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Over-estimating your experience or under-estimating the terrain in a place like Big Bend can result in serious injury or death. Use the information and advice found here wisely. Climb/Hike/Camp/Drive at your own risk.

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Beginner campers with a 2WD Ford Focus

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Offline stargaze

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Beginner campers with a 2WD Ford Focus
« on: December 28, 2016, 11:33:13 PM »
Hi everyone! My boyfriend and I are planning to go camping in Big Bend for Spring break this year, and we have a few questions. We've both been camping a few times before and I'm a girl scout so I know some stuff, but it's our first time out on our own.

We'd rather be at one of the backcountry campsites for the privacy and the lack of light pollution from the Spring break crowd. I have a couple of questions about the feasibility of this plan. We'll be driving in his 2015 Ford Focus, which has low clearance and 2WD, which campsites are the most accessible for us? I've looked up the climate during March and it seems that there's a pretty low chance of rain so hopefully the roads won't be too rutted. Since it is Spring break, will we be able to get one of the campsites that would be accessible for us, or should I book a site at a developed campground just in case (I'll lose $10 if we cancel the reservation, but better safe than sorry)? Also, the website says a permit costs $12 overnight, is that per night or for the whole time?

As far as timing goes, how much time does it take at the visitor center to process the permit and get in? The roadtrip I have currently planned has us getting to the park at 4:30 pm (leaving the hotel at 6 am), which would mean we'd have to enter through Panther Junction and hope that half an hour is enough time. I don't like that level of risk, but I also don't want to hit the road at 4 am. Would 3:30 pm be a safe enough time to arrive at the park?

My last concern is the animals. We're pretty smart people so we're not gonna be leaving food in our tent or sleeping in clothing we cooked in, but even then, how aggressive are the animals? Should we bring bear spray??

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Offline Txlj

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Re: Beginner campers with a 2WD Ford Focus
« Reply #1 on: December 29, 2016, 05:05:43 AM »
The Bend will be pretty packed during Spring Break. Light pollution is minimal in the Bend and star gazing is incredible, everywhere. Being in a Focus will be limiting on where you camp. March can be hit or miss for rain, but it dries fast. Wild life has never been an issue other than coons and such for me. Bring clothing for a range of temps because it can be hot during the day and cold at night.

If its your first trip, I would stay where you feel comfortable and enjoy. Even in a campground in the park a short walk leads to all the stars. And lets us know how it goes. Ill be there March 16th thru the 28th. Other will chime in to give you a better idea.

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Offline mule ears

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Re: Beginner campers with a 2WD Ford Focus
« Reply #2 on: December 29, 2016, 06:39:36 AM »
Part of it will depend on when during the spring break rush.  It is busier the week that most of the Texas schools are out (3/11-3/18) and some what less the other week or two.  The next most crowded week looks to be 3/4-3/12.

Here is the backcountry sites page, look at the descriptions for the improved dirt roads all those sites should be possible for you except the farthest Paint Gap sites.

$12 is for the whole time, not per night, unless you go in and change your permit.  If you are coming in from Marathon and through Persimmon Gap you can get your permit there which closes at 4:00, but it is an hour farther to Panther Junction which closes at 5:00.  You could be safe and reserve a campsite the first night and then move to a roadside site, getting to the permit office first thing in the morning.  How many nights will you be there?

At the roadside sites the biggest issue with animals is of the rodent variety, just keep your food in the bear boxes or in your hardsided vehicle and keep things clean and you will be fine.
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Offline Txlj

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Re: Beginner campers with a 2WD Ford Focus
« Reply #3 on: December 30, 2016, 03:38:20 PM »
Come on folks, speak up. The newbies needs more advise. I know there's more than two people to speak up on this. Help'em out.

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Offline catz

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Re: Beginner campers with a 2WD Ford Focus
« Reply #4 on: December 30, 2016, 04:00:07 PM »
Gee, Mule Ears pretty much said it all.

I will say that the chance of finding an available site at 3 or 4:00 in the afternoon during the peak spring break times is probably close to zero.  I would reserve a site in the Basin, if possible, and be prepared to forfeit the $10 if, by some chance, a site is available out in the desert.   Be advised that outside of the formal campgrounds, the sites are truly primitive:  no table, no grill, no port-a-pot, no nothing.  Maybe a log or rock to sit on.  Personally, I like the Rice Tank site on Glenn Springs Road just 3 or 4 miles from the main east-west paved road..

Unless there have been recent rains you should be able to get to just about any of the sites in your Focus except the ones along Old Ore Road.   If there HAVE been recent heavy rains (like in the previous couple of days) then you probably shouldn't try to get to any of them. 

Stillwell is a privately run camping area located about 10 miles from Persimmon Gap.  It has a small store and showers.  The sites there are also truly primitive.
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Offline badknees

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Re: Beginner campers with a 2WD Ford Focus
« Reply #5 on: December 30, 2016, 04:30:48 PM »
Nugent Mountain Campsite off the Glenn Spring Road is very close to the blacktop and you'll be Ok with a Focus. Also Paint Gap 1, and 2, Croton Spring and KBAR. The River Rd East to La Clocha is usually pretty good for lower clearance vehicles, but I wouldn't get much more adventurous with your Focus than the sites I have listed......If you like your car, that is.
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Offline Txlj

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Re: Beginner campers with a 2WD Ford Focus
« Reply #6 on: December 30, 2016, 05:01:43 PM »
More better and may your new year be blessed with abundant trips to the Bend. 76 days left before I get to make my trek. Reservations confirmed last night. 10 days in God's country!

Sent from flat land
« Last Edit: December 31, 2016, 04:04:52 AM by Txlj »

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Offline The Scorpion

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Re: Beginner campers with a 2WD Ford Focus
« Reply #7 on: December 30, 2016, 05:02:02 PM »
You could make it to Rice Tank road side camp site off Glenn spring road. Just take it slowed and easy. Rodents are about the only thing you need to worry about in the primitive roadside sites.
Bear spray is not necessary. The Mexican Black bears are not as aggressive as black bears in other parts of the country. If you do see bears, just use good judgement and keep your distance.
The earlier you can get to panther junction to get your permits the better off you will be.
Be very mindful of the posted speed limit in the park. The rangers will be looking for speeders, and they do so even more during spring break. So plan on a lot of drive time between places since the max speed limit in the park is 45 mph.

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Offline Desert Beacon

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Re: Beginner campers with a 2WD Ford Focus
« Reply #8 on: December 30, 2016, 09:18:27 PM »
I like the Rattlesnake Mountain site just off the Old Maverick Road. It's easy to access coming down Old Maverick from the north. Great sky view.

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Offline stargaze

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Re: Beginner campers with a 2WD Ford Focus
« Reply #9 on: December 31, 2016, 01:46:24 AM »
Thank you guys so much! This is all very helpful and informative. Thankfully our spring break is the week of March 19th so we might have a better chance of getting a primitive site. I'll definitely still be reserving a site in a developed campground just in case, but now we have some ideas for which primitive sites to request first. I'm so excited for this trip and happy that I found this forum!

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Offline badknees

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Re: Beginner campers with a 2WD Ford Focus
« Reply #10 on: December 31, 2016, 09:22:50 AM »
I like the Rattlesnake Mountain site just off the Old Maverick Road. It's easy to access coming down Old Maverick from the north. Great sky view.
Old Maverick is a washboard. Access is easy, but it will rattle everything......Jus t sayin'
Not all those who wander are lost.
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Offline Jimbow

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Re: Beginner campers with a 2WD Ford Focus
« Reply #11 on: January 01, 2017, 11:35:14 AM »
I was just down River Road East and over to Mariscal Mine and was passed by a small Hyundai something or another. That was easy. Avoid Old Ore road. I hit hard a couple times in my F150.

I've dragged a pop up trailer into Pine Canyon. I really like that location if I'm planning hikes all over the park plus trips to Terlingua.

Light pollution? We can tell you what to expect but you still won't be prepared for the darkness.

The crowds are in Boquillas, the hot springs,  and always within 800 meters of pavement.

I've gone the reservation route for the first night and that works well. I've also been prepared to get a zone permit and didn't worry about  reservations. Others plan a Motel night in Study Butte and dash in early. All work. All have their issues. For a first time trip is consider the motel but still try to get permits that afternoon. That way you can also experience Terlingua.

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Offline JasonHay

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Re: Beginner campers with a 2WD Ford Focus
« Reply #12 on: January 04, 2017, 10:10:05 AM »
I'll second the river road being a washboard. Even in my FJ it was bumpy. There was a couple of sandy areas where I could see a focus needing some help to get through but I was there in September so who knows what may change between now and then. Rattlesnake Mountain is really easy drive considering. Pack a source of shade. I brought the REI alcove. We mainly car camped and day hiked so the shade with the "windwalls" was prefect. We saw only a few animals. Mostly rabbits, a few horses, and a rattlesnake.

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