The Majestic Chisos Mountains

The Chisos Mountains are seriously one of a kind and only found in Texas! This epic "sky island" is a unique phenomenon most often found in parts of the Southwest United States.

Presented by Travel Texas.

Please review and follow all state and local guidelines while traveling.

August 03, 2020
Related To:

Photo By: Ian Shive/ Tandem

Photo By: Ian Shive/ Tandem

Photo By: Ian Shive/ Tandem

Photo By: Ian Shive/ Tandem

Photo By: Ian Shive/ Tandem

Photo By: Ian Shive/ Tandem

Photo By: Ian Shive/ Tandem

Photo By: Ian Shive/ Tandem

Photo By: Ian Shive/ Tandem

Photo By: Ian Shive/ Tandem

Photo By: Ian Shive/ Tandem

Photo By: Ian Shive

When you get a sunset like this, you don't stop taking photos. Taken at the terminus of the Lost Mine Trail in Big Bend National Park, Texas, this sunset was set ablaze by a passing thunderstorm. These mountains, the Chisos Mountains, are considered a "sky island," a unique geological phenomenon most often found in parts of the Southwest United States. A sky island is just that, and island of mountains that rise up from a lower lying desert, which completely surrounds them.

As the thunderstorm passed by on the opposing mountain, the opportunity became surreal, with vibrant orange and reds setting the sky on fire. Photographing the Chisos Mountains in Big Bend National Park, Texas, has always been a dream of mine, but I never imagined it would look like this. To get the great shots, you have to put yourself out there and do the work...plan ahead, watch the weather, hit the trail and with any luck, you get an evening like this. Truly one of the most gorgeous sunsets of my life.

I attempted to move a quickly as the light was changing, but moment to moment, this scene kept getting better. As a photographer it can be easy to get caught up in the moment and forget to capture as much variety as possible, especially with magic light like this. Many photographers focus on the horizontal landscape, which is a natural inclination for a scene that feels wide, but the vertical landscape can be a powerful way to express foreground elements and depth that can be challenging with a horizontal. Captured at the summit of the Lost Mine Trail, Big Bend National Park, Texas. Atop the Chisos Mountains, a Sky Island located within the park.

You couldn't hope for more drama in a single image, than this passing thunderstorm in Big Bend National Park, Texas. Within a twenty minute window the light changed from dull grey, to this burst of gold, then pinks and blue pastels which ultimately culminated in a fiery red spectacle so grand and amazing, it will always be one of the top photographic moments of my life. Atop the Lost Mine Trail in the Chisos Mountains, a Sky Island located within the park.

It's interesting to see how light changes through an afternoon, shifting from blazing hot sun, to completely grey and cloudy, to this sort of misty, diffused light coming across the tops of the Chisos Mountains here in Big Bend National Park, Texas. For a photographer, dramatic light is everything. Weather is the single greatest driving force to what will make or break a great image, which is why early in my career I became as good at knowing the weather as I did on how to work a camera. When I took this image I had no idea that the night would only get better, resulting in one of the greatest sunset images of my career.

Not every photo needs to be taken at sunset! Early in my career I was extremely selective of the kind of imagery I would make, holding out for only the most dramatic light. While I still include that, of course, I've learned to be more open to brighter scenes that could be made during the day, especially if there are clouds in the sky to offer texture and contrast. Images like this show, while beautiful, show hat most people are apt to see on a trip up the Lost Mine Trail. Big Bend National Park, Texas.

Carved by the Rio Grande River, the canyon walls rise up high, creating dramatic landscapes reminiscent of the Grand Canyon. Located in Big Bend National Park, Texas, this slow moving stretch of water is a great place to swim in the heat of the day, and to capture images of the magnificence geologic features found here. Big Bend is a land of extremes, from low lying deserts, to high rising mountains, to canyons like this, all of which make this is a nature photographers paradise.

Climbing the narrow path in Big Bend National Park, Texas, I was always nervous about my clumsy footing resulting in me landing in the Rio Grand river with my expensive camera equipment. The river, which formed this unique canyon, was always just off to my side, never moving too quickly, winding and flowing lazily into the distance. There are different stretches of this river where you can swim, go rafting or do a lazy float, making it a highlight of any trip to this park.

While photographing Big Bend National Park, Texas, I covered hundreds of miles a day, often driving back and forth on the same roads, watching as the light and weather changes. As a photographer, stormy weather often means dramatic light and great skies, perfect for making powerful compositions. In the desert, storms don't usually last very long, passing quickly, which makes the wet spring an ideal time to visit (not to mention cooler evening temperatures). This image was photographed on the road leading to Santa Elena Canyon. The striking purple color of the cactus made them an obvious choice for a foreground element.

A torrey yucca in bloom, Big Bend National Park, Texas. There is no bad time to visit this national park, but the spring months bring perfect temperatures and gorgeous desert wildflowers, such as this. In the background are the Chisos Mountains, the southernmost mountain range in the United States and the only mountain range to be fully encompassed by a national park.

From a distance, the unique geologic formations in Big Bend National Park, Texas, erupt from the low lying desert floor. The desert, which is the largest protected tract of the Chihuahuan desert in the United States, completely encircles the Chisos mountain range, giving them a unique designation as a "sky island" due to their isolation by the surrounding desert. Early in my photography career I didn't think of the desert as a place filled with abundant subject matter, but I'm always surprised with each visit and find that there is as much here as any forest or ocean. Not to mention the desert air has it's own way of soothing the soul.

Similar to the other image with purple cactus in the foreground, this image with an ocotillo cactus shows the diversity of opportunities that exist as a photographer. Even if you think you got a great shot, keep pushing yourself further, try new compositions and don't edit in the field...edit at home! Or in your hotel! When I'm in the field, I think of myself as a data gatherer, just gathering as many different options and compositions as possible, "working" the scene until I've exhausted my ideas. The dramatic light of this image created by a passing storm provided ideal conditions for a strong image; a dark sky and a very light foreground with natural features popping up throughout the frame.

Shop This Look