TheWindow Trail

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 Fagaceae (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

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 poisonous.

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.