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Second visit, but first solo trip. Questions about itinerary, campsites & more

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Offline jessikastone

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Hey ya'll. I know there are some major closings right now due to the fire, but here's to hoping things are re-opened in a couple weeks when I go out there. I know Memorial Day weekend is not a great weekend to go due to the crowds and the heat, but I wanted a dark sky and it's all my work calendar would allow.

Anyway, I have a question about how the first-come-first-served sites work...

I'll arrive Saturday morning (5/27/17). I'm staying in Alpine on Friday and hitting up the observatory. I plan to arrive at BBNP no later than 8:30 AM. My question is do I go straight to Panther Junction to try to get a Basin Site, or go straight to the Basin itself to try to grab one as someone else is leaving? I know that coming in on a Saturday puts me at a big disadvantage, so I have a site reserved in BBRSP as a back up...but given the heat, I'd rather be in the Basin, no? That's Plan A.

Next, if no sites are available in the Basin, I would be okay with primitive car camping, but I don't have a high clearance vehicle, so I would be restricted to Croton Springs, Grapevine Hills 1 - 3, K-Bar, or Hanold Draw...according to what I've read. I like the idea of being secluded, but I am wondering if even getting to these would be more trouble than it is worth? That's Plan B.

Since ideally I would like to be in the Basin, I wouldn't mind doing a hike-in site, especially since I want to see if I can climb Emory Peak...this could give me a nice little head start for the morning, but it would have to be at Juniper Flats, Boulder Meadow, or Pinnacles. I'm afraid I won't be able to make it much further than that given that I don't have ultralight gear, nor am I super experienced in hike-in camping. What are my odds of securing one of these sites for either Saturday or Sunday? That's Plan C.

Like I said, if all else fails, I have Madera Canyon campsite reserved for both nights in the state park. I see the park recommends 4WD but I think I should be okay with my little car if I stick to just that site? According to Google Street view, it looks like there is a nice paved road that leads straight there. I wouldn't venture into the rugged parts of the park...more likely drive back out and explore Terlingua and BBNP during the day.
That's Plan D.

Any advice? Concerns? Things that I am overlooking?

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Offline badknees

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My question is do I go straight to Panther Junction to try to get a Basin Site, or go straight to the Basin itself to try to grab one as someone else is leaving?

Go straight to the Basin. Contact the campground host and they can advise you if someone is leaving or what's open (not reserved)

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but I don't have a high clearance vehicle, so I would be restricted to Croton Springs, Grapevine Hills 1 - 3, K-Bar, or Hanold Draw

All of those sites are easy enough to get to. Paint Gap is good too, but not PG 3 or 4 - the road is best with high clearance. Also...Nugent Mountain Campsite, off the Glenn Spring Road is close to the pavement and ok for a car. Downside to these sites will be the heat during daylight hours.

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  Juniper Flats, Boulder Meadow, or Pinnacles. .........What are my odds of securing one of these sites for either Saturday or Sunday? That's Plan C.
Maybe??

Any way to arrive in BBNP Friday morning? That would vastly improve your chances of getting Plan A


Not all those who wander are lost.
J.R.R. Tolkien

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Offline Jonathan Sadow

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As badknees suggests, the best way to do things would be to arrive on Friday and claim a Basin campsite then, if available.  Otherwise, given the popularity of the weekend, there may be no available campsites for Saturday night.  If your schedule won't allow for a Friday arrival, and on Saturday the Basin campground hosts tell you nothing is available for that night, then proceed immediately to Panther Junction and ask about car camping or Chisos sites (the Basin visitor center might be able to do this for you as well).  According to El Campo, the park's reservation tracking system, last year every site you would be able to access was taken on Saturday night of Memorial Day weekend, but if you get there as early as you're hoping there might be some still left for that night.  The key is to be as early as possible.  If all else fails, the Madera Canyon site in BBRSP would be fine for your vehicle - the access road is unpaved but short, and you should be able to drive it as long as you aren't reckless.

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Offline jessikastone

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Thanks to you both! 

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All of those sites are easy enough to get to. Paint Gap is good too, but not PG 3 or 4 - the road is best with high clearance. Also...Nugent Mountain Campsite, off the Glenn Spring Road is close to the pavement and ok for a car. Downside to these sites will be the heat during daylight hours.

Good to know.  I'll add Nuget Mountain to my list of options.  I really would rather do primitive camping.  This is a solo trip so naturally I am looking for some solitude.  I just don't know if it will be worth waking up to that heat. 

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Any way to arrive in BBNP Friday morning? That would vastly improve your chances of getting Plan A

Friday morning?  No.  I would have to drive all night for that.  And I really have my heart set on doing the observatory Friday night if the sky is clear.  I spoke to the ranger and he said that if I am in line first thing in the AM I have decent shot at any of the above.  And I have a whole alternate itinerary planned out in case I end up having to spend both nights at BBRSP.  It involves a lot of driving and waking up early, but I think I can still have a nice time with the right attitude?  Maybe?

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Offline Flash

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Temps should be pleasant enough/bearable until mid-morning, upon which you can escape camp by 10 or so am and head for higher altitudes. Helps if you have shade in camp for as long as possible in the morning (a canopy or your vehicle or a boulder, etc.).

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Online House Made of Dawn

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Thanks to you both! 

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All of those sites are easy enough to get to. Paint Gap is good too, but not PG 3 or 4 - the road is best with high clearance. Also...Nugent Mountain Campsite, off the Glenn Spring Road is close to the pavement and ok for a car. Downside to these sites will be the heat during daylight hours.

Good to know.  I'll add Nuget Mountain to my list of options.  I really would rather do primitive camping.  This is a solo trip so naturally I am looking for some solitude.  I just don't know if it will be worth waking up to that heat. 

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Any way to arrive in BBNP Friday morning? That would vastly improve your chances of getting Plan A

Friday morning?  No.  I would have to drive all night for that.  And I really have my heart set on doing the observatory Friday night if the sky is clear.  I spoke to the ranger and he said that if I am in line first thing in the AM I have decent shot at any of the above.  And I have a whole alternate itinerary planned out in case I end up having to spend both nights at BBRSP.  It involves a lot of driving and waking up early, but I think I can still have a nice time with the right attitude?  Maybe?

I don't have much to add, other than to agree with everyone else that it'll be awfully hot down low after 10 or 11am. Not cripplingly hot, but definitely unpleasantly hot. But you seem to understand your situation very well. I really just wanted to chime in and say, kudos to you for attacking your situation with such a great attitude. I'm a solitude-first kinda guy, so I understand. I sincerely hope your trip is a success and you get out of it what you want. Good luck!
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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Offline mule ears

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I would add one more idea, if the Basin is full you might consider Cottonwood campground, it is primitive (with water and pit toilets) but under some really beautiful and shady cottonwoods, probably not a lot of folks camping there unless the RGV campground work is sending there.  Unfortunately like Jonathan said, last year every backroad  and backcountry site was taken on the Sat. of Memorial day weekend.  Good luck
temperatures exceed 100 degrees F
minimum 1 gallon water per person/day
no shade, no water
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Offline badknees

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Friday morning?  No.  I would have to drive all night for that.

Desperate times....desperate measures? Seriously, the overnight trip was an integral part of my plans many times. My daughter couldn't go to BB except when school was out, so we frequently left at night and arrived in the AM on a Friday. Doing this we were always fortunate enough to snag a site in the Basin.....even at Thanksgiving and spring break.
Not all those who wander are lost.
J.R.R. Tolkien

Through the Mirror
http://mirrormagic.com

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Offline jessikastone

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Friday morning?  No.  I would have to drive all night for that.

Desperate times....desperate measures? Seriously, the overnight trip was an integral part of my plans many times. My daughter couldn't go to BB except when school was out, so we frequently left at night and arrived in the AM on a Friday. Doing this we were always fortunate enough to snag a site in the Basin.....even at Thanksgiving and spring break.

I hear ya, man.  You're making this hard!  But it's not so much the overnight drive, it's the fact that every time I've been in west Texas, I've wanted to go to the McDonald Observatory, but it never worked out.  There is a moonless sky on Friday night, and I would really like this to be the trip.  So the plan is stop there Friday afternoon, and then head to the park first thing in the morning. 

I guess I could leave super early on Thursday night/Friday Morning (1 AMish), and get my reservations secured upon arrival.  But that means either no observatory, or driving 2.75 hours north and then 2.75 hours south again either Friday or Saturday.  Which is a lot considering the amount of driving I'll already be doing.  But if it's super overcast on Friday then yeah, I'll just head straight to the park.

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Online House Made of Dawn

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Friday morning?  No.  I would have to drive all night for that.

Desperate times....desperate measures? Seriously, the overnight trip was an integral part of my plans many times. My daughter couldn't go to BB except when school was out, so we frequently left at night and arrived in the AM on a Friday. Doing this we were always fortunate enough to snag a site in the Basin.....even at Thanksgiving and spring break.

Hero fathers!  :great:  I've been there. Many times. Put the sleepy kid in the car around 9pm, wake them up in Big Bend at 7am.  Doing whatever it takes to get them backpacking.
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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Offline Hang10er

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According to everyone on here, you have a great plan.  AND!!! You have a plan B and a plan C.  I'm no expert but I've read a LOT of messages on here where people (mostly newbies) are expecting to come on the busiest weekends, get their 1st choice campsite and then hit the trails with perfect weather and not another person.  HA HA HA

If the observatory is your #1 priority, I personally think you should make it happen.  You've already said you know you might not get your other prime spots but one things for certain.  You will get the observatory and you will still get a West Texas adventure either in BiBE or BBRSP. 

Have fun and let us know how it goes

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Offline jessikastone

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According to everyone on here, you have a great plan.  AND!!! You have a plan B and a plan C.  I'm no expert but I've read a LOT of messages on here where people (mostly newbies) are expecting to come on the busiest weekends, get their 1st choice campsite and then hit the trails with perfect weather and not another person.  HA HA HA

If the observatory is your #1 priority, I personally think you should make it happen.  You've already said you know you might not get your other prime spots but one things for certain.  You will get the observatory and you will still get a West Texas adventure either in BiBE or BBRSP. 

Have fun and let us know how it goes

Thanks for the encouragement, Hang10er!  Yes, the observatory is important to me.  And apparently that needs to happen Friday night since Saturday night is already sold out.  The only reason I would skip it is if there is complete cloud cover in the forecast for the entire night.   

I'm still worried about the heat if I can't get one of those Basin sites...but my goal is to get out of town and see some awesome stars.  If I have to spend the hottest part of the day sipping on cervezas in Terlingua, while only light hiking in the early morning, I can live with that.   But man, it sucks to pack up camp in blistering heat and no shade.

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Online House Made of Dawn

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  • Golden Eagle
  • Black Bear
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  • Backpacking since '78, Big Bend since '95.
According to everyone on here, you have a great plan.  AND!!! You have a plan B and a plan C.  I'm no expert but I've read a LOT of messages on here where people (mostly newbies) are expecting to come on the busiest weekends, get their 1st choice campsite and then hit the trails with perfect weather and not another person.  HA HA HA

If the observatory is your #1 priority, I personally think you should make it happen.  You've already said you know you might not get your other prime spots but one things for certain.  You will get the observatory and you will still get a West Texas adventure either in BiBE or BBRSP. 

Have fun and let us know how it goes

Thanks for the encouragement, Hang10er!  Yes, the observatory is important to me.  And apparently that needs to happen Friday night since Saturday night is already sold out.  The only reason I would skip it is if there is complete cloud cover in the forecast for the entire night.   

I'm still worried about the heat if I can't get one of those Basin sites...but my goal is to get out of town and see some awesome stars.  If I have to spend the hottest part of the day sipping on cervezas in Terlingua, while only light hiking in the early morning, I can live with that.   But man, it sucks to pack up camp in blistering heat and no shade.

I've never done an official McDonald viewing, so I can't comment on that. But it sounds great and well worth the sacrifices. However, if stars are what interest you, then you MUST find a way to camp overnight somewhere in or near BiBe. As long as the skies aren't overcast, you'll get four to twelve hours of the best star-watching in the lower 48. You won't want to go to sleep. Whatever the temps, it'll be worth it.
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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Offline Cookie

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Good to know.  I'll add Nuget Mountain to my list of options.  I really would rather do primitive camping.  This is a solo trip so naturally I am looking for some solitude.  I just don't know if it will be worth waking up to that heat. 

If you can make it to Nugent Mt. you can make it to Pine Canyon 1 and Rice Tank and Chilicotal. We did our fist BB summer trip last July. I was pleasantly surprised that at 6 pm  at Paint Gap 1 it wasn't crazy hot like I expected. The problem came when we went to bed. The ground had been absorbing heat all day and it radiated back out all night. It would have been miserable without my 2.5" therma-rest insulated pad. The morning temps where not bad as we packed up to go to the rim for a few nights. You could definitely feel a difference when the sun made it above the mountains though. Very doable!

If the weather is clear for the observatory--DO IT!! We went years ago on a new moon night and it was absolutely amazing! Be sure and bring a headlamp with a red light and make a reservation. You can sort out where to camp the next morning, looks like you are well prepared with options.
Most of all....enjoy!!

~Cookie

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Offline jessikastone

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Thanks again everyone.  I'm going to stick to my original plan of doing the observatory Friday night, and then hitting up the park first thing in the morning.  With the discovery of the El Campo system, at least I can check the availability of my preferred BC or primitive car camping sites prior to leaving Alpine before the crack of dawn on Saturday.  If all of my choices are taken on Friday night, I can save myself the time of standing in line at Panther Junction for no reason, and for that, I'm thankful. 

I'm guessing the rain will further limit the places I could try to reach, if they were even still up grabs...  So now the question is, do I go straight to the Basin to try to snag a site there (which was originally my plan A)....or head over to my backup plan at Medera Canyon in BBRSP?  The more I read trip reports, the more I long for the remoteness.  But....the heat?  I guess I'm just looking for someone to make the decision for me.   :icon_eek:

I have mixed feelings about the weather.  It looks like I'm in for overcast skies (and possible storms) on Saturday evening and Sunday.  This is a bummer because I WANT to see those stars.  Last time I was in BiBe, it was a full moon, so I have yet to witness this Majesty.  But then on the other hand, a good rain sure would cool things down a bit, and I could do more, given I don't venture into a flood zone.  So...I don't know how to feel but I'm trying to keep a positive attitude either way.  Plus, if no stars are out, that'll just give me an excuse to come back in the fall.

Wish me luck! 

 


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