U.S. National Park Series

Big Bend National Park: Mountains, Desert, and River

Big Bend National Park was my entry point into working at national parks. Little did I know at the time, these parks not only needed park rangers, but also cooks, servers, front desk agents, maintenance, shuttle drivers, etc. While the National Park Service operates the park, they contract out to other companies to run hotels, restaurants, gift shops, and more. Back in 2008, I worked in the restaurant industry. Once I found out I could cook inside these parks my next decision was a no-brainer. I applied with Forever Resorts and two days later I was driving through the desert on my way to Big Bend.

The desert road to Big Bend National Park

Working in a national park, I was able to explore the area for months. Your average tourist visits these sites and stays a few days. It was such a unique opportunity. Also, it was seasonal work. After a few months I was off to a brand new park for work. I met friends from all over the U.S. and Mexico. I hung out and got first hand knowledge from my National Park Service volunteer friends. The locals cooked me authentic Mexican food. My employment at Big Bend kick started my love for national parks. It was such a great time in my life.

Cactus at Big Bend National Park

I always describe Big Bend National Park as being this place where the desert, mountains, and Rio Grande all meet together. The Rio Grande separates the United States and Mexico, while the Chihuahuan Desert surrounds the Chisos Mountains. This meeting creates a uniquely wonderful biosphere. Despite this, the park remains one of the least visited in the United States. However, those who do decide to traverse this land are in for such a delightful treat.

Big Bend National Park sign

One of my favorite things about national parks is the wildlife. At Big Bend, I was able to see javelina, kit foxes, mule deer, coyote, desert cottontails, and so many other species of animals. Although I never had the chance to see them, cougars and Mexican black bear also are present in the park. The park is an absolute dream for birdwatchers as more than 400 species of bird may be seen here. Some of these bird species are uncommon in the U.S. 

Santa Elena Canyon

What To Do


Window Trail – This trail begins in the mountain basin and leads to an opening of a cliff formation called ‘the Window’. So named because you can look out of this window to the desert below.


Lost Mine Trail – One of the more popular trails in the park. It offers great views including that of the picturesque Juniper Canyon.


Castolon – A former ARMY camp that never was used. The La Hermania Company then took over and ran a trading post.


Santa Elena Canyon – Float on the Rio Grande River through beautiful canyon walls.


Hot Springs – These springs were once prized for their supposed healing powers. Today, you can still soak in the springs. The walk to the hot springs also includes a viewing of Native American petroglyphs.


Cattail Falls – A hidden waterfall not found on NPS maps. The hike to this oasis only takes a mile and a half.


Terlingua – This ghost town is just outside of the park. It is home to the world famous Terlingua Chili Cookoff. Grab food at the Starlight Theater, a well reviewed restaurant. The Terlingua Cemetery features simple wood crosses and stonework. Mercury mining accidents and influenza filled the cemetery in the early 1900’s. A small one room church (said to be haunted) is nearby as well.


Lajitas – Lajitas is known for its golf resort. The town can also lay claim that they had a mayor for many years who was a beer drinking goat. Yes, you read that right.


Where To Stay & Eat


Chisos Mountain Lodge – They offer a hotel, restaurant, and gift shop in the mountain basin, as well as a gas station at the base of the mountains. 


NPS Campgrounds – The National Park Service offers three campgrounds; one in the mountain basin, one in the desert, and one at the Rio Grande. While a few sites may be reserved, most are first come, first serve.


Lajitas Golf Resort – Rooms can also be found outside of the park at the aforementioned golf resort.


Starlight Theater – A lively place to eat located in Terlingua.

Study Butte – Nothing more than a small grocery and liquor store. Yet, due to the remoteness of the area it is worth noting.


Big Bend National Park


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