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Backcountry water sources, ranked by reliability

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Online DesertRatShorty

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Backcountry water sources, ranked by reliability
« on: September 28, 2017, 08:59:23 PM »
What are the most reliable water sources in the park? I realize that reliability at any specific time depends on rainfall and other factors, but I am asking about the average reliability over time.

From my understanding (based on other posts on BBC), there are a handful of 100% reliable sources in the park. These include

Rio Grande
Banta Shut-in
Terlingua Creek near gauging station
Fresno Creek (multiple locations? Hop Spring? Just below the Dodson? the waterworks?)
Dominguez Spring
Mule Ears Spring
Ward Spring
Ernst Tinaja?

Then there are some mostly/often reliable springs:

Hermoso
Double
Upper Juniper
Smoky
Boot

There are also some major tinajas mostly on the MDA: Blanca, Grande, Lujan, Susan, Bruja Canyon, etc.

Are there other prominent water sources I missed? Can anyone resolve my question marks above? Any correction to what I have written?

Finally, is anyone comfortable estimating % reliability, e.g., always (100%), almost always (>90%), usually (70-90%), etc. I'm  only interested in sources with reasonably high reliability.

:beer_chug:


« Last Edit: October 02, 2017, 01:01:00 PM by DesertRatShorty »
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Online Flash

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Re: Backcountry water sources, ranked by reliability
« Reply #1 on: September 28, 2017, 09:05:02 PM »
Oak Spring is up there on the list.

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Offline mediopelo

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Re: Backcountry water sources, ranked by reliability
« Reply #2 on: September 28, 2017, 11:26:27 PM »
I have never known Burns Spring not to be flowing.

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Offline RichardM

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Re: Backcountry water sources, ranked by reliability
« Reply #3 on: September 29, 2017, 08:21:07 AM »
I have never known Burns Spring not to be flowing.
I haven't heard of that one before. Where is it?

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Offline mule ears

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Re: Backcountry water sources, ranked by reliability
« Reply #4 on: September 29, 2017, 08:24:23 AM »
I have never known Burns Spring not to be flowing.
I haven't heard of that one before. Where is it?

Just south of Dugout Wells and northeast of Rice Tank
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 mule ears

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Re: Backcountry water sources, ranked by reliability
« Reply #5 on: September 29, 2017, 08:53:27 AM »
In Dec. 2011 during the historic drought year and after multiple years of below average rainfall we did the Sierra Quemada/Mariscal Mtn. loop.  Any spring running at that time should be pretty reliable, they were:

Holly Spring had tiny pool
Estrecho spring running well but Fresno just a puddle
There was only a tiny bit of water in some of the Hop and Skip tinajas (the water works) and Hop spring was dry
Elegant spring below ET had a tiny flow  but there was some flow on down the wash in hard rock
Steps was running OK
Dominquez was running well above the dam
Glenn Spring

I'd give the following 90% ratings based on other trips done in below average rainfall periods

Willow spring on the Smoky creek trail (black rock section west of Sugarloaf mtn.)
the Casitas spring complex
Smoky spring
Dog spring in Fisk canyon
Pena spring
Muskhog
Menagerie spring complex on Tornillo creek
Carlota tinaja

70% maybe
Bee spring
Red Ass spring
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 House Made of Dawn

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Re: Backcountry water sources, ranked by reliability
« Reply #6 on: September 29, 2017, 09:04:24 AM »
Fascinating subject, DRS. Dicey stuff, though, ranking water sources that are less than 100% reliable. So much depends upon unpredictable factors from season to season. It's also hard to quantify "reliable". For example, I think Pena Spring has had flow every time I've visited. But finding the source, and then forcing my way through heavy, thorny brush to reach it, is an entirely different matter. And then, of course, there's the danger of a relatively inexperienced user heading out into the backcountry based on what they pick up off a list like this. So everything we post here should be taken lightly, not as gospel.

That said, I'll add a few sources to the list: in answer to your question mark, Ernst Tinaja is definitely reliable, no question. I believe it may actually contain a spring that keeps it so. Devil's Den, a bit north of there, has always been home to at least one, and usually several, well-filled tinajas when I've visited it. Though I suppose they could run dry during an extreme and prolonged drought.  Maybe others have seen them dry. Moving to the other side of the park, I've never known (nor heard reported) that Red Ass Spring was less than reliable. ME puts it at 70%, I'd probably bump it up to 80%.  In the middle of the park, just east of of the always reliable Fresno Creek drainage are the always reliable and always tasty Adler Spring a bit south of the Dodson Trail, and the not always reliable and never tasty Dodson spring on the north side of the trail. I'd put it Adler at 90% reliable and Dodson at 50% reliable for water and 20% reliable for potability. And I definitely second ME's citing Glenn Springs as 100% reliable. 

The key to depending on these backcountry sources is redundancy. Always plan for back-up sources, or bail-out plans, or both, in case supposedly dependable sources turn out to be less than reliable.
« Last Edit: October 06, 2017, 11:31:56 AM by House Made of Dawn »
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Offline RichardM

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Re: Backcountry water sources, ranked by reliability
« Reply #7 on: September 29, 2017, 09:10:17 AM »
I have never known Burns Spring not to be flowing.
I haven't heard of that one before. Where is it?

Just south of Dugout Wells and northeast of Rice Tank
Lance has it listed in his Google Earth Project.
https://mappingsupport.com/p/gmap4.php?ll=29.255371,-103.136918

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Offline mule ears

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Re: Backcountry water sources, ranked by reliability
« Reply #8 on: September 29, 2017, 09:18:55 AM »
Fascinating subject, DRS. Dicey stuff, though, ranking water sources that are less than 100% reliable. So much depends upon unpredictable factors from season to season. It's also hard to quantify "reliable". For example, I think Pena Spring has had flow every time I've visited. But finding the source, and then forcing my way through heavy, thorny brush to reach it, is an entirely different matter. And then, of course, there's the danger of a relatively inexperienced user heading out into the backcountry based on what they pick up off a list like this. So everything we post here should be taken lightly, not as gospel.

That said, I'll add a few sources to the list: in answer to your question mark, Ernst Tinaja is definitely reliable, no question. I believe it may actually contain a spring that keeps it so. Devil's Den, a bit north of there, has always been home to at least one, and usually several, well-filled tinajas when I've visited it. Though I suppose they could run dry during an extreme and prolonged drought.  Maybe others have seen them dry. Moving to the other side of the park, I've never known (nor heard reported) that Red Ass Spring was less than reliable. ME puts it at 70%, I'd probably bump it up to 80%.  In the middle of the park, just east of of the always reliable Fresno Creek drainage are the always reliable and always tasty Adler Spring a bit south of the Dodson Trail, and the not always reliable and never tasty Dodson spring on the north side of the trail. I'd put it at 50% reliable for water, and 20% reliable for potability. And I definitely second ME's citing Glenn Springs as reliable. 

The key to depending on these backcountry sources is redundancy. Always plan for back-up sources, or bail-out plans, or both, in case supposedly dependable sources turn out to be less than reliable.

Excellent advice and I should have stated something similar too.  I always couch my reliability observations based on the rainfall for the previous year and a longer term average of like 4 years prior.

I can see Red Ass as more like 80% or higher.  I have only seen it once in 2008 during sort of average rainfall conditions.
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 badknees

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Re: Backcountry water sources, ranked by reliability
« Reply #9 on: September 29, 2017, 10:03:21 AM »
Within the Park, the Johnsonís Ranch gauging station recorded several days in 1953, 1955, 1957, and 1958 when the riverbed was dry

Ernst Tinaja has been dry before, but I cant remember which year.

Point being.....records get broken. ME's approach is best - watch the multiyear rainfall totals.

Having said that, I believe that Ward Spring, Mule Ears Spring, Upper Oak Spring and Dominguez are at the top of the list.(possibly in that order)
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Offline House Made of Dawn

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Re: Backcountry water sources, ranked by reliability
« Reply #10 on: September 29, 2017, 10:33:24 AM »
Badknees, that's fascinating info about Ernst Tinaja. I read somewhere (Parent's books, maybe?) that it was spring-fed thru a fault inside the Tinaja. Maybe not?


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« Last Edit: October 06, 2017, 11:30:37 AM by House Made of Dawn »
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Offline mule ears

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Re: Backcountry water sources, ranked by reliability
« Reply #11 on: September 29, 2017, 10:43:28 AM »
Richard, can we move this to Water and Spring reports?  Might be better situated there.
temperatures exceed 100 degrees F
minimum 1 gallon water per person/day
no shade, no water
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Offline mule ears

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Re: Backcountry water sources, ranked by reliability
« Reply #12 on: September 29, 2017, 10:51:20 AM »
Within the Park, the Johnsonís Ranch gauging station recorded several days in 1953, 1955, 1957, and 1958 when the riverbed was dry

Ernst Tinaja has been dry before, but I cant remember which year.

Point being.....records get broken. ME's approach is best - watch the multiyear rainfall totals.

Having said that, I believe that Ward Spring, Mule Ears Spring, Upper Oak Spring and Dominguez are at the top of the list.(possibly in that order)

For reference in planning for this winter, the park is struggling to maintain average rainfall so far this year but the last 4 years have been slightly above average so many of the minor springs "should" be running that wouldn't in drier times.
« Last Edit: September 29, 2017, 01:37:25 PM by mule ears »
temperatures exceed 100 degrees F
minimum 1 gallon water per person/day
no shade, no water
http://40yearsofwalking.wordpress.com/

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Online DesertRatShorty

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Re: Backcountry water sources, ranked by reliability
« Reply #13 on: September 30, 2017, 01:00:46 PM »
Thanks so much for the responses, this is extremely useful. I asked for the purpose of planning future trips, and I appreciate advice regarding rainfall in recent years, and having contingency plans in case a reportedly reliable source is dry. No one contradicted several of the springs I mentioned as being usually reliable (Upper Juniper, Double, Hermoso) so I'll assume those are also on the list.

As a follow up question, have people ever had to extract water from a spring when there was not a pool or a trickle of flowing water? I ordinarily use a 1 L platypus with the top cut of as a tool to get water from very shallow sources. Plus a bandana to serve as a prefilter if needed. Is there any other gear worth bringing that helps with really poor quality springs like say the Dodson spring, or where the water may be mostly below the surface?

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   And all around me a voice was a'sounding
   This land was made for you and me

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Offline presidio

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Re: Backcountry water sources, ranked by reliability
« Reply #14 on: September 30, 2017, 01:18:05 PM »
As a follow up question, have people ever had to extract water from a spring when there was not a pool or a trickle of flowing water? Is there any other gear worth bringing that helps with really poor quality springs like say the Dodson spring, or where the water may be mostly below the surface?

Carry a piece of cheesecloth (for straining water of debris), and another absorbent cloth that you soak in whatever pool is available. Then squeeze the wet cloth through the cheesecloth into a container that you either purify, or draw from though a mechanical purification device. That all makes shallow pools or otherwise unusable supplies (that you cannot fill containers from directly) potential sources.

As for subsurface water, excavating a small depression may help with pooling water, but you risk incurring the wrath and enforcement of the NPS.
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