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Man in the Wilderness: Nathanael Gold oversees Big Bend Ranch State Park and he likes everything about it.

Nathanael Gold
Nathanael Gold, who got a history degree from Texas, found his calling as he superintendent of Big Bend Ranch State Park.

Man in the wilderness

By TJ Garcia

Nathanael Gold oversees Big Bend Ranch State Park and he likes everything about it

"Involved in a search and rescue and unavailable. Will catch up when things are resolved."

That is Nathanael "Nate" Gold’s automatic reply email.

That is his normal.

This is what happens when you’re a superintendent of the Big Bend Ranch State Park — 400 square miles of isolated, mountainous Chihuahuan Desert in Far West Texas. It’s a brutal, but beautiful land so far away from everything that the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) calls it the other side of nowhere.

Gold, who graduated from Texas State in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in history, oversees the entire park complex, including its 30 employees and facilities. His day can be as varied as it is long. "I can begin a day by giving a tour to a school group, switch to a budget task at my desk for a few hours, attend a meeting out in the community, and then get called out to rescue a person lost in the backcountry," says the 31-year-old.

"No two days are the same. I love the rugged nature of the Big Bend Ranch State Park complex. I also really enjoy helping people experience this magical place and putting my law enforcement and EMT skills to good use when folks need help."

There’s no way around saying that Gold, a former Marine, has a big job.

"No two days are the same. I love the rugged nature of the Big Bend Ranch State Park complex. I also really enjoy helping people experience this magical place and putting my law enforcement and EMT skills to good use when folks need help."

— Nathanael 'Nate' Gold

Big Bend Ranch State Park is Texas’ largest state park and is nestled along the Rio Grande in the Big Bend region in West Texas. The park lies west of Big Bend National Park near Presidio. To further get your Texas bearings, it’s about four hours east of El Paso and about 90 minutes south of Marfa. Basically, it’s off the grid. The park’s newsletter is called El Solitario (The Lonely Man).

It’s prickly-desert terrain has about 240 miles of multi-use trails, dozens of natural springs, creeks, canyons, the Rio Grande, wildlife, campgrounds, ranger stations, and even a bunk house. Big Bend Ranch is designated an International Dark Sky Park, and it hosts extreme running and biking events. It’s not for the faint of heart, but that’s exactly why people visit and love the expanse so much, including Gold.

"I really like the rugged roughness of this place," he says. "The vistas are amazing. I can go out to certain places in the park and have a view that is just incredible. I feel that when I am enjoying a view I am the first person in the world to ever see it, which I know isn’t true. But I feel like I am back in time seeing things the same way folks hundreds of years ago saw it."

Before landing at Big Bend Ranch two years ago, Gold had done a myriad of things that led him to the Texas outback. The 5-foot-9, 180-pound Garland native served as a U.S. Marine sergeant while attending Texas State — doing weekend duty and going active duty in the summers. He was also a member of the university’s Student Government Senate.

Following graduation, he became the lead ranger and park police officer at Dinosaur Valley State Park near Glen Rose, where he stayed four years before pursuing a career with the National Park Service. Next, the TPWD came calling with a job as superintendent of the Wyler Aerial Tramway in the Franklin Mountains State Park in El Paso.

Two years later, he was promoted to the head job at Big Bend Ranch. By all accounts, Gold and his wife, Robyn — whom he met while both worked at Dinosaur Valley State Park — absolutely adore the place. Robyn left her TPWD job in 2012 and today works as a river guide and author. The couple live on site at Big Bend Ranch in a 2,000 square-foot, one-bedroom house that was once an art studio. It did not have a functional kitchen or closets when they moved in and its power source is from solar panels.

"We came here from El Paso, so going from a big city that has every convenience to an area that has no conveniences was a huge adjustment," says Gold, who added he couldn’t do his job without the support of Robyn. "But we love it. It is quiet, and the views are amazing. We have the Rio Grande passing near our house and hundreds of miles of hiking and biking trails right out our front door. You can’t beat that!"

Clearly, Gold likes his surroundings. He likes his new normal. He says he’d like to spend at least five years at Big Bend Ranch, but even if he did 20, "It wouldn’t be enough."

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