The Window

The Window Trail is probably the most heavily traveled path in Big Bend National Park, and for good reason. The trail is so aptly named for the framing of the western desert floor by Carter Peak to the south (left) and Vernon Bailey Peak to the north (right). Rain that falls in the Chisos Basin gathers and runs through this opening between the mountains, supporting residents of the park, animals and humans alike. The trail follows this gradual slope down to the opening, crossing arroyos and rolling foothills of scrub brush. 

 The Window

The Window

 Opuntia imbricata var. arborescens, Tree Cholla

Opuntia imbricata var. arborescens, Tree Cholla

 Opuntia imbricata var. arborescens, Tree Cholla

Opuntia imbricata var. arborescens, Tree Cholla

Cholla is in the same genus as prickly pear, but instead of paddle-shaped leaves, the cactus grows cane-shaped stems. Spring displays beautiful fuchsia-colored blooms that give way to yellow fruit.  

 Glandularia bipinnatifida, Prairie Verbena

Glandularia bipinnatifida, Prairie Verbena

 Glandularia bipinnatifida, Prairie Verbena

Glandularia bipinnatifida, Prairie Verbena

This verbena has a wide range, growing from southern Texas to South Dakota. Prairie Verbena is widely adaptable and should be used more in controlled landscapes. 

 Echinocereus viridiflorus var. russanthus, Brownspine Hedgehog Cactus

Echinocereus viridiflorus var. russanthus, Brownspine Hedgehog Cactus

I've seen this cactus several times in the park, but it's never a disappointment. 

 Sphaeralcea sp., Mallow

Sphaeralcea sp., Mallow

It's not possible for me, with the limited knowledge that I do have, to properly identify this species of Mallow. But I was struck by the geometric patterns left by last season's blooms. 

 Rhus virens, Evergreen Sumac

Rhus virens, Evergreen Sumac

Sumac make great landscape shrubs, and many species of Rhus occur in the state of Texas. Evergreen Sumac is a great plant for a well-draining area, holding strong in shade or sun. 

 Astrolepis cochisensis, Cochise Scaly Cloakfern

Astrolepis cochisensis, Cochise Scaly Cloakfern

Desert ferns are always fascinating. The genus Astrolepis occurs throughout the Southwest US. Much of its life can be spent in a dormant slumber, waiting on rare moisture. In the photo above, you can see that most of the fronds are withered and closed.

 Astragalus mollissimus, Wooly Locoweed

Astragalus mollissimus, Wooly Locoweed

Astragalus is a legume most widely known for the health benefits of consuming the root. Studies are suggesting certain chemical compounds in this plant can help HIV and cancer patients. The blooms are striking and resemble Lupine.

 Astragalus mollissimus, Wooly Locoweed

Astragalus mollissimus, Wooly Locoweed

 Astragalus mollissimus, Wooly Locoweed

Astragalus mollissimus, Wooly Locoweed

 Agave havardiana, Havard's Agave

Agave havardiana, Havard's Agave

I always have to post a couple photos of Agave havardiana. The blue hue was popping on the mountain-side in the late evening shadows.

 Agave havardiana, Havard's Agave

Agave havardiana, Havard's Agave

 Quercus tardifolia, Chisos Mountains Oak???

Quercus tardifolia, Chisos Mountains Oak???

The leaves of this low, scrub oak most definitely resemble the hybrid oak of Quercus hypoxantha and gravesii, and Q. tardifolia is greatly endangered, nearing extinction. In all likelyhood, this is a more common oak, but I would like to believe this could be a very rare specimen. 

 Bouteloua sp.

Bouteloua sp.

Grama Grass is a warm-weather, perennial staple in the western US, making a great grazing grass for hoofed animals. These seed heads were remnants of last summer, creating little dancing tails. 

 Bouteloua sp.

Bouteloua sp.

 Yucca torreyi, Spanish Dagger

Yucca torreyi, Spanish Dagger

This was a beautiful, branching specimen of a common yucca in the Chihuahuan Desert, but also occurs further east in the Texas Hill Country. I have also documented it in the Chinati Mountains. 

 Echinocereus stramineus, Strawberry Hedgehog Cactus

Echinocereus stramineus, Strawberry Hedgehog Cactus

Strawberry Hedgehog Cactus occurs throughout the park and in a variety of environments. I found this specimen particularly respectable because of its willingness to grow in almost no growth medium. 

 Cheilanthes tomentosa, Wooly Lipfern

Cheilanthes tomentosa, Wooly Lipfern

Another desert fern, but this genus is a bit more reliant on water and shade as compared to Astrolepis. This plant was found at the base of a large boulder that shielded it from the sun and helped funnel precious rainfall to the ferns.

 Diospyrus texana, Texas Persimmon

Diospyrus texana, Texas Persimmon

Two species of Persimmon occur natively in the US, and the species texana only occurs in Texas. Growing in poor, rocky soil, this small tree produces extremely dark and extremely sour fruit that is used as a food source or, as the Native Americans have done, a dye. 

 Datura quercifolia, Oakleaf Thornapple

Datura quercifolia, Oakleaf Thornapple

Datura is a night-blooming plant with white, trumpet-shaped blooms. The flowers eventually give way to spiny seedpods, like the photo above. This species is gets its name from shape of its leaves, reminiscent of an Oak. 

 Pinus ponderosa, Ponderosa Pine

Pinus ponderosa, Ponderosa Pine

In Texas, Ponderosa Pines are only found in the three highest mountain ranges: Chisos, Davis, and Guadalupe, all above 4,000 feet. Due to the drier and hotter conditions of these mountains compared to other ranges in the Rockies, the tree stays shorter and is more diminutive. 

 Aphelocoma wollweberi, Mexican Jay

Aphelocoma wollweberi, Mexican Jay

 Sotol bloom stalks

Sotol bloom stalks

 The Window at sunset

The Window at sunset

 The Window at sunset

The Window at sunset

 And the sun sets

And the sun sets