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The Regional Geography of the Big Bend

This program includes pre-program orientation meetings on the Texas State University campus in the fall 2021 semester, will meet for class on the Texas State University campus during the 2022 spring semester, and will also include a required seven-day field trip to study geographic aspects of the Big Bend regional environments in March 2022.


Spring 2022 Term: January 18 - May 11, 2022

Program Travel: March 12 - March 19, 2022

Course Meetings: Fridays January 28 - April 22, 2022

Orientation Meetings: January 21, 2022

Required: Seven-day field trip to Big Bend National Park, Big Bend State Park, Sul Ross State University, Balmorhea State Park, McDonald Observatory, and Marfa, Texas

What Students Will Learn

A photo of a mountain at Big Bend National ParkStudents in this course will learn about the cultural, environmental, and historical landscape elements of the "Big Bend" region of west Texas. The primary focus of this course will be on environmental processes that have affected and altered this unique desert landscape. Students will have the opportunity to observe, firsthand, basic geomorphic, geologic, and biogeographic features and characteristics of the Trans-Pecos region and understand their significance as elements of the landscape and as related to human use, both today and in the past. Students will also get to practice map skills through the use of topographic and park maps. Finally, the students will be able to interact with park personnel to learn about pathways to potential employment in the state and national parks. Past students have described this Study in American course as a "life-changing experience."

Big Bend National Park - Daily excursions will include professor and program assistant-led hikes to various locations within the park, including the Chisos Mountains, Santa Elena Canyon, Maverick Badlands, Ernst Tinaja, and Grapevine Hills. The focus will be primarily on geology and geomorphology, but also paleontology through the fossil discovery exhibit, culture, biogeography, ecology, history, and other geography-related facets of the landscape. Students will work on their map reading skills as each site is visited.

Big Bend State Park - Students will meet with the park superintendent, a Texas State alumnus, to discuss his daily operational responsibilities in the park as well as pathways to park employment. Students will also visit the Barton Warnock Visitor Center, where they will learn about park biogeography of flora and fauna.

Sul Ross University - This university is home to the Big Bend Museum. The students will experience a museum tour focusing on the history of the region, led by a university historian.

Balmorhea State Park - Students will get to see and experience a desert "cienega," which is a type of wetlands ecosystem unique to desert landscapes.

Marfa, Texas - the program assistant will lead a tour of downtown Marfa, with a focus on the unique art and cultural significance of the town.

McDonald Observatory - Students will experience "Sky viewing" during a "Star Party" hosted by the observatory. Students will have the opportunity to visit research telescopes, and will discovery why the dark skies of the desert provide the ideal location for space research.

Program is subject to change and pending approval from the Texas State Board of Regents.

Course Options

GEO 4310 Regional Field Studies (undergraduate) CRN 40040
GEO 5308 Regional Field Studies (graduate) CRN 40059

Important:  To ensure your place in this program, you must complete the program application and then receive approval from Dr. Townsend.

Students Applying for Graduate Courses

Applicants interested in enrolling in a 5000-level or above course who are not Texas State graduate students must first contact the Texas State Graduate College. This step must be completed before registration can be finalized into a graduate-level course.

Tuition and Program Fee

3 Hours (1 Course) Undergraduate $922.08
3 Hours (1 Course) Graduate $1,072.08


The additional program fee includes lodging, program transportation, and admission fees to state parks, if applicable, and McDonald Observatory:  $1,100

Important Note: Meals and personal expenses are not included in the program fee. 

Course tuition and program fee will be billed and paid through SBS Billing and Payment.


All university policies regarding installments, course drops, and refunds apply to all billed and paid tuition and program fees.

Important COVID-19 Information

All participants in Texas State Study in America programs adhere to the health guidelines in the Texas State University Roadmap, including the Health and Safety Measures and Student Roadmap page. The guidelines provided for protecting health and safety on campus also apply to field locations and travel in this Study in America program.

The field/travel portion of the program is subject to change and/or cancellation. If the field portion of the program is canceled, course instruction will continue virtually, but Texas State Study in America will refund the additional program fee (not course tuition).

National Park Service Requirements for COVID-19

All Study in America program participants are required to comply with National Park Service (NPS) and Big Bend National Park requirements. Currently, masks are required in all NPS buildings and facilities, and on all forms of enclosed public transportation, regardless of location or vaccination status. In addition, all National Park visitors who are not fully vaccinated are required to wear masks when within six feet of other people not in their traveling party. Additional details are available at the NPS Covid-19 website and on the Big Bend National Park website.

Applying to the Program - Applications Now Closed

  1. Complete and submit the program application
  2. Complete and submit the Approval Request to Travel during an Ongoing Pandemic form immediately after submitting the program application
  3. Receive approval from Dr. Townsend and the Office of Distance and Extended Learning
  4. Register for your program's courses

Registering for Courses

Register through the Student Information System/CatsWeb during the regular university registration period.

For more information about the content of the program, please contact Dr. Christi Townsend.

For questions about applying/registering, please contact the Office of Distance and Extended Learning.