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NATIONAL PARKS: Big Bend National Park

By January 22, 2016April 29th, 2022No Comments

Story and photography by Jerry Ginsberg

North America, United States, Southwest, West, Big Bend, Big Bend National Park. .Tornillo Flats in rugged Big Bend National Park in Southwest Texas.

Tornillo Flats


Deep in the southwest corner of Texas sits the lightly visited, yet fascinating Big Bend National Park.

Situated near the northern end of the vast Chihuahuan Desert, Big Bend features more scenic variety than we usually find in a desert park. If you have an appreciation for the innate beauty of the somewhat harsh desert, a photo trip to Big Bend could be for you. Major landforms include the Chisos Mountains and the rugged Sierra del Carmen, but that’s only scratching the surface.

Big Bend is hard against the international border with Mexico, and in this park, that is where some of the best photography can be found. Perhaps the premier spot to be for sunrise is the fabulous Santa Elena Canyon where the Terlingua Creek is often so shallow that you can easily walk back and forth across it while your feet stay perfectly dry. Watch your step: there are some shallow pockets of quicksand. Don’t worry: they’re more messy than dangerous. Another prime spot to be at dawn is the Rio Grande overlook where you will discover a multitude of compositions at different levels along a gentle upward hillside trail, all just great in the first light of day.

North America, United States, Southwest, West, Big Bend, Big Bend National Park. .The Rio Grande River flows through rugged Big Bend National Park in Southwest Texas..Chisos Mountains in the background.

The Rio Grande Overlook

There is no shortage of sunrise locations. Don’t overlook the Grapevine Hills and take the easy walk of just over a mile to a fascinating construction of three rocks that form a naturally assembled pseudo-arch. Another destination is Tornillo Flats with its aesthetically formed rocks, seasonally blooming cacti and other desert flora.

If you have the opportunity to visit Big Bend National Park in the spring, you should be able to catch some of the many prickly pear and other cacti in bloom. Not only are these an interesting subject on their own, but they make an excellent foreground with the mountains behind.

Aside from these early morning shots, some good spots where you can take advantage of late-day light include the Sotol Overlook where the compositions begin right at the edge of the small parking area, and the Ernst Tinajas. These unusual rock forms at the latter have been shaped and polished by the motion of creek waters. Their endlessly repeating little ridges can make for some unusual images.

The eye-catching checkerboard rock patterns found at Glen Springs make this remote location a good addition. However, the very rough road accessing the spot will require a high clearance vehicle and, likely, four-wheel drive.

Glen Springs

Glen Springs

Big Bend contains a bit of Old West history as well. Some of this can be found in the few pioneer buildings that remain. Among those worth a stop are at Castolon and Hot Springs.

Just a short walk from the Chisos Mountain Lodge are rock forms, including an interesting one dubbed the Window.

To get to Big Bend when arriving by air, you must drive several hundred miles from either El Paso or Midland-Odessa airports. Big Bend National Park offers a single lodging option—the comfortable and centrally located Chisos Mountain Lodge. Happily, the facilities and the food are both pretty good. You would do well to make reservations as far in advance as possible.

Jerry Ginsberg is a widely published freelance photographer whose images have graced the pages of hundreds of books and magazines. He has photographed all 59 U.S. national parks as well as most of South America with medium-format cameras. Jerry was an artist in residence for 2015 at Petrified Forest National Park. More of Jerry’s work can be seen at E mail: