Big Bend - Summer and Solo 2015

wngrog

Adventurer
#1
I don't post a lot over here but my tastes in wheeling and adventure are leaning toward overland travel more and more these days. Gone is my desire to travel the country searching the hardest rockcrawling trails. More, I want to see remote areas. Slow down, photograph, be isolated. I just had a 4.5 day window open up in my crazy schedule and I answered my call to explore.

Big Bend has a real spot in my heart. First off, I love Texas. I was fortunate to be able to live there from 2001 to 2006. My beautiful wife is a Native and both my kids were born there. Big Bend has been a part of my life since I planned a trip there to paddle Santa Elena Canyon in 1998 with a group of 16 all the way from Oxford Mississippi for Spring Break. My wife and I traveled there in 2000 and waded the Rio Grande and rode burros to Boquillas to drink tequila and spend the night with the natives. In 2005 I made my last trip there to hike the Chisos Basin and camp with a dear friend that had spent many years there and he cemented my love for the living desert.



Day One........Morning

Normally, I would want to go somewhere cool (temperature wise) when it is 2000 degrees in Mississippi.* Time was an issue though so wherever I went it had to be within a 1000 mile radius of Canton Mississippi.*After a LONG afternoon and night I arrived at the park with a semblance of a plan.* By early morning I had aired down the tires on my 1998 Landcruiser and was on my first trail, Old Ore Road.* When I hit the trail around 9 am, the temperatures had already risen from 65 degrees at sunrise to 85 degrees.*





This backroad is 27 miles of softball sized rocks on a gravel road with numerous elevation changes and switchbacks.* My over-built Landcruiser made easy work of this trail but it was difficult enough to keep me paying attention.* I entered the park at the north end, Persimmon Gap and was working my way off-road along the eastern edge of the park.* My destination for the night, the Chisos Basin loomed large in my windshield to the south.



The first place I stopped 10 miles in was McKinney Ranch.* It is so hard to believe people were able to ranch and farm this arid landscape.*







The road was super rough in places and the temperatures kept climbing.* Rough is a relative term I know, but it was pretty washed out due to all the rain they have had this month. My 34" Nitto Terra Grapplers were aired down to 20 psi and they did a great job of soaking up the bumps.

I was also testing out one of the first sets of Iron Man PRO shocks on my 1998 Landcruiser. They are a new offering via Metal Tech that give my heavy 100 series a huge help in the dampening department.



By 10:00 am I had to roll up the windows and turn on the a/c.* It was 100 degrees before noon but the Landcruiser is built for this.* I just set the thermostat on 75 and drove on. July is actually the "rainy season" in Big Bend.* On average 2.5" fall this month and some years, that all comes in 10 minutes.* This year they have has a steady shot of rain and the desert was alive.

 

wngrog

Adventurer
#2
Day 1 - Morning Continued

This was the only shade I found all morning....heck, I think it was the only shade I found all day.* I was fortunate enough to have found this spot before the sun rose beyond the canyon.* There was some standing water in this river bed and it was actually cool in the shade minus the humidity we are used to here in the south.*



Mile 22 brought me to Ernst Tinaja....a Tinaja is Spanish for "large earthen jar".* It is where water has created a hole in the rock that stores water for weeks after a storm.* It was a 1/2 mile hike in and it was now 105 degrees.* I loaded up with water, sunscreen and my huge sun hat and hit the trail.* This was my first physical outing in the heat and it was rough.* I was immediately questioning my own sanity until I rounded the corner and saw the Ernst Canyon.


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After recharging my batteries in the shade of the canyon I headed to the tinaja,* it was an awesome sight.* Thousands of years of water and sand scraped this hole out of the rock.* The sides are so steep that the park service has to pull bodies of animals out of it often because they fall in and can't climb the steep sides to get out.* I would have suffered the same fate so I stayed well back from the edge.







Just a few miles after my hike, the trail ended and I was at the southeast corner of the park.* I took a right and headed for the Rio Grande Village area to check out Boquillas Canyon and rest up a bit for the rest of the day's off-road adventures.




The Boquillas Canyon overlook had wares from a guy that waded the river to sell to the non-existent tourists.

*

At this point, I had been in the park for 4 hours and the temperature had risen to 111 degrees and I was alone.* I had not seen another soul in 4 hours.* Even the guy selling his crafts stayed in the shade and did not approach me as I pulled up to inspect and leave something in his jar.*



My last stop before I took a break and refilled the Landcruiser was Boquillas Canyon overlook.* On my last trip I hiked into the canyon but today the temperature would not allow it so I just took a photo and turned back to the west.* This was the farthest east I would travel on my trip.* From here out I would head west, deeper into the park.* Alone.
 

wngrog

Adventurer
#4
At this point it is 1:30 and the temperature has just hit 110 degrees but I knew this going in to this trip.



The plan is to hike in the Chisos Basin in the morning on the next two days and go 4 Wheeling on the backroads when it is crazy hot.* I have the right vehicle to do this, so I crank the a/c down a notch and nose into the Hot Springs trailhead. When I get to Hot Springs, I am all alone once again.*




There are signs saying to not leave valuables in the car due to the proximity to the river. This makes me a bit nervous since there are no other people at the site and everything I owned was in the Land Cruiser.* That said, I wanted to check it out after 10 years, so I parked and took off walking. The houses here were built between 1907 and 1929 and were operated as a medicinal Hot Springs until 1942 when the they sold the property to make the National Park.





I slipped up to the edge of the Rio Grande to test the 105 degree water in the ruins of the Hot Springs and I was spotted by a couple of panhandlers on the Mexico side of the river.* They started my way so I decided it was time to leave......I did not need any painted birds or to be robbed.



My next destination was Mariscal Mine. I have been dying to see this place since I first came to Big Bend in 1988. The pictures are so cool of it and it was my top priority to visit this place.* The other priority was to run ALL of the backcountry dirt roads that Big Bend has to offer.* I devised a plan that would take me up to Glenn Springs, across Black Gap (the most difficult trail in the park) and down East River Road to the mine.* This way, I could see what all the roads had to offer.



The first section of East River Road and Glenn Spring road were mainly just rough gravel roads with spectacular vistas to the south and Mexico.



Black Gap Road is a fairly intense trail when it is 110 degrees and you are 100% alone.* Up until now I was pretty convinced the Big Bend backcountry trails were easily accessible to any 4x4.....even a car like my Audi Allroad but that is not the case with Black Gap.*



It gets pretty rough pretty fast starting with the overgrown trail into the springs.* The trail has lots of tight spots and steep climbs.* On a 1-5 scale it is a 2 or a 3 depending on road condition.* I did not have to really get serious but it woke me up.*







Black Gap ends at the middle of River Road. Left is East River Rd, right is West River Rd. Mariscal Mine was east so I hooked a left and peeled out. I pulled into the mine at 4:00 and it was 118 degrees. When it is this hot you have to have a plan and you have to have shade.* Being from Mississippi this temperature is bad but in my opinion it is easier to deal with than 100 degrees and 90% humidity.* If you get in the shade you are fine.* Problem is, there is no shade.



I loaded up with water, sunscreen and a floppy hat and took off up the hill.

I looked back to see the scenery and realized I had hit the switch for my Vision X lightbar. DOH! With it running and my ARB fridge cranked, there was not way I was going to feel good about it, so I packed it back to the Landcruiser and shut it down.



Mariscal Mine was a Mercury or "Quicksilver" mine open from 1900 to 1923.* Quicksilver was used for explosives and when WWI ended the price fell out and the mine closed.











The mine was 100% worth the trip but that was enough for the day.* It was 5:15 and I had been in the Land Cruiser for about 30 hours and 1059 miles with over 100 of them being Off Road.* I was tired so I headed up the mountain to the Chisos Basin for cooler temperatures and some sleep.



Sunset through the Window in the Chisos Basin is a thing of beauty and worth the drive in itself.* Time for bed.* Big day tomorrow

 

wngrog

Adventurer
#6
Day 2 - Morning



I camped in the Chisos Basin on the back side of the campground. It was nice as there were very few people around.



I hit the trail early in the morning.* I knew the sun would be up and hot soon.* The Window Trail is one of the most popular hikes in Big Bend.* I had done it once and it was one of my fondest memories.* It is a bit abnormal in that is loses 1000 feet in elevation from the trail head to the window where the water from The Basin cuts through the mountain and pours into the desert below.







The last quarter mile of the trail is where you will find water even in the driest months.* Water flows from an underground spring but the flow was so low on my trip that it soaked into the ground before it reached the waterfall.





Hiking out was not quite as easy.* The sun came over the mountains and filled the basin.* I reached into my backpack and realized I had forgotten my hat.* I was moments away from slipping off my boxer shorts to put on my head (Chevy Chase style) when I remembered the rain cover in my new camera harness.* I rigged up a way to keep it open and stuck my hiking stick into the cover and made myself a trail umbrella.* It was a lifesaver.*

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By the time I climbed the 1000 feet out, the temperatures had risen from 68 degrees to 90 degrees and it was only 9:30 am. I made it out and loaded up in the Landcruiser to hit the trail.* As I hit the bottom of the mountain my phone found a tower and I pulled over on the side of the road to check messages and text Red.* A Park Ranger pulled up and I quickly told him I would be moving out soon.* He informed me that he had a Landcruiser just like mine.* Small world.* We exchanged contact information and I told him my plans for the day and if I did not contact him by dark to please come find me.* He laughed and drove off but I felt much better about being alone in the desert for the day.

 

wngrog

Adventurer
#7
Day 2 West River Road to Terlingua Ghost Town



In order to hit all the backcountry trails in Big Bend you have to repeat a trail somewhere.* I figured if I had to do a "repeat" trail, I would do Black Gap again since it is a nice, challenging trail.* I actually ran into 3 vehicles here.* Up to this point, I had not seen another soul on any of the backcountry trails so seeing 3 other vehicles was like seeing a traffic jam in Mississippi.* At least they were Toyotas and were OK with me to "play through" at my own pace.



The other vehicle I found halfway through Black Gap was a "Heep" with a very nice family from San Angelo Texas.* They looked a bit nervous being along out there as I had been the day before so I escorted them to the end of the trail.



At this point they went left to Mariscal Mine and I turned right for the 30 mile trek down West River Road. As soon as I hit the road westbound, I saw a sign to Talley.* I grabbed my guidebook and it described a 6 mile one-way trip to the Rio Grande where boaters launch to float Mariscal Canyon.* I was intrigued by the fact that the trail would take me to the southern-most point of the spur of Texas in Big Bend.* Because of the heavy flooding that can happen even with 1" of rain in this area, the trail was washed out badly toward the river end of this spur road.* I consulted my GPS and saw that I was very close to the river so I chose what looked like the road and plowed through to the riverbank.



When I broke through I was at the end of the world on the bank of a national border.* I was at least 27 miles of walking away from the closest asphalt road in either direction.* Walking out was not an option if I got hopelessly stuck or my trusty Landcruiser decided to die.* I was a bit spooked but I had come this far so there was no turning back.* I parked the Cruiser, left it running and eased down the bank into the river.*



The water was chest deep and flowing nicely, but I still had to ease in and make the 50 yard trek to Mexico.* Luckily I was not abducted by the Mexican army or bandits in this fool-hearted venture, but the water felt great and I was able to wade back to the good ole USA and load up and head north. I plan on camping down here on my next trip during cooler weather. I don't think there is a more remote section of the park and I am sure the sunset from this point is magnificent.

*

Once I was back to the West River Road, I reflected on how remote this area is and how blessed we are to be Americans with access to these beautiful public lands.*



Westbound the River Road gets very rough.* I pass through an open gate that allows park officials to close the west section when floodwaters wash the road away.* The ground was dry in most areas but the road had not been graded since the last heavy rains.



Loop Camp was the next spur trail I explored.* This trial leads to a campsite that is south of the Rio Grande because of a "loop" in the river.* I want to camp here with its proximity to the river and the unreal views of the Chisos and the Rio.



Johnson Ranch, Black Dike, Smokey Creek.* All of these are great areas to drive by but it was "stay-in-the-truck" hot at this point.* I saw the outside temps on my gauge hitting 120 degrees.* My truck was so hot that it was putting off a sweet gas smell that I had never smelled before.* It was good to keep the air flowing through the radiator so I just pressed on.*













I finally made it off River Road at about 5:30 after 65 miles of hard trail.* Since it does not get dark until 10 pm on this edge of the Central Time Zone, I took the long way out of the park for my dinner in Terlingua Ghost town. I passed Castolon and Santa Elena Canyon.* I thought back to 1988 when 16 dumb Ole Miss kids finally got spit out of this canyon and was amazed again that we made that trip alive.





Old Maverick Road is a gravel road that takes you from Santa Elena to the western park exit at Maverick Junction.* This road really sucks.* After being on the backcountry trails, this road was the worst.* It was washboard and rough to the point that you could not get going fast enough to smooth it out.* Luckily it was only 13 miles of torture.*



Terlingua Ghost town is a hip little place to the west of the park that has become a hub for food and music in the area.* The best, most iconic place is the Starlight Theater.* I had ceviche, venison sausage and a couple of Mescal margaritas while I listened to a local play cover blues songs.* It was an incredible way to end the day.











As the sun set over the Chihuahua Desert I drove back to the Chisos Basin 50 miles away. I could not go 5 miles without stopping to watch the sun set and the moon rise.* It was truly the most amazing sunset I have ever seen.* I just wish I was a better photographer to capture it.



Goodnight. Big day tomorrow.

 
#9
Enjoying this trip report and look forward to the conclusion. Also realizing the advantages of having an overland vehicle with air conditioning. Lack of it rules out adventuring for me in the southeast U.S. unless I want life to be miserable.
 
#11
Glad to see another Mississippian on the forum. I'm originally from Meridian and lived in Jackson until moving to Missouri in 2001. Nice trip report so far and great photos, can't wait for the rest of the story. Oh, nice rig by the way, I'd love to have an 80 or 100 but not sure the funds will ever allow it. Safe travels.
 
#12
Glad to see another Mississippian on the forum. I'm originally from Meridian and lived in Jackson until moving to Missouri in 2001. Nice trip report so far and great photos, can't wait for the rest of the story. Oh, nice rig by the way, I'd love to have an 80 or 100 but not sure the funds will ever allow it. Safe travels.
Small world that it is, I ran into this couple at the Starlight Theater and she was from Meridian MS and he was from Brookhaven. They were both driving oil trucks at night out of Pecos TX



80's and 100's are getting super affordable and you can put hundreds of thousands of miles on them @fortel Get one.
 
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#14
Day 3 - Morning



I got up very early from a second great night sleep in my ENO hammock and quickly packed my simple camp items into the Landcruiser.* I had been driving by the Lost Mine trailhead the last 2 days and other cars were always there.* My goal was to cut "first tracks" for the day and get to the top as the sun started covering the Basin.



The Lost Mine trail is an excellent example of craftsmanship done by the the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression.* They took the trail and cut stone steps and installed cedar steps along the way making the trail hold up well to heavy use, but also they give one a glimpse back into the early systems our country put in place for people that needed work.



Early morning hiking in The Chisos Basin is very nice in the summer.* This is actually a wet season for the desert with afternoon rains, so there is lots to see and plenty of animal activity.* I took my first step in the trail that morning at 7:00 and it was only 67 degrees.




At the top, I walked up on a deer sharing the meadow and the sunrise with me.* With just two steps she was out of site down the side of the mountain.* I assumed her calm presence meant there were no bears nearby. The view up here is second to none in the park.* Some say the South Rim trail has this view beat, but I don't know how.* I like this one at this time of day as the sun is just peeking into the Basin






It was 8:15 so I turned downhill for the 2.5 mile return trip to my Landcruiser.* I generally don't like one-way trails, but I have to say, you do miss a lot of things when you are looking the other way.* Down had a new beauty and the sun was different. *



As I was leaving, cars began to fill the small parking area to begin their own hikes.**It was now 9:15 in the morning on my last day in the park.* I had just completed a great hike and it was already 85 degrees.* I turned back into the Basin to get some ideas from my new friend who was a Park Ranger in Big Bend.

 
#15
Day 3.......Beyond Big Bend



All great things must come to an end, but they don't have to end fast. After my spectacular hike up Lost Mine, I ran down the Park Ranger with the Land Cruiser that I had met on Thursday. I literally could have talked to this man for a month. His name is Matt and he was a former Navy Corpsman that started off in the Park Service checking people in at the gate at Rocky Mountain National Park. The people there saw his skill-set and quickly trained him to be a Ranger. From there he moved to Big Bend and has been in the park for 4 years. His knowledge of the park and stories of human smuggling and finding lost hikers were fantastic. As I was leaving, he asked my plans and I told him I was headed home via Marfa Texas. He suggested a path that was a bit out of the way, but had promise of a beautiful drive so I struck out.





He warned that I was going to OK driving up through Big Bend State Ranch and to Presidio Texas, but he said the road from Presidio to Ruidosa was one of the most heavily patrolled Border Patrol areas in Texas and that I was most certainly going to be stopped and searched.* I had nothing to hide and that just added to the adventure so I peeled out. I have 3 basic food groups when I go to Texas and I don't stray from them unless I am in the state more than a week. Beer, Brisket and Burritos. I had basically lived on Brisket/Egg/Cheese burritos I had bought from Rudy's BBQ in Arlington on the way out. I pulled one out at a time and put them on my motor in their foil wrapper. I was dangerously low on provisions so after I made it out of Big Bend State Ranch, I turned to Yelp and found a great lunch spot.



The road he sent me to was called Pinto Canyon Road.* It is a country road that cuts through the heart of Pinto Canyon Ranch and comes into Marfa Texas from the south.* It is a big detour from heading home the way I came, and an even bigger detour than heading straight north out of the park via Alpine but I trusted him that it was worth it.



When I saw the road I started having flashbacks to Old Maverick Road in Big Bend. Old Maverick is a washed out mess of washboard that makes you miserable at any speed. There was a bit of washboard on south Pinto Canyon Rd so I turned up the speed a bit to find the sweet spot. I rounded a corner and the road narrowed dangerously fast and into a wash with free range cows in the road.



Finally the mountain ranges on each side of the road started to squeeze in and I passed into Pinto Canyon Ranch.



The Pinto Canyon road is amazing.* It is mostly gravel for the 50 miles from the Rio Grande to Marfa and it is a stunningly beautiful drive through a private ranch.*As the sign said, I stuck to the roads but I did get out and take a few pictures. Truly a beautiful area of Texas.







The road finally climbs out of this beautiful ranch and turns into a perfectly paved road through the Marfa Highlands.* This is a wonderfully smooth paved road at a higher elevation surrounded by cattle ranches.*