmental impact, anthropology, and archeology, among other topics. The CDRI Board of Scientists meets annually, acts in an advisory capacity, and conducts a series of symposia at five-year intervals on the resources of the Chihuahuan Desert. The institute supports academic excellence through the annual presentation of an Innovative Research Award and the annual W. Frank Blair Award Competition for Excellence in Written Data Presentation. Educational activities include seminars, lectures, the publication of books and magazines, public school presentations, teacher training, and the production of films. The Institute's film series, The Chihuahuan Desert Trilogy, has won more than twenty international awards.
The Chihuahuan Desert Visitor Center, on State Highway 118 four miles south of Fort Davis, was established in 1978 with the purchase of 507 acres of wooded grasslands. The center, a desert museum, has been open to public since 1982. Development efforts have centered on the composition of a master plan, the design and construction of a forty-acre arboretum, the construction and maintenance of a 1,440-square-foot cactus and succulent greenhouse, the design and construction of the Modesta Canyon Nature Trail System, and the operation of a gift shop. Annual special events include a native plant sale held on the last weekend of April and a members-appreciation barbecue in late summer.