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South of the Dodson Trail - Feb. 16-18, 2013

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Offline Reece

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South of the Dodson Trail - Feb. 16-18, 2013
« on: February 25, 2013, 09:12:21 PM »
Writing a trip report is good for the soul.

I’m duty bound to acknowledge those who've helped me get this far along the trail and that's my main motivation for posting this trip report. After 66 years, I think a man should pretty much already know who he is and be mostly immune from the opinion of others. I don't need a lot of stroking or ego boosting. I know what I have done in my life and what I'm capable of - when I've tried my best and when I've given up too easily. I also know that one of these overnight backpacking trips will be my last so I always try to make the current trip a good one.

My report will be mostly human interest stuff with just a few videos and pictures for accompaniment. I'm not much of a photographer but I like to think I can craft a fairly readable story when I try. I like stories that have some character development to them. The more sterile trip reports always leave me wondering about the people involved. I might just wonder up false persona for someone and nobody likes being misunderstood. Some, I know are skittish about being known too intimately and the electronic media is a great place to hide but I'm of the opinion that you can't know your own true self without bouncing that self off another person from time to time to see how it plays. Some entertain the fiction that they are going incognito by maintaining their anonymity, but really? If you’re in the Social Security System, the system has you marked. You might just as well relax and get over it. "Yeah but Google tracks all my online activity!" So what? It's all about commerce my friend. Unless you're doing something illegal or heaven forbid, something you are ashamed of, you have nothing to fear, right?

I want to make the case right here for using your real name on message boards, at least your real first name. Flash and I had lost contact with one another for nearly 20 years when he noticed my name on Big Bend Chat. He took a chance, sent me a p.m. and we were able to get together again, catch up on history and cobble together a really nice trip.

Flash is part trail runner, part backpacker and part junior cartographer/historian. He can tell you the name of and the history associated with nearly every landmark visible from the highway, any highway, between Houston and Big Bend and I imagine plenty more besides. And by the way, they don't call him "Flash" for nothing. We carried similar loads, 65 liter packs, crammed with 35-40 pounds of gear, but he consistently kept a faster pace than me. I'm thinking it's mostly my age since I'm about 10 years his senior. A sort of "tortoise and hare" pattern developed to our hiking. He would charge ahead until he came to a shady spot where he could lean up against a cool rock or to any spot where he wanted to stop for a GPS tagged photo or two. While he waited for me to catch up, he would take notes. Now I don't know what he was writing but I suspect it had to do with water. We'll find out from his trip report, I guess. Being ahead, he did most of the route finding but we held counsel on any major decisions. I had the privilege of saving us a back-track or two just by virtue of a second set of eyes looking for markers. Regarding Flash's familiarity with the outdoors, he's in the process of raising two Eagle Scouts and I think that's about all I need to say about that.

There goes Flash! I'd better get moving if I'm going to keep up.


If you've ever watched "Dual Survival" on The Discovery Channel and noticed the interplay between Cody Lundin and Dave Canterbury, you have some idea of how Flash and I mixed on the trail. It was sort of like oil and water at times. If I was Cody, Flash was Dave. I'm more laid back while Flash is more regimented. Normally, I'm a soloist unless I have a grandkid along and this was originally my hike. I had been planning it for several months when Flash suggested he might ought to tag along to more or less "keep me out of trouble". I won't deny that I appreciated the help and Flash must have known I was pushing my limits some but I could have done it solo. Fact is though, I probably wouldn't have. I probably would have stopped short of achieving all three of my objectives. Flash allowed that he probably wouldn't have done it solo either. So what are the benefits of hiking with a partner? Many I'm sure but on this hike with two Type A personalities, I think it was mostly the security of a backup, mutual encouragement, and a reluctance to disappoint your partner. We were essentially two soloists hiking together. We each carried independent gear including navigational tools, cooking systems and water purification. I guess you could consider the redundant systems we carried between us a good backup in case the other one failed.

Reading all the excellent trip reports on BBC, some of which are no longer available, whet my desire to see three things in the Quemada: the Dodson Trail/Fresno Creek crossing, the Waterworks, and Elegant Spring below Elephant Tusk, where the cottonwood trees grow. My backpacking mentor, Quicksilver has told me many a tale of the last two and suggested the northerly route from Black Gap Road and I would have taken his advice but for my desire to see Fresno Creek, north.

When I first posted my hike plan for BBC approval, Cookie gave me some real help. She suggested I camp on the saddle below Tortuga Mountain just off ET Trail. With great views and water just up the wash, it's a perfect spot. She also suggested I get an early start since it took them about 6 hours to get there. Her final suggestion, that we take the shortcut up the Dodson drainage on our way out was a near life-saver and for sure put us at the Starlight and thus to bed at a much more decent hour. Thanks Cookie! You may find the honorarium of your name associated with that campsite. You deserve it.

While we're talking about names, we might just as well settle something right off. I care little what you call something so long as we can understand one another. Flash is a little more particular. He likes things nailed down tighter than d-ck's hat band. For instance, it perturbs him a little that there are two names for one place, such as the Waterworks and Skip and Jump Tinajas. I know he's not the only stickler for details around but really? Some even feign any knowledge of such a name as "The Waterworks" as if their deceit could somehow obliterate it from the historical record. I disdain such treachery so if you are so inclined, please keep it to yourself. I finally had to pull up an old McCarthy quote to better express a simple truth that puts the lie to all such hubris.

“The names of the cerros and the sierras and the deserts exist only on maps. We name them that we do not lose our way. Yet it was because the way was lost to us already that we have made those names. The world cannot be lost. We are the ones. And it is because these names and these coordinates are our own naming that they cannot save us. They cannot find for us the way again.”
? Cormac McCarthy, The Crossing

Geezer who is similar to me in age provided some encouragement as to the feasibility of my intended route. Just like he said, you only have to climb up out of the Dodson drainage once due to heavy underbrush and that's near the North end. He also cautioned that Elephant Tusk Trail below the Dodson is hard to follow even for veterans. Thanks, Geezer! I would characterize it as little more than a sparsely cairned bushwhack with plenty of ankle-turning tumblers hidden beneath the grass. We lost the trail in the early afternoon but it was no great loss. Besides, we had multiple landmarks and Flash with his waypoints to guide us.

TWWG also gave me considerable encouragement though he’s probably unaware of it. Some folks just ooze useful information. Quicksilver and Robert both cautioned me about venturing down Fresno below the Waterworks and I paid attention. Thanks guys!

After we had our camp set up and supper was cooking, I looked up in the twilight to see the near half moon directly overhead and Jupiter positioned perfectly opposite the curve. I took that as a good sign.

The next Morning.


Travelog to come...

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Offline dprather

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Re: South of the Dodson Trail - Feb. 16-18, 2013
« Reply #1 on: February 25, 2013, 10:40:20 PM »
Great stuff - keep on writing.
Leave "quit" at the car.  Embrace the trail as your friend.  Expect to enjoy yourself, and to be amazed.

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Offline PacingTheCage

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Re: South of the Dodson Trail - Feb. 16-18, 2013
« Reply #2 on: February 26, 2013, 08:21:10 AM »
I'd like to hike the OML, Marufu Vega and a few others I read about on the site.  My overnight trips have all been to south rim.  I've made several days hikes to places like Apache Canyon and taken my Jeep over most of the roads.  I'm 57 and in decent shape. I can still carry 50 pounds and hike 9 miles a day.  I don't move too fast but I'll get there.  First name is James. Great trip report and looking forward to the rest of the story!

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Offline mbender

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Re: South of the Dodson Trail - Feb. 16-18, 2013
« Reply #3 on: February 26, 2013, 03:05:58 PM »
Great stuff. I love the reports on this site. Extensive narratives such as this are fascinating to me since writing is not my forte. Keep it coming!  :13:

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Offline Reece

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Re: South of the Dodson Trail - Feb. 16-18, 2013
« Reply #4 on: February 26, 2013, 05:02:05 PM »
Travelog

Five days and four nights - 1,234 miles on my new Jeep and 24 miles on my old feet

Day 1: Picked up Flash at 4 AM in west Houston. Stopped at Weikel’s Bakery in La Grange for breakfast and kept to highway 71 skirting to the south of Austin. Picked up 290 through Fredericksburg and on to I-10. We took 385 south out of Ft. Stockton and made it to Panther Junction at about 4 PM. Flash had the forms all filled out in advance so permitting was fast and easy - two nights in zone SO5, Elephant Tusk, Capacity 40.  The ranger told us we’d be sharing the zone with 2 others. We saw a few foot prints but that’s all. We headed up to our room at the Lodge and a good supper at the restaurant. Here’s where our two styles contrasted. Since I was in my Jeep, I pretty much threw my gear in unpacked in a big plastic storage box. I was planning to stuff my sleeping bag and load my pack in the room. Flash had his pack all buttoned up and in a big duffel bag, ready to rock. I suppose if I were in his vehicle I would have done the same.



Day 2: Up at 6AM and after a few final gear adjustments we walked over to the Lodge restaurant for a hearty breakfast. We were treated to a beautiful sunrise and the promise of good weather. We drove to the Juniper/Dodson trailhead and were on the trail by 9 AM. There was a nice young couple on foot at the trailhead. They had camped nearby and were doing the Outer Mountain Loop, clockwise. She had some complaints about all the switchbacks coming down from the basin - asked if there was much climbing ahead. I told her, “Nothing too bad until you get to Blue Creek.” I don’t count this couple since we encountered them only at the trailhead.

About 3 hours into our westerly hike across the Dodson we encountered the only people we saw for the whole hike. Off in the distance and up a rise, about 100 yards away, some movement caught my eye. A little closer look and I hollered to Flash, “Here they come!” It didn’t take them long to cover the ground between us since they were running to beat the devil. The 30 something guy was naked but for shorts and shoes and pretty well sunburned. He had strapped to each hand a short, fat water cup, like hand weights. When he slowed, he held them out to our curious eyes as if seeking approval for his gear. As if to say, “See, I’m not crazy I have a whole pint of water here.” The gal just carried a regular water bottle, one handed, looked some younger and dressed more sensibly with leg and arm cover. She forced the kind of wild-eyed smile that told you she was both terrified and exhilarated at the same time, which smile I’m sure turned to pained grimace once they passed. The guy did the talking. He started his spiel while he was still a ways off, stopped for a few seconds and finished over his shoulder on the run, going away – said he left his fanny pack beside the trail; he’d be back for it. They were just running up the trail a bit and would be turning around and passing us again on their way back. I shouted after him as he sped off, “If you don’t break a leg!” We never saw the pack and they never passed us coming back. I hope they were alright. We turned south on ET trail about an hour later so maybe we missed them.


I think we turn here

Once on ET trail, the going got considerably rougher due to a much narrower trail and lots of cats claw. The hiking poles paid for themselves many times over for sticker movers. This is where you separate the “pickers” from the “rippers”. Flash, being dressed in high-dollar hiking clothes stopped to carefully “pick” the hooks from his clothing. I, on the other hand get all my hiking clothes at thrift stores so I just “rip” on through, so long as no flesh is involved. I thought sure I was shredding my clothes but they look fine.


Looking South from upper ET trail.

With all the ready landmarks at hand, you could easily do this hike without any GPS help. Just below Tortuga we lost the trail but flash led us in using his GPS waypoints and good bushwhacking skills. Having been lost before and knowing the terror associated with it, I always carry a GPS, map and compass. My GPS provided me with a reassuring location check from time to time but I never even looked at the map.


Looking back at camp from ET trail South,
You can just see our tents, down and to the left of the notch in Tortuga

From the unnamed spring in the wash below Cookie’s Camp, put the big notch in Tortuga to your back and it points you directly up the ET trail and to the saddle where the camp is located.


Afternoon shot from camp.

Day 3: Up at sunrise for some fresh brewed coffee and instant oatmeal. I was warm in my 20-degree, Kelty Cosmic Down bag. I’m guessing it got down into the high 30’s. It was cold enough in the early morning that I pulled on another layer of long underwear before climbing out of the tent. Once the sun hit us though, it was time to strip down to one layer for walking. We carried smaller packs for the out-and-back up to Elegant Spring bellow the Tusk. It’s about 2 hours one way.


Morning shot from camp


Morning shot from camp.

I dropped my pack at Elegant and felt so light that I misjudged the height of a cottonwood trunk and came up under it with my pointed old head. I didn't realize how badly I had skinned my scalp until the next day when I tried to drag a comb through my hair.  I've got a theory for why the big cottonwood trees have survived below the Tusk. I think the location is just too dang remote. They’re not worth the trouble to cut and haul it out. Most of the more accessible cottonwoods were cut for timber long ago.



It seems like when I'm backpacking, I don't notice little nicks and scrapes, pinpricks and black toes. Not until I stop anyway. Then they show up by surprise and really get your attention. I didn't even find my last cactus thorn until Tuesday at about 3 AM when it started catching on the bed sheets at The Chisos Motel. It was on the outside of my left calf and only talked to me when I turned to that side.



We just followed the ET trail back to base. Now it was time to see the last item on my bucket list, the Waterworks. Since we were passing the unnamed spring below camp, we decided to fill all our containers with sweet water and leave them there for our return. I was using a Sawyer gravity feed filter that worked really well. I went for simplicity on my first filter. I can easily see myself breaking the plastic handle on a pump type filter. The hike up Fresno was beautiful but I guess it’s always beautiful so long as there’s water, eh? It took us about an hour to get there and we were not disappointed. Resting there in the shade of that canyon, it struck me that there are some little known but really beautiful places in this world that you will never see unless you’re willing to do some serious walking.





Back at camp it was time for supper and time to rest and enjoy the sunset. There were just enough big rocks in the camp to serve as low stools to sit on while cooking. This spot could easily hold 4 small tents. I had a packet of tuna, some multigrain crackers and a cup of Ramen noodles, chicken flavor. I think flash was cooking spaghetti and meatballs with marinara or some such exotic trail food.

Day 4: Up making coffee before daybreak after a rough night. Rough, even with ample drugs and intermittent sips of tequila as smoothing agents. You know the kind of night I’m talking about, where you sleep only about 30 minutes at a stretch. You wake up thinking its 3:30 only to look at the clock to find its really 11:30? After breakfast we raced at breaking camp. Well, I raced anyway, to make sure Flash didn’t beat me through. He doesn’t care to be kept waiting, especially for a doddering old man. We were on the move by 9, down from the saddle to pick up our water cache. We hiked north up ET trail, the portion we missed on the way in, just until it crossed the Dodson drainage where we took Cookie’s shortcut to the Dodson Trail. The Dodson wash was really easy hiking with plenty of water along the way. We only had to climb up out of the drainage once due to heavy brush and that was near the end. There was one more spring Flash wanted to explore, Rim Spring up Dodson wash about a mile north of the trail. I knew he wanted to check it out but I didn’t have it in me. I told him I’d wait for him but he opted to pass as well. I think he was just being nice. We hit the Dodson Trail and really started trucking for home. This is a long afternoon slog for a tired old man and I had a time of it just keeping Flash in sight, not that I needed a scout or anything. You could walk this portion in the dark. I was happy to see my little white Jeep and happier still to unsaddle that pack.

I know my mind wasn’t right on the drive out and I guess Flash was a little throwed off too. Somehow we missed the left turn up Glen Springs Rd. and kept on going out Black Gap. Directly, we came upon pickup truck and stopped to talk. The guy said he’d been out Black Gap Rd. and was coming out. I rolled up the window and drove on. “That old man didn’t make much sense, I don’t think he knows where he’s going.” Then I noticed the big brown boulders. “I don’t remember these boulders do you.” Then I thought out loud, “One of us is heading in the wrong direction, either the old man or us. Better check the map.” We got a good chuckle out of that one.

We made it to The Chisos Mining Co. Motel by about 4, got cleaned up and headed to The Starlight Theatre for supper. That was the best glass of draft beer and hamburger I have ever had. I wanted another beer but the first one went to my head so fast, I didn’t dare. My body was so calorie deprived from all the hiking, that the food just absorbed immediately. I never even felt it on my stomach. I was hungry like that for 3 days.


The Starlight was busy for a Monday night

Day 5: Up at 6, throw the gear into the Jeep and head for the café at the Fina station on the triangle - gas up and chow down at the buffet. Then it was North on 118 to Alpine and East on 90 along the border, across to San Antonio and home. It was dark by the time I dropped Flash off, said hello to his lovely wife again, after 18 years, met the Eagle Scouts, said goodbye again, gassed up and made my way to the middle of the H-town. My dear wife had supper on the stove and a kiss for the old man of the mountain coming home.
« Last Edit: February 27, 2013, 09:15:13 AM by Reece »

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Offline tommyp

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Re: South of the Dodson Trail - Feb. 16-18, 2013
« Reply #5 on: February 26, 2013, 07:50:47 PM »
thanks for the remarkable story and videos. I plan on doing Dodson and down to ET in a few weeks.  But mine is an overnight and I can't do all you did.  Unless......change of plans!
Anyhow--what a great read.
A man is measured by his stride.

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Offline Lance

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Re: South of the Dodson Trail - Feb. 16-18, 2013
« Reply #6 on: February 27, 2013, 03:48:33 PM »
Great trip report gentleman!  Enjoyed those Waterworks videos..   :eusa_clap:

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Offline Cookie

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Re: South of the Dodson Trail - Feb. 16-18, 2013
« Reply #7 on: February 27, 2013, 07:17:27 PM »
Great report Reece! I wish I could take credit for that amazing campspot  :icon_redface:, but I know others have gone before us. Quicksilver told me about it, and I am pretty sure TWWG has been there too. We dubbed that sight "Tortuga Cafe" because Hiker had a blast pretending to run a restaraunt there on our trip in 2011. When I told her what you were calling it she said "rrrrggggghhh!!" Enjoyed your report and glad to have helped!

~Cookie

so nice to see and hear the Waterworks running, it was pretty dry the last time we were there.

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Online Flash

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Re: South of the Dodson Trail - Feb. 16-18, 2013
« Reply #8 on: February 27, 2013, 10:10:38 PM »
The Trail Runners
As Reece mentioned above, we were plodding up that last long long slope leading up to the crest before Fresno Creek, when way up ahead we saw two people, without much gear, moving quickly. I snapped four pictures I was so impressed and/or astounded!  :shock:
 
Here they come!  :willynilly:


There they go!  :willynilly:   

 




Aiyee!  :shock:  Hope they made it back okay, etc, etc!  :ecomcity:
 
« Last Edit: October 30, 2014, 09:22:02 PM by Flash »

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Offline mule ears

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Re: South of the Dodson Trail - Feb. 16-18, 2013
« Reply #9 on: February 28, 2013, 04:26:01 PM »
Nice job Reece, like Cookie said, it is great to see some water flowing in the Waterworks, wish it had been so when we where there last.

I really like this shot, beautiful light



First name is Mule by the way   :icon_wink:
temperatures exceed 100 degrees F
minimum 1 gallon water per person/day
no shade, no water
http://40yearsofwalking.wordpress.com/

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Offline Reece

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Re: South of the Dodson Trail - Feb. 16-18, 2013
« Reply #10 on: March 01, 2013, 09:07:04 AM »
Thanks, I get lucky now and then. I know it's all about light and composition. I just don't have the want-to for a good camera. Since the digital age made my old Cannon FTb obsolete, I've been stuck with the cheap snappers.

On side note, I must be getting old. The notion of running half naked through a field of cactus holds little appeal for me.

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Offline dprather

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Re: South of the Dodson Trail - Feb. 16-18, 2013
« Reply #11 on: March 01, 2013, 03:17:24 PM »
I'm on the Dodson this coming Monday and Tuesday.

Please direct me from the Dodson/ET intersection to the Water Works.

Thanks.
Leave "quit" at the car.  Embrace the trail as your friend.  Expect to enjoy yourself, and to be amazed.

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Offline Reece

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Re: South of the Dodson Trail - Feb. 16-18, 2013
« Reply #12 on: March 01, 2013, 04:32:58 PM »
Is this going to be a side trip or your primary destination? Where are you coming from? You could go southeast on ET trail from the Dodson to just below Tortuga which puts you in the Fresno drainage. Just follow the drainage southeast to the Waterworks. Total one way is around 3 miles. Do you use a GPS? Check your mesages.

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Offline elhombre

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First Russian Collusion, then Obstruction, then illegal payment to Stormy Daniels, then tax returns subpoenaed. Now no formal vote on impeachment for a 30 min. phone call to Ukraine

No crime. No evidence, just more secret investigations

Drain the Swamp.  America will survive.  God Bless America

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Offline Lance

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Re: South of the Dodson Trail - Feb. 16-18, 2013
« Reply #14 on: March 01, 2013, 05:46:08 PM »
I'm on the Dodson this coming Monday and Tuesday.

Please direct me from the Dodson/ET intersection to the Water Works.

Thanks.

You could probably take a shortcut through the Alder Springs wash near Dodson Ranch like Reece & Flash did and save some time. Here is a printable PDF map and GPX/TPO/KMZ files are attached.
« Last Edit: December 28, 2016, 04:43:04 PM by Lance »

 


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