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Main Road Conditions and Likelihood of Tire Damage / Observations of First Timer

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Offline Texas Aggie

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Long time lurker, first time poster.  I've learned a lot reading this forum and hope to learn more.  I've been to the national park a couple of time and have planned a short trip into BBRSP for the first weekend in March.  I now have 2 nights booked at Papalote Colorado.  I'll be driving an extended wheelbase Chevy 2500 van, so I wanted to stick close to the main road.  It looks like we can check in at Fort Leaton, so we can avoid driving all the way into Sauceda.  The tentative plan is leave Austin very early Friday and get to the camp by late afternoon, build a fire in the pit (we'll bring our own wood), cook out and see the stars (fingers crossed for clear skies). 

Saturday plan was to drive back out to 170 and head south for a scenic drive, hike Closed Canyon and Hoodoos and then return to camp.  We plan on bringing our dog, so our hiking options are limited - although I'm not sure how much my wife would enjoy hiking in the park interior anyway.  She  enjoys hiking in general, but may not appreciate the desert landscape as much as I do.  She's mainly excited about seeing the stars.

When I originally planned the trip, I felt the risk of tire damage was pretty low since Papalote Colorado is close to the main road and I plan on driving slow.  After reading that flat tires aren't uncommon on the main road even with careful driving, I'm now wondering if 2 trips in and out (88 miles total by my calculations) is worth it, or if I should switch campgrounds to one closer to the main road.  Papalote Rancho Viejo appears to be quite a bit closer to the main road, but doesn't appear to have views as nice as Papalote Colorado.  I guess another option would be to avoid the park interior altogether and try the Arenosa or Grassy Banks areas off of 170, but I'm not sure how much privacy that offers (if anyone has opinions on that, I'd love to hear them).   The van has sleeping quarters, so it's not like we'll have to pack up a tent if we wanted to camp in different sites each night. 

TLDR:  Are the views at Papalote Colorado worth driving in for on consecutive days, or should I stick closer to the pavement?
« Last Edit: March 04, 2019, 09:52:20 PM by Texas Aggie »

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Offline Ranger Tim

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Re: Main Road Conditions and Likelihood of Tire Damage?
« Reply #1 on: February 11, 2019, 10:51:32 AM »
If you drive the speed limit or lower you should be fine. Think of the drive as part of the adventure and take your time. That said, Rancho Viejo is a great site. While there aren't big views from the site itself, a short hike up the nearby Rancho Viejo Trail provides some great panoramic views of the Bofecillos, Cienega, and Chinati Mountains, as well as Sierra Rica to the south in Mexico. The sites in the interior certainly provide more privacy than those along the river, but I think that the sky is actually darker along the river corridor due to the distance from the trespass light of Ojinaga and Presidio.
"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"
- J. Frank Dobie

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Offline TexasLC

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Re: Main Road Conditions and Likelihood of Tire Damage?
« Reply #2 on: February 11, 2019, 10:53:32 AM »
I think the staff does a good job keeping the main road well maintained.  To me it was not different than a county maintained gravel road that can be found all of the state.  You 2500 van is probably fairly heavy and I would imagine they come with a somewhat stout tire.  I would not worry too much about  flat tires but be sure to have a good spare just in case.  I was in the park in November.  We camped in the interior of the park and spent 4 days there.  I counted roughly 12 vehicles over 4 days on the main park road.  Once we left the main park road we never saw another person or vehicle.  I have camped at Grassy Banks.  They do have pit toilets I believe.  The year I was there I believe there were 3-4 campsites being used total and this was during the busy season.  The campsites are right off the highway and occasionally cars do drive by and they can be heard.  It is not like the privacy of the park interior but it is not like your standard state park campground either.

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Offline Texas Aggie

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Re: Main Road Conditions and Likelihood of Tire Damage?
« Reply #3 on: February 11, 2019, 11:18:08 AM »
Thanks very much for the replies Ranger Tim and TexasLC.  I did change the online reservation to Rancho Viejo.  Looks like it's about 13 miles of unpaved road, so it would reduce the total from 88 to 52 miles during our stay.  Part of my concern with reducing wear and tear is that I'm actually borrowing my dad's van.  It's been about 30 years since I've damaged a borrowed vehicle from my parents, and I'd like to keep the streak intact.

FYI, I did check into changing the reservation to Grassy Banks or Madera along 170 (Arenosa is booked), but it wasn't possible using the new online system.  Apparently it considers the sites along 170 to be a different "park" since they're booked out of the Barton Warnock center.   The nice chat expert on the online system gave me the TPWD number if I wanted to call them and see if it's possible, but I'm not sure I want to stay that close to the paved road and other campers.  I hadn't considered the sky being darker along the river corridor, but that's another factor weighing in favor of those sites.

Thanks again and looking forward to the trip!

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Offline Mesquito

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Re: Main Road Conditions and Likelihood of Tire Damage?
« Reply #4 on: February 11, 2019, 05:12:47 PM »
You’ll want to check out the rock corral visible from Rancho Viejo.  Totes cool.

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Offline Texas Aggie

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Re: Main Road Conditions and Likelihood of Tire Damage?
« Reply #5 on: February 11, 2019, 06:54:32 PM »
You’ll want to check out the rock corral visible from Rancho Viejo.  Totes cool.

Will definitely check it out.  Looks like it's a short stroll due south of the campsite.

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Offline Owl

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Re: Main Road Conditions and Likelihood of Tire Damage?
« Reply #6 on: February 12, 2019, 07:16:39 AM »
I spent two nights in BBRSP after last Christmas (was evicted from RGV in BBNP on 12-26 because of the Gov't shutdown), one at Grassy Banks and one at Vista de Bofecillos.  Grassy Banks has one composting toilet (which was nice for my aging body) and, although it's close to Hwy 170, the amount of nighttime traffic on the road was negligible.  There were only a few other campers there.

After leaving Grassy Banks, I checked out Ft. Leaton and got a permit there for camping at Vista de Bofecillos which I drove to via Casa Piedra Rd. and the main park road, both of which were in good condition but quite "washboardy".  The short road from the main road to the campsite had more rocks but wasn't too bad, although I don't think I'd have taken a car on it (I have a 4x4 reg. cab Silverado with a camper shell).  A full-size van would have plenty of ground clearance.  Vista de Bofecillos was a great site except that one could see Presidio in the distance at night.

On the way out the next day, I drove out down Bofecillos Rd. which wasn't nearly as "washboardy" as Casa Piedra Rd. 

I always carry a tire plug kit, a can of Fix-a-Flat, and a small 12V air compressor but have never had to use any of it with careful and slow driving.  I think you'll be fine in your van.

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Offline Texas Aggie

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Re: Main Road Conditions and Likelihood of Tire Damage?
« Reply #7 on: February 12, 2019, 07:52:26 AM »
Thanks for the info Owl.  I guess part of the trade-off for less unpaved road driving is the fact that Presidio lights will have more of an impact on the night sky.  I'm hoping the city isn't visible from Rancho Viejo, but it's not much farther in than Vista de Bofecillos.   If we find Grassy Banks is fairly empty when we check in, we may look at trying to stay there for a night. 

Does anyone happen to know if you can reserve a spot in Grassy Banks from Fort Leaton, or do you have to drive down to Barton Warnock?

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Offline Ranger Tim

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Re: Main Road Conditions and Likelihood of Tire Damage?
« Reply #8 on: February 12, 2019, 09:22:35 AM »
" I'm hoping the city isn't visible from Rancho Viejo, but it's not much farther in than Vista de Bofecillos.   If we find Grassy Banks is fairly empty when we check in, we may look at trying to stay there for a night. "

You will not be able to see any city lights from Rancho Viejo but the trespass light pollution will be prominent in the Western sky. If you do decide to change sites when you are here, we should be able to accommodate that change from one of our visitor centers,... based on availability of course.
"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"
- J. Frank Dobie

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Offline Texas Aggie

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Re: Main Road Conditions and Likelihood of Tire Damage?
« Reply #9 on: February 12, 2019, 10:22:19 AM »
Thanks again Ranger Tim.  I think we probably will try to do one night at Rancho Viejo and one night at one of the campgrounds along 170 (assuming one is available).  Since the van is self-contained, it's not a big deal to move after a night.  That'll give us a chance to see different scenery, levels of solitude and dark skies.

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Offline Texas Aggie

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We made it back last night so I thought I'd share my first-timer observations in hope other newbies might find them useful.  Apologies in advance for the long-winded post.  Overall, the trip went great.  We stayed Friday night at Rancho Viejo and Saturday night at Lower Madera.  I had booked Rancho Viejo online for Friday and Saturday and asked to switch the Saturday reservation to Lower Madera when I checked in at Ft. Leaton.  I think it was a combination of the newness of the online system and some on-the-job training of a new employee, but the rangers originally told me it wasn't possible to switch from an interior site to a river campground site.  Ultimately, they cancelled the Saturday reservation and made me come back Saturday morning to get the Lower Madera permit.  Not an ideal solution, since it required backtracking a bit and checking in a second time, but it appeared to be my only option.  I also haven't seen the refund for the canceled Rancho Viejo reservation show up on my credit card, but we'll see.  Bottom line, if you make reservations online, it may be difficult to switch sites at check in.

As far as the actual trip - yes, even the main roads in the park interior are fairly rough/washboardy and require slow driving if you don't want to risk vehicle damage.  It took us a little over an hour going in on Casa Piedra and about an hour coming out on Bofecillos.  I agree with Owl that Bofecillos is less washboardy, but it's still not something I'd want to take too fast.  Friday, we mainly hung around the campsite, walked down to the trailhead, checked out the stone corral, built a fire, cooked steaks, saw a great sunset and star gazed.  The lights of Presidio are actually barely visible in a valley from the campsite, but not enough to detract significantly from the night sky.

Since the individual river campground sites are first come, first served, we left Ft. Leaton Saturday morning and headed straight to Lower Madera to put out some camp chairs and claim our spot before backtracking to hike Closed Canyon.  It ended up not being necessary, since there was only 1 other camper in the campground.  The views from Lower Madera were actually better than Rancho Viejo in my opinion.  The road noise from 170 wasn't bothersome, but we did hear a few motorcycles before it got dark.  Probably the biggest negative with Lower Madera was the extremely fine sand/dirt that manages to collect on every surface and orifice imaginable.  The dust wouldn't be as much of an issue if we hadn't brought our (long-haired) 65 pound dog that collects dust and deposits it everywhere. 

We took our dog with us, knowing it would limit our hiking options.   We hiked Closed Canyon Saturday, which was shaded and cool - much appreciated since the temps were approaching 90.  The river rocks can be tough on dog paws, so if you've got a dog with sensitive paws it may not be a good option.  We were planning on hiking Hoodoos as well (the only other trail that allows dogs), but the full sun and high temps resulted in a photo op from the parking lot instead.  From there we went to Terlingua and had excellent brisket sandwiches at DB's Rustic Iron BBQ.  Stopped in for a quick visit to Lajitas and headed back to camp Saturday night.  Sunday, we packed up, grabbed some breakfast tacos in Lajitas, and took the scenic route through the national park on our way back home.  It does cost $30 to enter the park even if you're just driving through, but I figure it's going to a good cause.   We stopped in the Panther Junction visitor center and then headed home.
« Last Edit: March 06, 2019, 08:28:37 AM by Texas Aggie »

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Offline BlindWilly

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Glad you had a great trip!
I hear DB's has some great BBQ...
"No matter where you go, there you are"
-Buckaroo Bonzai

www.txpedition.com

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Offline wotantx

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Glad you had a great trip!
I hear DB's has some great BBQ...

They do.  Looking forward to eating there again next week.

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Offline BlindWilly

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 :eusa_clap:
I expect a full report!  haha
"No matter where you go, there you are"
-Buckaroo Bonzai

www.txpedition.com

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Offline TexasLC

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Thanks for the report

 


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