Big Bend Conservancy
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I was amazed as we went north on the Smoky Creek trail from the Mule Ears to the Dodson at how this trail has/is disappearing into the landscape and wanted to warn other folks to really be prepared by both familiarizing yourself with the terrain and map and keeping a sharp eye peeled for random cairns. Heading North to South is somewhat easier but the exits from the washes and the cross country sections are either not marked or barely marked. Here is a Caltopo map for reference. The only prominent cairns marking an exit are at the up stream exit above Witch Spring, you can see them here above our packs.This is the exit to the left down stream from Taza spring pouroff, very easy to missThere really is no worn trail on the long ridge between Taza spring and Witch Spring, there are cairns but you can barely find themIt is similar on the Witch spring cut over but there are sections of worn path that you can occasionally see.The exit from the wash to the right below Witch and Hermosa A, north of Sugarloaf, which goes over the ridge and back down into the actual Smoky Creek drainage used to have a sign which is now gone and was marked with a tiny 3 stone cairn. It is also very hard to follow but fortunately it is mostly in a small wash.The exit/junction with the Mule Ears trail is marked by a cairn up on the wash cut bank on the right which you need to watch for and then over the hill is a metal trail sign.Going north is even harder. You have to keep a close watch for the right hand wash turn above Willow spring and below Rhyolite, there was a small 3 or 4 stone cairn. The sign you are on the right path is just up the wash you will come to a pouroff you have to climb around on the right. The exit above Lizard spring is hard to find and has a tiny cairn. The exit out of the wash above Hermosa spring A to go above Witch spring is absolutely not marked or visible and the same for the exit above Witch on the the long ridge.It is a great area and route but just want to warn folks that this is not like following the Dodson or the Mule Ears trail, be prepared!
Wow. Frankly, thatís an appalling case of dereliction on the part of NPS. Itís not like weíre talking about Telephone Canyon or Apache Canyon or Maple Canyon, where you know youíre taking youíre fate into your own hands if you insist on exploring there. This is an official named and signed trail. Hundreds of hikers a year will pass that sign on the Dodson and be tempted southward, perhaps to their peril. The park needs to get a trail crew out there, or stop signing and recommending the trail.Sent from my iPhone using Big Bend Chat
Telephone canyon trail was easier to follow and that is saying something!
Pondering if this is more 'nothing to see here' type behaviors (e.g. Cattail)...where upcoming hiking guide releases will conveniently omit.
Wow. Frankly, thatís an appalling case of dereliction on the part of NPS. Itís not like weíre talking about Telephone Canyon or Apache Canyon or Maple Canyon, where you know youíre taking youíre fate into your own hands if you insist on exploring there. This is an official named and signed trail. Hundreds of hikers a year will pass that sign on the Dodson and be tempted southward, perhaps to their peril. The park needs to get a trail crew out there, or stop signing and recommending the trail.
Exploring desert and mountain country on foot requires both mental and physical preparation. Trails vary from well maintained in the Chisos Mountains to primitive and barely visible in the desert. Plan hikes within your ability.
Remember, you are ultimately responsible for your own safety.
In addition, it is recommended that you carry a topographical map and a compass, and know how to use them. Many trails, especially those in the desert areas of the park, are poorly-defined and can be difficult to follow.
I'm perfectly comfortable with the NPS managing the deserts of Big Bend as an entirely un-trailed wilderness. That said, don't get me wrong, there are some gnarly areas (such as the cairned route over the shoulder from Telephone Canyon to Ernst Basin) where I REALLY appreciate the cairns and the effort that went into putting them there. But if the cairns weren't there, I'd figure a route out for myself, albeit slowly and with some trepidation.But the operative word here is "trail". If the NPS is going to sign a route as a "trail", then, by golly, there needs to be a trail. Otherwise, it's false, and dangerous, advertising. We can tilt our noses at folks who can't manage an off- or poorly-trailed route, but it's crazy to blame folks for following bad official advice. Fix the trail or nix the sign. Anything less is crazy.
Novice question: Is the NPS wholly responsible for establishing and maintaining cairns, or can any random hiker (ie, experienced hiker) build and/or reinforce marking cairns?
Keep in mind there is no cairn that cannot be destroyed, or even moved to inaccurately indicate navigation points, to satisfy some desire for mischief (or worse).
There's actually danger in trusting cairns without a commensurate ability to navigate without reliance upon them. Accepting a cairn as accurate without also knowing where you are by virtue of your own abilities can lead to trouble.Keep in mind there is no cairn that cannot be destroyed, or even moved to inaccurately indicate navigation points, to satisfy some desire for mischief (or worse).
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