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Big Bend Ranch State Park trip, December 11 to 14, 2017

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Offline Jonathan Sadow

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Big Bend Ranch State Park trip, December 11 to 14, 2017
« on: January 27, 2018, 12:15:23 AM »
After my explorations of Big Bend National Park and the Davis Mountains Preserve, on December 11 the final part of my trip brought me to Big Bend Ranch State Park, which I had not visited in almost two years, an omission that was far too lengthy.  While settling in at the Sauceda Bunkhouse, I made my first wildlife observation nearby:


17C11001 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

With a little bit of time left in the day, I visited nearby Horsetrap Springs to make further wildlife observations.  I didn't see much in terms of wildlife, but I did get a chance to take a picture of the setting Sun:...


17C11003 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

... and La Mota Mountain in the setting sunlight:


17C11005 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

I went back to the bunkhouse for the rest of the evening.  There were two other men staying there, a Texas Parks & Wildlife ranger visiting on business, and a state well inspector on his way to Presidio.  They both left the next day, and I was the only one staying at the bunkhouse the rest of my time there.

Tuesday, December 12:
While checking out the brochures lying on a table in the bunkhouse dining hall, I came across one describing a hike through Los Portales and the Righthand Shutup emphasizing the geology there.  This certainly piqued my interest, as the shutups traverse The Solitario, essentially giving one a cross-section of the geology of the structure.  I decided that I would do this today.  This trip also had the fringe benefit of necessitating a drive down the Fresno Canyon road, which I had not done before.  Going along the main park road east of the Sauceda complex, north of the road a couple of miles away is this structure, which I think was used for keeping sheep and goats:


17C12001 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

It takes about an hour to get to the Righthand Shutup.  About half a mile before the shutup is an archaeological site called Manos Arriba ("Hands High"), a small overhang where people of the First Millennium A.D. used to shelter and left handprints traced with pigment in the overhanging ceiling:


17C12002 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr


17C12003 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

It was about noon by the time I got to the trailhead for the Righthand Shutup, so I ate my lunch there and afterward began following the brochure's hiking loop by walking down the canyon to the trailhead for the Los Portales route.  After almost a mile, one encounters the start of the route through the shutup.


17C12008 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

The park designates the path as a route rather than a trail, meaning that improvements to it are minimal at best.  For Los Portales, this is an understatement.  The route is basically the canyon itself, and it quickly becomes narrow and steep.  The route passes through Buda Limestone at this point, which often manifests itself as agglomerations of pebbles cemented together:


17C12009 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

Going into The Solitario, a structural dome, the rock layers become older as one proceeds.  The Buda is relatively thin and soon passes into the Del Rio Clay and then the Santa Elena Limestone, which contains fossils such as this pelecypod:


17C12010 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

As one ascends the shutup, there are good views of the caves that give the shutup its name ("The Openings"):


17C12012 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

Soon the shutup becomes even steeper, with walls that tower over a hundred feet in height:


17C12013 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

You can also see how the doming of The Solitario has affected the rock layers.  The Santa Elena Limestone was deposited in a quiet, shallow sea, mainly carbonate sediment with some terrestrial clastic sediment mixed in occasionally.  It was sort of like the area encompassing The Bahamas today, producing flat, horizontal beds.  The tilting that resulted from the uplift of The Solitario has produced beds tilting at a high angle today:


17C12014 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

Like The Bahamas today, at times islands made up of shells were produced, visible in the geologic record as fossilized shell hash:


17C12015 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

Soon, I was encountering stretches of canyon like this:


17C12017 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

I had been travelling up the shutup almost an hour and had made hardly half a mile of progress.  I realized that I could never make it through the shutup and back with the time I had left in the day, so at a particularly challenging pouroff I decided to turn back and spend the time I had left checking out the Righthand Shutup.  I climbed back down the shutup and walked back to my vehicle and the Righthand Shutup trailhead.  Along the way, one gets excellent views of the flatirons:


17C12018 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

The Righthand Shutup isn't as steep as Los Portales, at least initially.  While looking along the walls, you can see where there was an old erosional surface above tilted rock which was then covered by channel deposits composed of sediments of greatly varying sizes, probably left by flood waters flowing along the site of the shutup:


17C12020 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

As one goes farther up the shutup, eventually igneous rock is encountered as masses of darker, unlayered deposits:


17C12023 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

This is a rhyolite dike, emplaced during the uplift of The Solitario about 35.5 million years ago and much younger than the limestones the shutup has been cut through.  A close-up of the rock shows the quartz and feldspar crystals present within it:


17C12026 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

I was able to get over ¾ mile up this shutup before I turned back.  While not quite as steep as Los Portales, it still would take a while to get through.  On my drive back to Sauceda, I passed two more sheep pens;  this one is near the La Posta campsite:


17C12029 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

Because the brochure I had picked up was the only copy on the table, I later went by the office to see if any more were available so that I wouldn't deprive others of the chance to use it.  That led to a nice conversation with the park supervisor.  In summary, the copy I had was indeed the last one available, and it's going to be the last one ever.  The supervisor explained to me that the brochure had been the brainchild of a park visitor who was a geologist, and he convinced the park's interpreter (also a geologist) to hike the route and help write the brochure, and it was published by the supervisor's predecessor.  The present supervisor decided to check out the route himself on one winter day.  He drove to the trailhead at the crack of dawn and finished the 6½ mile loop at sunset.  The brochure refers to it as a "day-long trip" and also states that portions of the trip require "(non-technical) rock scrambling or canyoneering skills", and both the supervisor and I concur with that assessment.  In his opinion, the challenges of the trip are such that he'd rather not have it publicized so as to cut down on the number of potential search-and-rescue missions the park would have to conduct, and so no more copies of the brochure will be produced.  If anyone wants to try the loop going east up Los Portales Shutup, north along the Outer Loop Trail in The Solitario, then west going out through the Righthand Shutup, go ahead, but you have been forewarned.

Wednesday, December 13:
I had thought about camping out at the Vista de Bofecillos campiste, but the site's exposed nature and the experience I'd had with the wind the previous week made me instead to decide to spend the day hiking the area around Leyva Creek.  Back in February 2014, I'd hiked in the same general area but left from the Cinco Tinajas trailhead, so I'd traverse some different trail segments this time.  I thought about going all the way to the Leyva Dome and Yedra Canyon, but I didn't have enough time for that, so instead I went on the trails surrounding Leyva Creek.  The trailhead sits only a couple of miles south of La Mota Mountain, and that always makes for a picturesque photo.  You can see El Pulpito sticking up on the right of the image:


17C13002 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

The trail drops quickly west from the trailhead into an branch of Leyva Canyon.  Although there were only a few pools of water present, the presence of Cottonwoods along the canyon floor tells one that there is water present below the surface:


17C13004 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

After about 1½ miles, the main canyon is encountered, and just to the south is Los Baños de Leyva, a few large pools of water:


17C13006 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

Climbing around the pour-off responsible for the pools and looking back, one can see the western edge of La Mota Mountain:


17C13008 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

Going southeast along the canyon, one eventually encounters an old road that goes eastward over a ridge, where panoramic shots of the canyon can be taken:


17C13009 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

Looking southwest, one can see the Bofecillos Mountains in the distance, as well as Oso Mountain, the highest point in the park, just to the left of center in this image:


17C13014 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

At the top of the ridge, looking northeast, one can see the entire La Mota area.  You can also get a sense of the remoteness of the area by noting that the trailhead and my vehicle are very nearly in the exact center of this image:


17C13017 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

I made my way back to the trailhead and returned home the next day.  I found a brochure for another geological hike, this one being on more-easily traversed ground between the Crawford-Smith House and the Buena Suerte mine, although a longer loop (about 14½ miles).  I'll check that one out on a future trip.

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Offline mule ears

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Re: Big Bend Ranch State Park trip, December 11 to 14, 2017
« Reply #1 on: January 27, 2018, 06:16:52 AM »
Nice report Jonathan, I will need to get back to the State Park someday.
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Offline DesertRatShorty

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Re: Big Bend Ranch State Park trip, December 11 to 14, 2017
« Reply #2 on: January 27, 2018, 08:19:36 AM »
That's some pretty interesting terrain, thanks for sharing.

I'm famaliar with shut-ins, but what exactly is a shutup?
I roamed and rambled, and I foller'ed my footsteps
   To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
   And all around me a voice was a'sounding
   This land was made for you and me

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Offline House Made of Dawn

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Big Bend Ranch State Park trip, December 11 to 14, 2017
« Reply #3 on: January 27, 2018, 11:52:37 AM »
That's some pretty interesting terrain, thanks for sharing.

I'm famaliar with shut-ins, but what exactly is a shutup?

A small cave or alcove, I think?

Jonathan, this is such a great, great trip report. I haven't been to BBSRP in over 20 years, but your report makes me want to leap up and get out there right now.  My previous trips look like the wanderings of a lost and desperately thirsty man compared to this. I need to get back out there and look at the place with new, more mature eyes.
« Last Edit: January 28, 2018, 12:10:14 PM by House Made of Dawn »
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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Offline alan in shreveport

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Re: Big Bend Ranch State Park trip, December 11 to 14, 2017
« Reply #4 on: January 27, 2018, 12:01:12 PM »
Another great read. The geology seen in the Shutups is especially cool.  How about the road in ?  I found it pretty challenging, but then I'm a rookie with 4WD roads.
Which end do you plan to start your Buena Suerta to Crawford Smith hike at ? The hike between those two points looks interesting and do-able ( in Fresno Creek) , but getting to either "trailhead" is a hike in itself.
Awesome post.

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Offline Jonathan Sadow

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Re: Big Bend Ranch State Park trip, December 11 to 14, 2017
« Reply #5 on: January 27, 2018, 11:19:18 PM »
That's some pretty interesting terrain, thanks for sharing.

I'm famaliar with shut-ins, but what exactly is a shutup?

It's a narrow canyon or arroyo that can be fenced off and used to keep livestock.  The etymology of the word is that it's a place in which one can "shut up" animals.  It's basically the same thing as a shut-in, just another way of saying it.  In The Solitario, the shutups are the main drainages from the dome.  Whoever named them must have been standing at the northern edge of the structure and looking southward, as the one draining to the east is called the "Lefthand Shutup", the one to the west is called the "Righthand Shutup", and the one to the south is called the "Lower Shutup".

Another great read. The geology seen in the Shutups is especially cool.  How about the road in ?  I found it pretty challenging, but then I'm a rookie with 4WD roads.

The west end that connects with the main park road isn't too bad, and the southern part is essentially driving in or along Fresno Canyon is fairly smooth.  The middle part presents some challenges, mainly a number of gullies that cut across the road and which require a smooth, slow approach.  There's also one section of road for about a quarter of a mile that has a gradient of about 15% on which I found the 4WD low gearing of my vehicle to be very useful when climbing (that's about the same as the average gradient of the South Kaibab Trail in Grand Canyon National Park for comparison).

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Which end do you plan to start your Buena Suerta to Crawford Smith hike at ? The hike between those two points looks interesting and do-able ( in Fresno Creek) , but getting to either "trailhead" is a hike in itself.
Awesome post.

Thanks!  That's a good question.  You could drive to and camp at one of the Rincon sites and do the loop as a day hike, but it would be a really long day hike.  Starting from the Buena Suerte area means having to hike there first and then do the entire loop, so you'd probably have to backpack for two or three days.  I'm leaning toward driving to the Crawford-Smith House, doing half the loop and camping in the Buena Suerte area, then returning to the trailhead the next day.  It certainly isn't the easiest hike logistically.

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Offline kevint

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Re: Big Bend Ranch State Park trip, December 11 to 14, 2017
« Reply #6 on: January 28, 2018, 01:14:09 AM »

It's a narrow canyon or arroyo that can be fenced off and used to keep livestock.  The etymology of the word is that it's a place in which one can "shut up" animals.  It's basically the same thing as a shut-in, just another way of saying it.

I thought a shut-in was something different but apparently that’s because I am from Missouri.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shut-in_(river)




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Offline Ranger Tim

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Re: Big Bend Ranch State Park trip, December 11 to 14, 2017
« Reply #7 on: January 29, 2018, 09:31:21 AM »
That geology hike to Los Portales and the Righthand Shutup is absolutely BRUTAL and not entirely realistic for a single day hike. Honestly, many of us at the park opposed publishing that on the basis that it is not a safe thing for most folks to attempt. The other hike brochure was produced as a function of Bikefest and is meant to be ridden as a roughly 32 mile day trip. It would make for a fairly straightforward self-supported through hike though, especially considering the water resources in Fresno Canyon. I'd like to put together a geology brochure for an area that is more tenable as a day-hike, like the Contrabando Dome.

That hike in Leyva Creek is pure gold, though the gravel can be taxing when it gets deep.
"The greatest happiness possible to man ... is to become civilized, to know the pageant of the past, to love the beautiful,... and then, retaining animal instincts and appetites, to live in the wilderness"
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