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Big Bend Ranch State Park trip, January 1 to 5, 2016

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Offline Jonathan Sadow

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Big Bend Ranch State Park trip, January 1 to 5, 2016
« on: February 07, 2016, 04:12:37 PM »
After my encounter with the rest of the Benders and my hikes in Big Bend National Park, described in the Trip Reports forum, it was time to visit Big Bend Ranch State Park.

January 1, 2016
One of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department's promotions is First Day Hikes, wherein individual parks sponsor a guided hike on New Year's Day.  For Big Bend Ranch State Park, part of the Fresno Divide Trail was chosen for this.  The trail was established less than two years ago, so it doesn't appear on the current park maps.  It starts from the West Contrabando Trailhead, which has been expanded and now hosts a small three-pad campground, and goes along the West Contrabando Trail initially.  It branches north away from it after a short distance and follows the ridge on the east side of Fresno Canyon for a few miles, eventually joining up with the Dome Trail that loops around the Contrabando Dome.  The trail is near the mouth of Fresno Canyon, so at this point the canyon is broad and relatively shallow:


16101001 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

Eventually, as the trail ascends along the canyon, one starts to get views of the Mesa de Procton and the Bofecillos Mountains beyond:


16101003 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

We stopped about three miles in for lunch and headed back after that.  Our lunch spot has an excellent view of the Contrabando Dome and the Terlingua Uplift beyond it.  It may be interesting to note that the rocks of the Contrabando Dome are the same as those in Boquillas Canyon, and those of the Terlingua Uplift are the same as those in Santa Elena Canyon:


16101004 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

I hiked a lot of the way back with the TPWD guide for the hike, Amber Harrison, and the law enforcement ranger assigned to our group to keep bad things from happening, Nate, and his wife.  If you've ever driven along the River Road over the Fresno Creek bridge and seen a ranch house nearby, that's where they live.  Amber is also one of the rangers responsible for trail construction and maintenance, and she brought her shears with her to do some trimming along the way.

In this image, Amber is doing some trail maintenance, with Nate's wife helping to redirect the path trace and Nate looking ahead and probably wondering why I'm bothering to photograph this scene, with the Bofecillos Mountains in the background:

16101005 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

Before she was a park ranger, Amber was an adjunct instructor of archaeology at Nevada-Las Vegas.  She would pick up rocks, and where I with my mineralogy background would see a piece of chert, she would see a stone used to knap spear points by Native Americans.  She also pointed out that this kind of chert isn't local, which implies trade with other peoples.  When we got back to the trailhead, we went to the overlook, which gave me an opportunity to take a picture of South Lajitas Mesa looming to the east...

[
url=https://flic.kr/p/DJbmk7]16101006[/url] by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

… and a panorama of Fresno Canyon and the Bofecillos Mountains to the west:


16101007 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

Near the center, you can see pieces of equipment left over from a century ago during the halcyon of mercury mining and moved to this location.  You can also see the general overcast conditions present during the day;  although the weather forecast had a chance of rain, fortunately we managed to avoid it on the hike.  I drove back to Terlingua and after doing laundry tried the Starlight again for dinner but found it impossibly crowded, so I had to settle for the Big Bend Resort cafe.  Tomorrow, I would be moving on to the interior of the park.

January 2, 2016
Most of the day was spent going to Presidio, doing the requisite shopping, and driving to Sauceda.  It rained a good portion of the day, to the extent that I stopped at Ft. Leaton State Historical Site to ask if there were in issues with the main park road and was told that there were none.  The drive in to the park interior was mostly uneventful, but some patches of road were a bit muddy, and I found the four-wheel drive useful for them.  It continued to rain lightly during most of the trip, resulting in overcast conditions as I entered the park:


16102001 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

My only companions at the bunkhouse were three biologists collecting mammal samples, most of which appeared to be chiroptera (bats).  I did a little bit of birding near the Sauceda complex after arrival but didn't see much due to conditions, and so I resolved to wait until the next day when the weather report stated that conditions would be better and clearing would occur.

January 3, 2016
Conditions weren't better the next day.  It continued to be overcast with intermittent light rain.  In the morning I went to Horsetrap Springs, often a good place for wildlife sightings, but because of the weather there was little to be seen, but at least I managed a decent photo of a Cactus Wren:


16103001 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

In the afternoon, I had been hoping to hike along the Puerto Chilicote Trail to the overlook of Fresno Canyon and The Solitario to take pictures of the flatirons in the afternoon sun, but there was no sun due to the cloud cover.  Instead, I went to Ojito Adentro, like Horsetrap Springs a good place for wildlife sightings, and again I didn't see much due to the weather.  However, it did give me chance to explore around the area some.  According to the park's “Exploration Map”, the trail to the spring goes all the way back to the spring source, and I finally took the time to make it that far.  The source is backed up against a resistant lava-flow deposit (which is probably why there's a spring there), and you can see that during periods of heavy run-off, a nice little waterfall should be present:


16103003 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

According to the map, there's an old road trace that runs around the side of nearby Agua Adentro Mountain and back behind the springs, so that will have to be explored one day.  The weather report still said conditions would be better the next day, so I waited for then before I tackled roads in poorer condition.

Monday, January 4, 2016
The sky was still overcast, but the rain had stopped, so I decided that I could take on a challenge I had attempted unsuccessfully on my previous visit, a trip to see Madrid Falls.  This would require driving the Madrid Falls Road and an ascent up the steep Cuesta de los Mexicanos, which I had failed to surmount previously.  It took me two tries, but I managed to do it this time after some trail maintenance to remove loose cobbles from the road.  In one of the previous issues of the park newspaper, former park superintendent Barrett Durst had written an article about a loop hike around Chorro Vista on the western rim of Fresno Canyon, and I determined to do this hike.  Even though the distance from Sauceda to Chorro Vista is only about ten miles, the article stated it would take about 1˝ hours to make the drive due to road conditions, and it was right.  By the time I got to the Mexicano Falls trailhead, it was almost 1 P.M., so I ate lunch there and hiked afterward.  The trail follows an old road and descends slightly as it approaches the canyon, presenting views of the southern part of The Solitario and Fresno Canyon:


16104003 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

If you look carefully, you can see the Fresno Canyon road in the right-center of the image.  Here's a panorama showing the canyon, The Solitario, and much beyond, even the Chisos Mountains, about 35 miles away:


16104004 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

There's a small loop trail that goes further out on the canyon rim, but I skipped it due to time constraints.  If you do go on this loop, there's a spur trail that descends into the canyon bottom branching off from the loop.  The junction with the loop trail is marked by a sign, but the old road ends here and the trails are somewhat indistinct, requiring care in observation to follow them and slowing down one's pace.  Working south along the rim, I spotted a pair of inhabitants of this land, Mule Deer:


16104005 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

Eventually, I encountered the spur trail to the Madrid Overlook, although it took me a couple of minutes to figure this out as there was no signage there.  At the end of the spur, the overlook allows one to see Madrid House in the canyon, although it's not especially close.  You can see it in the center of this image looking into Chorro Canyon:


16104008 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

You can see why the house was built where it was by noticing the abundance of greener vegetation surrounding it due to the presence of a spring:


16104009 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

Near the overlook is a spur trail going down into the canyon, which I know because I mistakenly turned on it due to a lack of signage and began descending.  At this place along the trail, it's marked mainly by ribbons, and it can be confusing to determine which ribbons are for the loop trail and which are for the spur trail.  Fortunately I quickly realized my error and backtracked with little loss of time.  Now going northwest on the loop trail, I could hear a distant roar, and I realized it was coming from Madrid Falls:


16104011 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

By looking into the canyon, one can make out where the falls are by noting where the green vegetation is:


16104010 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

Now going along the rim of Chorro Canyon, the trail eventually reaches a large cairn which marks the junction with the spur trail to the Madrid Falls Overlook.  There's also a sign at the junction, except when I was there it had fallen over.  At the overlook, one can peer down a couple of hundred feet and see the falls.  If you look carefully at this image, you can even see a pool of water to the left of the falls:


16104013 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

The falls are here thanks to perennial springs at the head of the canyon, which can be seen in this image as areas of thicker vegetation:


16104014 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

After returning to the loop trail, it's only a short but steep hike up to Chorro Vista campsite, then a walk along the Madrid Falls Road back to the Mexicano Falls trailhead, providing great views of Rincon Mountain and Fresno Peak as one approaches the trailhead:


16104017 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

Another 1˝ hour drive, and I was back at Sauceda (going down Cuesta de los Mexicanos was much easier than going up!).  My time at the park was at an end, and the next day I drove home, with the Sun finally coming out as I left....  However, as always there's plenty more to explore in the park, and some day I'll be back to do so.

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Offline Andreas

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Re: Big Bend Ranch State Park trip, January 1 to 5, 2016
« Reply #1 on: February 07, 2016, 07:05:42 PM »
Jonathan, as with all your TRs - elaborate, excellent write-up, VERY informative & most interesting. Also, great photos & outstanding panos!
« Last Edit: February 08, 2016, 06:48:19 AM by Andreas »
"Any time you're throwin dirt you're losin ground."

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Offline Terlingua50337

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Re: Big Bend Ranch State Park trip, January 1 to 5, 2016
« Reply #2 on: February 07, 2016, 07:33:22 PM »
Really nice trip report. Wish there'd been closer pictures of Madrid Falls. I want to see them someday. When you were at Ojitos Adentro you should have slipped on over to Cinco Tinajas. It wasn't very far away and they are Awesome!

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Offline Jalco

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Re: Big Bend Ranch State Park trip, January 1 to 5, 2016
« Reply #3 on: February 07, 2016, 08:21:04 PM »
Jonathan,
Great trip report and pics.  Chorro Vista and Madrid Falls is on my list.  In your last picture, I see what's to be a cave to the right of your car. Do you know what that might be?

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Offline mr.bean5150

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Re: Big Bend Ranch State Park trip, January 1 to 5, 2016
« Reply #4 on: February 08, 2016, 08:32:16 AM »
Nice report, good details...
"Do or Do Not, There Is No Try"
                                  "Yoda"

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Offline Ranger Harrison

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Re: Big Bend Ranch State Park trip, January 1 to 5, 2016
« Reply #5 on: February 08, 2016, 08:52:15 AM »
Thanks for the great trip report and thanks again for joining me on our First Day Hike. Your description and photos are much appreciated, especially for the Chorro Vista area. That is one of the more difficult locations to get to to monitor trail and resource conditions so help from visitors like you is extremely valuable.

Hope to see you again soon. Drop by the Barton Warnock Center and say Hello next time you're in the neighborhood. – Amber


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Offline Jonathan Sadow

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Re: Big Bend Ranch State Park trip, January 1 to 5, 2016
« Reply #6 on: February 12, 2016, 02:25:56 PM »
Jonathan,
Great trip report and pics.  Chorro Vista and Madrid Falls is on my list.  In your last picture, I see what's to be a cave to the right of your car. Do you know what that might be?

I vaguely seem to remember that it has a name, but I don't recall what it is.  I do know that farther north along the rim of The Solitario (left in the photo) there are old mining adits;  I don't know whether the cave in the photo is one or not.  The cave is in Santa Elena Limestone, a formation which is known for cave production, so it might well be natural.

Really nice trip report. Wish there'd been closer pictures of Madrid Falls. I want to see them someday. When you were at Ojitos Adentro you should have slipped on over to Cinco Tinajas. It wasn't very far away and they are Awesome!

There's not that much to see of Madrid Falls, even in closer shots.  Because it's one of the few water sources in the area, the immediate vicinity of the falls is choked with vegetation, and it's hard to see anything of the falls themselves (you can certainly hear them, though).  To see a whole lot more, you'd have to go up the canyon near the falls themselves, and the canyon is fairly steep with pouroffs, so it would be quite a job.  I've been through the Cinco Tinajas area before and decided to save it for another trip.

Thanks for the great trip report and thanks again for joining me on our First Day Hike. Your description and photos are much appreciated, especially for the Chorro Vista area. That is one of the more difficult locations to get to to monitor trail and resource conditions so help from visitors like you is extremely valuable.

Hope to see you again soon. Drop by the Barton Warnock Center and say Hello next time you're in the neighborhood. – Amber

Thanks for leading the hike - it was to an area of the park I really hadn't explored, and one that I'll have to return to in the future.  The Chorro Vista area isn't easy to get to, mainly because of the steep part of the Madrid Falls road where it climbs onto the Cuesta de los Mexicanos.  An ordinary vehicle simply can't make the ascent - I doubt even SUVs with all- or four-wheel drive could make it without having a fairly powerful engine and low gearing that can deliver enough torque to the wheels to get over the ridges and loose rock on the road.  So it's no surprise that the area doesn't get much visitation.

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Offline Geezer

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Re: Big Bend Ranch State Park trip, January 1 to 5, 2016
« Reply #7 on: February 13, 2016, 09:02:06 PM »
A masterpiece, both as to hike and presentation!

Geezer

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Offline alan in shreveport

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Re: Big Bend Ranch State Park trip, January 1 to 5, 2016
« Reply #8 on: February 14, 2016, 07:36:00 AM »
Very nice Jonathan, I really enjoy your reports, I'll bet theres plenty of wildlife and birds at ( or near) Madrid Falls. Sounds like a workout to get there though.

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Offline dprather

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Re: Big Bend Ranch State Park trip, January 1 to 5, 2016
« Reply #9 on: February 14, 2016, 01:14:54 PM »
Cool report - how did you hook up with a guide?
Leave "quit" at the car.  Embrace the trail as your friend.  Expect to enjoy yourself, and to be amazed.

Re: Big Bend Ranch State Park trip, January 1 to 5, 2016
« Reply #10 on: February 15, 2016, 12:09:05 PM »
Thanks for the great trip report!
Man, I need to get back there. Too bad it was overcast during your stay; I've really enjoyed the vistas out there.

 


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