The Window Trail begins in the Chisos Mountains Basin and can be easily
reached from the lodge or campgrounds. The trail goes to The Window, a
gap in the Chisos Mountains. For a good portion of the hike, you are following
a creek that eventually drains off the Chisos down into the desert. If
you walk from the Basin to The Window and return, the total distance is
about 4 miles. The hike begins at 5300 feet and The Window is at about
4800 feet so it is a rather gradual drop except for the last section where
you approach The Window. The Window ends in a nearly vertical 600 foot
drop to the desert floor so BE CAREFUL as you approach it. The rocks are
very slippery, even when dry, and even more treacherous when wet. You can
hike down into the desert by taking the Oak Spring Trail but the descent
(and subsequent ascent) are rather steep.
The upper parts of the trail are rather dry and the plants encountered
here reflect that.
As you approach the stream, trees such as Quercus spp. (Oaks) and
Arbutus xalapensis (Texas Madrone) are encountered. There are a
number of species of oaks in the park. Powell in Trees And Shrubs Of
Trans-Pecos Texas, which includes Big Bend, lists 21 species of oaks.
Their identification is complicated by the apparent hybridization of some
species, which results in a confusing array of variation.
Members of the genus Quercus (Oaks) are familiar trees found in
most parts of North America. The leaves are typically lobed but some have
entire (unlobed) leaves. It is a member of the
(Beech Family) and other members of this family are Fagus (Beech)
and Castanea (Chestnuts). The flowers are small and wind-pollinated
and the fruit is a nut (acorn). Oaks are easy to recognize but distinguishing
between species can often be rather difficult.
Arbutus xalapensis (syn. = A. texana)
Arbutus xalapensis is a very attractive tree, with reddish, peeling
bark. It is a member of the Ericaceae
(Heath Family). Other members of this family that you may be familiar with
are azaleas, rhododendtrons, blueberries, and cranberries. The flowers
are similar to those found on blueberries and the fruit is an edible berry
that is eaten by birds. This plant is an excellent ornamental for dry areas
but the plants do not transplant well. The wood has been used for tool
handles and the bark and leaves as an astringent.
Sophora secundiflora (Texas Mountain Laurel) is a shrub/small tree
found in protected areas in the canyons. It is a member of the Fabaceae
(Bean family) and has the characteristic fruit found in this family (a
legume). This is an attractive plant that is used as an ornamental. Don't
confuse it with the Mountain Laurel found in the eastern U.S. That is Kalmia
latifolia, a member of the Ericaceae (same family as Arbutus)
and Sophora and
Kalmia are not closely related. The seeds
are red and hard and were used by the Indians in jewelry; they are also
Some portions of the trail are in shade and you will encounter more water
as you descend. There has been water in the lower sections of the creek
everytime we have visited Big Bend, even during very dry spells.
There is wildlife everywhere, probably because of the stream.
This lizard was getting his morning dose of sunshine.
This bird nest is well-protected from predators.
Javelinas are commonly encountered here, presumably because of the water
and lusher vegetation associated with the stream. They are very shy and
rarely seen in areas where they are hunted but the javelinas in the park
are rather tame, even to the point of browsing around the lodge. They emit
an odor reminiscent of skunk which is unpleasant to human noses but it
probably smells pretty good to other javelinas.
As you get close to The Window, the trail basically disappears and you
begin following the course of the stream. It has eroded the rock and there
are a number of small pools, one of which contained this frog. It was pretty
wary and it was not possible to get any closer in order to get a better
look. Maybe it thought we looked hungry.
Finally, the stream runs off the edge of the cliff. Make sure that you
don't do the same, the rocks are very slick, even when dry, and that first
step is about 600 feet. You get an excellent view of the desert floor and
can see the road that goes to Santa Elena Canyon.
You can hike down to the desert floor on the Oak Spring Trail but you have
to backtrack to get to it. The trail down to the desert floor is rather
steep and you should be adequately prepared with water and other supplies
before you attempt it.
TO BIG BEND HOME PAGE