Friends of Big Bend National Park
Big Bend Conservancy

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.

+-Calendar for sale

 2019 BigBendChat Calendar on sale now!


River Road on two wheels

  • 21 Replies
  • 13536 Views
*

Offline ed29

  • Kangaroo Rat
  • *
  • 7
River Road on two wheels
« on: January 15, 2008, 09:32:19 AM »
On one of the days that blended together in the desert I took off on a solo journey on River Road in Big Bend National Park. Riding with the group is great fun, but sometimes I like to get out with my trusty XR and just strike out on my own. River Road was a blast when run from east to west. The eastern section of the road was mostly flat and easy. The challenges get greater the farther west you ride.

  The Road stretches for 51 miles, I picked it up where it leaves pavement roughly 5 miles east of Rio Grand Village, and a couple of miles east of this:





 As you leave pavement look closely at the bluff to your right, there are rock house ruins that blend in with the desert that is slowly swallowing them up.
The road goes on for a few miles, mostly flat. Bopping along I resisted the urge to twist the right grip and blast through the flats.  The payoff was found in being able to do a bobble head impression as I rolled along at thirty or less and soak up the scenes as they went by the goggles like a movie, only better because I was there.





About three and a half miles into the trip you can see a small village way off to your left, on the other side of the river. It is San Vicente, Mexico. There are ruins on the north side of what used to be San Vicente Texas, both are in the shadow of, and get their names from Sierra San Vicente:


The first wash of the trip comes up and gives a tiny hint of things to come. The approach and the exit are firm and packed from travel by four wheeled vehicles. Somehow all of the loose stuff hangs out on the hillside itself, ready to give way and hamper traction as you climb. This was one of the easy ones, and the picture seems to hide the steepness very well.



There is a road going off to the left, about five miles in. My guidebook warns that this road is closed to both foot and vehicular traffic due to law enforcement and safety issues. It looked pretty well travelled for a closed road, I rolled on by, glad that there was no cross traffic.

  About nine miles in there is another road to the left. This one is open for foot traffic, yet there were lots of 4X4 tracks headed in. I parked the bike and walked on in, hoping to see Rooney's ruins. This is what I found... at first....

 


Something about the ruins just did not look right. One thing I had noticed about the buildings from 100 or more years ago in the area was how they almost always used the side of a steep hill as one of the walls. Another was that the building materials were always very close at hand. This rock ruin looked out of place. The walls were thin, loosely stacked, and looked like river rocks hauled from a good distance. After snapping a couple of pictures I decided to walk farther south to see what I could see. I found the real Rooney ruins about a quarter of a mile past the rock house.



This looked right, the west wall was the steep hillside, the north wall had the ruins of the fire place. The walls were thick, tightly stacked, and made from rocks that were easily found within mere yards of the place. This also matched up with the picture in the guidebook. I have no idea what the deal is with the other rock ruin, to my eye it looks out of place. Here is the view from the front door looking out at Rooney's ruins, how is this for a front yard?



Shortly after leaving Rooney's you meet up with Glenn Springs road. This marks the transition from East River Road to West River Road. About forty miles of fun and adventure lay ahead, starting with Glenn Draw.


 The road gets looser, the washes get steeper, and the dust and dirt stick to everything (as you can tell by the debris on my lens in that shot. For the next nine miles I was having fun with the washes, loose gravel, dried mud flats and lots of Jeep and 4X4 traffic going my same direction. It was like pretending I was Mouse McCoy as I overtook the slower four wheeled vehicles. Most of them made room, some had to get blasted by. It was so much fun that I did not stop again for about nine miles, just as I got to this:



The abandoned mine is something to see.



I spent a good bit of an hour walking amongst the ruins.





I was intrigued by the design of the refining ovens, they consisted of a building with three or four small fire boxes adjacent. The chimney sizes seemed very large above the fireboxes.







As happens on fun rides like this time and daylight were running away from me. I realized that I had been on the road for over two hours, and only covered about 19 miles. I had over 32 to go, and would be lucky to have three hours of light left. I had been warned about the western end of this road, rumor has it that it would not be fun solo in the dark, Time to boogey.



Tracks from four wheeled vehicles could still be seen, but they were not as sharp or recent as the eastern tracks. Most of the four wheeled travelers turned off on Glenn Springs or Black Gap roads. Flat stretches that were packed like the one above could go for a couple of miles between ridges and washes and I was able to make time on them. Coming to the ridges the road does some nice switchbacks as it climbs, here is one looking back southwest as the switchback reached the crest of the ridge.



  I did not stop at the loose stuff for pictures. In between the two shots above I found some loose gravel that went for about two miles. It was second gear, back wheel spinning and clawing, constant swapping side to side, and this was still only a preview of goodies to come.

  At about mile 35 I headed down a side road that actually had a marker. It led to the Johnson Ranch ruins. At one time Johnson Ranch had the largest adobe structure in the area. The foundation of the house and a bit of the exterior walls are all that remain. There is a bit of an old car abandoned there too, it is in a few pieces.





As I moved in to get a shot of the new residents of the car, the sound of the bees swarming went up in pitch and volume, and a thought occured to me... I wondered if the so called killer bees were in the area, and if they swarmed me, what my chances were of getting away.



I snapped my shot and moved away in a quiet, non threatening way. Below the ruins are a couple of primitive camp sites in the flood plain. On one trip there I would like to pack in camping gear on the bike and stay overnight.  I was almost out of film, and time at this point so I decided to get a shot of my trusty dusty steed before leaving Johnson Ranch.



The next 15 miles were the best. Steep ridges, rocky washes with large round loose rock which would pitch the bike sideways again and again. The phenomenon where the loose pea gravel stays on the steep slopes still boggles me. I would think all that loose stuff would roll to the bottom, but it stays on the steep slopes, all the way up and all the way down. The only part of my bike I would change for sure before repeating this trip would be the back tire.  For about 150 yards the gravel was smaller than pea gravel, and 12 to 14 inches deep. I had to do a Fred Flintstone imitation to get through. Both feet on the ground paddling while the tire spun in first gear, tossing a rooster tail of gravel, but barely driving forward.

  As the shadows got long I rolled down the last hill towards pavement just north of Castelon.



  I saw no 4X4s on the last 20 miles of the road. Came across a couple of KTM 950s going east. They were wishing for smaller bikes after coming through the best (worst) of the obstacles. I also met two intrepid bicyclists a few miles from the west end of the road. They had been going for hours to get that far in. I warned them about the rocky wash I had just climbed out of. I hope they had enough daylight left to get back out.

Here is what is left of my back tire:



Next time ( and the many times after that) I will have a fresher tire for the adventure. I got a sense of accomplishment from rolling those 51 miles of dirt, rocks, gravel, and ruts, having to rely on my skills, judgement, and equipment to get through on my own.


*

Offline Voni

  • Diamondback
  • *
  • 473
    • Voni and Paul
Re: River Road on two wheels
« Reply #1 on: January 15, 2008, 10:41:41 AM »
Thanks for sharing your fun!  I don't have the sand riding skills to do that road so I REALLY appreciated you taking me along.

Voni
  sMiling
Live deeply, laugh fully, love widely
Terlingua, TX

      http://www.bigbend.net/users/glaves/
   photo site:  http://s14.photobucket.com/albums/a326/VoniGlaves/

*

Offline bdann

  • Creosote
  • Mountain Lion
  • *
  • 1863
Re: River Road on two wheels
« Reply #2 on: January 15, 2008, 10:44:17 AM »
Cool report, that looked like some serious fun. 
WATER, It does a body good.

*

Offline xseption

  • Do it in Big Bend!
  • Black Bear
  • *
  • 780
  • BiBe is the BEST!
Re: River Road on two wheels
« Reply #3 on: January 15, 2008, 10:47:47 AM »
Great photos and it seems like an excellent trip! Which guidebook were you using?

~ edd
Be the kind of person that you will want to meet!

*

Offline ed29

  • Kangaroo Rat
  • *
  • 7
Re: River Road on two wheels
« Reply #4 on: January 15, 2008, 12:44:58 PM »
I used "Road Guide to backcountry dirt roads of Big Bend National Park" It was published and copyrighted 1980, but the NPS still distributes it to folks requesting dirt road information.

*

Offline xseption

  • Do it in Big Bend!
  • Black Bear
  • *
  • 780
  • BiBe is the BEST!
Re: River Road on two wheels
« Reply #5 on: January 15, 2008, 01:50:48 PM »
I used "Road Guide to backcountry dirt roads of Big Bend National Park" It was published and copyrighted 1980, but the NPS still distributes it to folks requesting dirt road information.

Great! It looks like I am going to have to review that publication. I think I picked it up in 1996 for $1.00 at PJ.

~ edd
Be the kind of person that you will want to meet!

*

Offline aggiehiker

  • Black Bear
  • *
  • 310
Re: River Road on two wheels
« Reply #6 on: February 04, 2008, 03:19:31 PM »
I've been wanting to do the River Road for a decade but don't have a 4x4. This was a good way to experience some of it but dagnabit, now I'm wanting to go even more so!

*

Offline presidio

  • Soaptree Yucca
  • Mountain Lion
  • *
  • 3510
Re: River Road on two wheels
« Reply #7 on: February 04, 2008, 03:27:14 PM »
I've been wanting to do the River Road for a decade but don't have a 4x4. This was a good way to experience some of it but dagnabit, now I'm wanting to go even more so!

Unless it has recently rained, you really don't need 4WD to do the River Road. Driving skill is much more important.
_____________
<  presidio  >
_____________
Wendell (Garret Dillahunt): It's a mess, ain't it, sheriff?
Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones): If it ain't, it'll do till the mess gets here.
--No Country for Old Men (2007)

*

Offline ed29

  • Kangaroo Rat
  • *
  • 7
Re: River Road on two wheels
« Reply #8 on: February 25, 2008, 01:31:51 PM »
I just got back from an 'all too short' trip back down there. I hear that graders are working over River Road from east to west. A search here looking for more information came up empty. Does anyone know if the graders are going to go all the way to the end, and fix up the creek crossings, loose large rock areas and make the road more easily passable? I think doing so would take away from the road's character and appeal for me and others, while making it more inviting to a mass of other folks.

  I hope that did not come across as critical. it is just an observation. Whether making it smooth from end to end is better or worse for the road, and the park overall really depends on the person expressing the position. I am curious since I am helping a fellow rider improve her abilities by leading on selected obstables and coaching. River Road as it was in December would have been beyond her current skill and confidence levels, graded end to end, and then letting the road settle some would bring it easily in her range.

Ed

p.s.... she did Old Ore Road on her 250 Sherpa Friday and made it with minimal incidents. Pictures and a report will follow when I can put them together.

*

Offline lhdvries

  • LHDVRies
  • Jack Rabbit
  • *
  • 27
Re: River Road on two wheels
« Reply #9 on: March 03, 2008, 10:38:54 PM »
Thks for your great adventure. That would be a blast!!
Love to explore the history and scenery of the Big Bend area all the way from Candaleria to Langtry. IMO some of God's most beautiful work!!!

*

Offline presidio

  • Soaptree Yucca
  • Mountain Lion
  • *
  • 3510
Re: River Road on two wheels
« Reply #10 on: March 03, 2008, 10:58:36 PM »
Does anyone know if the graders are going to go all the way to the end, and fix up the creek crossings, loose large rock areas and make the road more easily passable? I think doing so would take away from the road's character and appeal for me and others, while making it more inviting to a mass of other folks.

They maintain it periodically but, unless they engineer and pave it, it soon will be back to its more desirable character.
_____________
<  presidio  >
_____________
Wendell (Garret Dillahunt): It's a mess, ain't it, sheriff?
Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones): If it ain't, it'll do till the mess gets here.
--No Country for Old Men (2007)

*

Offline presidio

  • Soaptree Yucca
  • Mountain Lion
  • *
  • 3510
Re: River Road on two wheels
« Reply #11 on: March 04, 2008, 08:55:32 PM »
I do not know this, but I would suspect after they get the anti-immigrant fence up they will want to keep the road in tip top shape.

I doubt you will ever see a fence down there.
_____________
<  presidio  >
_____________
Wendell (Garret Dillahunt): It's a mess, ain't it, sheriff?
Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones): If it ain't, it'll do till the mess gets here.
--No Country for Old Men (2007)

*

Offline russco

  • Black Bear
  • *
  • 217
  • Canyon Addict
Re: River Road on two wheels
« Reply #12 on: March 04, 2008, 11:44:21 PM »
Hopefully they're fixing up the road to patrol instead of putting up a fence! :crossedfingers:
Carved upon my stone: my body lie but still I ROAM

*

Offline BorderDog

  • Jack Rabbit
  • *
  • 36
Re: River Road on two wheels
« Reply #13 on: March 05, 2008, 08:49:15 AM »
Hopefully they're fixing up the road to patrol instead of putting up a fence! :crossedfingers:

Two different entities.  The folks down fixing the River Road now are Texas National Guard which is part of Operation Jumpstart.  The folks putting up the barriers are from the Army Corps of Engineers. Two different funding sources and priorities.

The current River Road project is to fix the road for patrolling the border, with the added benefit of making it easier for the visiting public to travel on the road.  The NPS normally keeps River Road maintained, however, DHS has a gawd awful amount of monies right now. So viola' they are working on the road.
...in order to be successful, as a {Tank} crew, the bottom line is, if you can't hit the target, you're not a tank; you're a 60 ton noise maker- Eric Daniel

*

Offline Sophora Bean

  • Jack Rabbit
  • *
  • 43
Re: River Road on two wheels
« Reply #14 on: March 09, 2008, 10:14:47 AM »
I just got back from an 'all too short' trip back down there. I hear that graders are working over River Road from east to west. A search here looking for more information came up empty. Does anyone know if the graders are going to go all the way to the end, and fix up the creek crossings, loose large rock areas and make the road more easily passable? I think doing so would take away from the road's character and appeal for me and others, while making it more inviting to a mass of other folks.

  I hope that did not come across as critical. it is just an observation.
The park did a press release on it a few weeks ago but I couldn't find a link on the park website. Just an observation of my own, I think your assessment of "fixing up" the road taking away from the road's character is correct. River Road has always been a rough sonuvagun and that is why lots of jeepsters like it, along with Black Gap and Old Ore roads. It's good to have a road that forces you to drive 20 mph so you have time to look off at the scenery. And it gives you time to react when you meet someone else coming over a steep hill or around a blind corner.

I just went down RR and failed to take pictures - need to go back. There are stretches that the National Guard has "improved" and you can easily cruise at 45. That makes the road less safe. It's also wider in places where it used to be a simple little two-track. Not sure I like the changes.

Just my personal opinion...

 


©COPYRIGHT NOTICE

All photographs and content posted by members are to be considered copyrighted by their respective owners and may not be used for any purposes, commercial or otherwise, without permission.

+-Calendar For Sale

 2019 BigBendChat Calendar on sale now!

Powered by EzPortal

Facebook Comments