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25 day hike across the Bend

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Offline trtlrock

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25 day hike across the Bend
« on: January 15, 2014, 10:04:24 PM »
Note - we took about a bazillion photos, but ~95% of them were shot in RAW format, and we won't be able to process them until we return home. We did have a camera which shot jpegs, although these were primarily when we needed a super-zoom shot, so on some days this camera wasn't used at all. Also, the camera was plagued by unremovable dust spots. Oh, also no PP or even cropping - straight out of the cam. Anyway, with that enticing lead-in, here's a link to about 150 photos that might be interesting. Or not. These are all documentary shots made with the superzoom dust-spot plagued backup camera, which later, out of necessity, became one of our primary promises of any photographic expertise:!i=3021415035&k=xgWmZsS

The original plan was to hike 25 straight days, 14 days in the NP, then 11 days in the SP. Unfortunately, our main camera broke on day 11, so we ordered a replacement and waited 5 days while UPS and XMAS conspired to delay delivery. In the end our trip took 29 days, 5 of those waiting for the camera. Braggin' rights were sacrificed for a functional camera.

Trip started 12/12, as we were dropped off about 1.5 miles down Old Ore Rd from the north end, and started walkin'

Day 1: hiked west into a cool drainage, then emerged at the end and wrapped around to see Muskhog Spg. The rock corral was impressive, and the Muskhog drainage was a geologic wonder, with plenty of water. We ascended through and past the spring, and noticed an impressive and abandoned bee honeycomb. The next one we noticed was not abandoned, and there were a few nervous moments when a few sentries came out to see what we were up to.

Went in search of the ruins near the old tank, but saw none. After lunch we hiked across the upper flats making a beeline for the McKinney drainage, hitting it upstream of McKinney spring itself. After establishing camp, we hiked quite a ways down the dry drainage, needing to fill 5 platypus water containers (2.4 liters ea). We each took our trekking poles, which proved invaluable as getting to the spring (main drainage impassable without a machete) involved several steep ascents and descents. But...d'oh!...forgot to bring our packs to house the filled platypi on the way back. Ever tried hiking with trekking poles and heavy platypi at the same time? Yeah... :banghead:

Day 2: wanted to see Mercy Spring, so we meandered that way (a steep descent into an interesting drainage). Water was running, but the bees convinced us to keep our exploration short. Made our way out to the Black Peaks, which was our 2nd time there. Fascinating area...there were vast flats with some sort of allium growing; the scent was everywhere. Harvested a few to liven up dinner, then made our way to Tornillo Creek and headed downstream looking for water.

Sure enough, a few turns after the dry Menagerie Spring area, copious amounts of water appeared. After getting what we needed, we found a nice camp site away from the stream, near the Big Yellow Arroyo junction.

Day 3: followed dry BYA upstream a ways (named for the yellowish bedding?), then took a right and headed back northish following the old roadbed. Broke away from that and headed crosscountry first paralleling, then following Cottonwood Creek. Crossed 385 and headed for Avery Canyon, which is a geologic stunner. The hoodoos and bedding were pretty photogenic, to say the least. Camped on a terrace above the dry creekbed, and enjoyed the nearly full moonrise.

Day 4: this was a purposely short day, allowing for some pack-free exploration before heading to a camp on the east/lower side of the Grapevine Hills and Balanced Rock. Checked out the gap between the long & high dike above Avery -- there was a pretty significant tinaja tucked in there, and the multicolored badlands were awesome. Then we wrapped around the south end of the dike, turned north at the west end, and headed past Fertile Sands (dry), heading upstream until we entered the Martianesque landscape of the Grapevine Hills. Didn't look promising for a campsite, but eventually persistence paid off and an awesome spot was found amidst the lunar landscape. Sweet views of Avery, the badlands, Black Hills and the Deadhorse to the east, with the golden setting sunlight playing over Balanced Rock and its thousands of brothers to the west and above us. Something we will never forget.

Day 5: it was slow going headed up into Grapevine Hills from the backside; lots of dense foliage needed avoiding, and it seemed as if the cameras came out every 2 minutes in an attempt to record this indescribable beauty. Eventually we came up to Balanced Rock (our 1st time seeing this iconic wonder). Finally tore ourselves away and headed down the trail towards GH road, saying hi to a hiker headed uptrail, the 1st person we had seen since the beginning of the hike.

Headed out N/NW down into the badland drainages, and gained Tornillo Creek, which we began following west and upstream. Passed a lengthy and amazing stretch of running spring-fed water in bedrock, and marveled at the high northern cliffs, where many a swallow/swift nest appeared on high, as well as large nests built with piles of pretty large branches - probably raptor nests of some kind. Made camp on an elevated terrace on the south side of the creek and watched the full moonrise. A stupendous day.

Day 6: Continued west on Tornillo, enjoying views of the Corazones, XMAS Mtns, Sombrero Pk and the Rosillos. A bit more water before it petered out. Made our way to the old Paint Gap road and followed it south to Dripping Springs and the ruins of the windmill and corral. Very interesting. Camp yielded jaw-dropping views of the soft looking Rosillos and the marvel of Sombrero in the setting sun, then with the full moon rising above and behind. Some serious eye-candy. Paint Gap hills seemed a tawny golden yellow in the setting sun, with the grasses covering the hillsides and shimmering in the light.

Day 7: made our way towards Paint Hill Spring, which was running long and deep. Passed a handmade water holder lost long ago. Came out and headed left towards the badlands north of the long dike running across Onion Flat. Passed through a set of burnt metallic rock and crystal hills that rivaled anything we have seen before passing through the gap in the dike and entering Onion Flat proper. More allium, hence the name? We passed this way before, on another trip, but this time we were heading south instead of north. Innumerable horse and/or burro tracks in the sandy flats, along with bunches of bi-color mustard and various yellow flowers.

Despite knowing how hard it was back in '07 to get into the main drainage, it proved even more difficult this time. Eventually we plowed our way in and followed it south towards the narrow point where you enter the upper Slickrock basin. Luckily most of the dense foliage was willow (thorn-free), and we were heading downstream, so we used our bodies to plow through it and escaped with minimal damage. Finally broke into the open and were rewarded with stunning views of Croton Pk on our left in the setting sun, as well as the "mottled" hills of Slickrock Mtn and the XMAS mountains rising behind and above them on our right.

Headed through Slickrock Canyon itself, which was impressive in the fading glow -- the pouroffs will have you craning your neck and gawking with mouths open wide enough to swallow a small javelina. Luckily, this did not happen. Also spent the majority of the day following/seeing very large mountain lion prints that appeared to be proceeding ahead of us along our route. Thankfully, he or she was not lying in wait, and we finally made camp on an elevated terrace south of Slickrock Canyon mouth.

Rained pretty significantly that night (maybe a quarter inch or so), and we certainly regretted not setting up the tarp ahead of time. Pulled it out and draped it over us hoping for a quick shower, but eventually we needed to emerge into the cold and wet night and set it up properly. Sort of like closing the barn door well after the horse left, but better late than never.

Day 8: our master plan of ascending to the top of Slickrock Mtn and following it around like a roller-coaster to camp at the north end overlooking Onion Flat was tossed in favor of drying out the sleeping bags, extra coffee, and recovering from a poor night's sleep and physical exhaustion. Eventually ascended to the nearest high point of Slickrock and were rewarded with stunning views down into buried dikes that could probably only be seen from this great height. Also some fab views of the Chisos, Window, and Cattail Falls areas. Snapped pics and gawked, then descended back to the same campsite, after first checking out the ruins of Slickrock well. All in all, a very cool day.

Day 9: followed the main drainage out of Slickrock towards Oak Creek, keeping our eyes on the wet & beautiful rocky creek bed, both to avoid broken ankles, and also as the remarkably varied rocks were stunningly beautiful. Made Oak Creek and stopped in the finally emerging sun for lunch. Headed on crosscountry for Cottonwood Creek, and then headed WNW through the large gap in the ridgeline, hoping to make Rough Run by camp. That plan was scuttled by the beauty of the Cottonwood Ck drainage, which was drowning in running spring-fed water. The bedding changed every 100 yards or so, causing many a picture to be taken, and many a cam battery to be changed. Made camp still a few miles short of Rough Run, and got another quarter inch or so of rain that night, but this time we had set up the tarp and so were able to scoff at the weather gods. Ha!

Day 10: continued down Cottonwood Ck and soon came to a vast rock fall that looked pretty fresh, and was completely blocking the wide creekbed. Saw large mule deer tracks deep in the soft mud...he as well as we were forced to leave the creekbed and do a thorny bypass. Eventually made Rough Run, and ascended the south side crosscountry in a successful search for the Cartledge Ranch ruins. Very interesting. The corral I saw on Google Earth and assumed would be rock was wood, and the remains of the well built and reasonably swank looking house itself were perched on the edge of the high and rapidly eroding hill directly above Rough Run. Won't be long until it begins to tumble down and disappear.

Continued down RR itself, cutting corners in an attempt to "catch up" with our schedule. Finally did, and eked out a camp on the south side of RR on the elevated badlands. Spectacular sunset views of Maverick, Bee, Willow, Indian Head, Dogie, with Black Mesa and the Solitario far in the distance. Even a fortuitous view of SE Canyon far in the distance through the only small gap we had looking SW. Quite a rewarding day.

Day 11: [Dec 22 then Dec 27] Made our way into the Dawson Ck drainage (dry) heading downstream into the most photogenic and insane looking badlands we have yet had the joy of traversing in BB. Many a pic was taken, probably too many, as this was where the Canon S100 finally gave up the ghost with the dreaded "lens error" problem. In other words, no zoom at all; just a (worthless) 24mm prime cam all of a sudden. This happened about 20 minutes before crossing 118 at the park's western entrance, so an on the spot decision was made to head into Study Butte, eke out lodgings, order a replacement (S110 in order to keep it compatible with the 40 or so batteries we had), and pray that Amazon Prime and UPS would get it there by the 24th as promised. I was hopeful but skeptical, and, sure enough, it didn't show up until the 26th. Oh well, with no last-minute lodging available, we camped out on a piece of nearby land we owned, celebrating XMAS under the stars.

Resumed where we left off, new cam in hand, and followed Dawson Ck down to the park boundary, where we made camp just inside the boundary in a spineless and vast black volcanic sandfield. The badlands near here were spectacular, and, with the short day, we had time for some exploration and photo taking before resuming our hiking diet of Packit Gourmet and Mary Jane's Farm dehy and freeze-dried meals. Seriously, both are excellent, but it was certainly a comedown from the fresh fruit & veggies we enjoyed during our unscheduled interlude.

Day 12: followed Terlingua Creek down to the junction of Well Creek, where we regained the park boundary, and camped near a small hill that yielded more mesmerizing sunset views, this time of the full Chisos, Rattlesnake Mts, MDA, SE Canyon, Black Mesa, and the Sierra Aguja. Saw several extensive and interesting ruins enroute, and our progress was noted and followed by wild horses perched on top of a very tall ridge, silhouetted against the sky. Didn't take much to envision Native American warriors mounted, and we could easily imagine our fear had that truly been the case, as it might have been were this the early 19th century rather than the early 21st. Also saw in the binocs that someone has erected what must be the cairn to end all cairns on top of the eastmost rampart of Rattlesnake Mtn - couldn't get a pic, even with the super zoom, but it must be absolutely huge.

Day 13: followed Well Ck towards the MDA, passing Sierra Aguja on our south, with the yellowish (aguja formation?) bedding showing gaudily. Passed some interesting ruins, and the high cut walls of the creek bed eventually gave way to smaller drainages, and then we regained the park property at the foot of the trail going up to Dam Tinaja on the MDA. A vast dust storm slanted over the Chisos during the 2nd half of the day, and yielded some interesting pics. We found a small camp site in the soft ground and gained some shelter from the wind. Morning light on the MDA escarpment was spellbinding when we awoke.

Day 14: Climbed up the steep and poorly cairned trail towards Dam Tinaja, and took in the views west (clear) and east (still sullied with dust). The views became more and more rewarding as we gained ~1000' in elevation. Saw a few jets landing at Lajitas Int'l Airport (why do I always smile when I see those words  :icon_lol:) on our way up. New flowers appeared that we had not seen anywhere else, and it was slow going with the exertion and the photos. Gained the upper edge, and rewarded ourselves with a too-leisurely lunch on top. While richly earned and enjoyed, this would prove to be a huge mistake later in the day.

Tore ourselves away and re-donned the packs, heading past Dam Tinaja (lots of water), and following the trail up and up over the limestone cobble towards Tinaja Lujan. We were going to top out near there and then head west down the old Smuggler's Trail, but we saw how far behind schedule we were, and elected to turn west a bit early on another old route that would later intersect with our desired route. I'm not sure it saved any time, but it proved quite interesting, and did avoid another elevation gain, and then a precipitous descent, so we at least saved some (rapidly diminishing) energy.

Emerged onto the actual trail at the northern foot of the high MDA escarpment, and were astonished to see a really, really well cairned route. Followed it westwards, and were pleased to see it led us up to the high saddle we needed to follow to stay on park property and continue on the trail that exited at Lajitas. The view down-drainage from the apex of the saddle to Lajitas and beyond into Mexico was astonishing, but there was no time to waste, and daylight was due to run out about the time we would hit our theoretical camp site just inside park property. And that was only if everything went quickly. Really, how bad could it be? All we had to do was follow the drainage, right?


Well, several things happened at once. The cairns disappeared, reappeared, led us into and out of the tight, choked, circuitous drainage. The trail led up onto the south side of the drainage, higher and higher...

Well, just see this post here for how it all turned out:

Finally, utterly exhausted and at about 9:30pm, we made camp just inside the park boundary, and ate every morsel of food we had before falling dead asleep. A spectacular but poorly-managed day. Good thing our headlamps are good, and that we emerged into the main drainage almost by accident, when at that point we were literally seconds away from choosing which tilted, rocky, lechuguilla-infested tiny piece of ground was going to be that night's camp.


« Last Edit: January 16, 2014, 12:23:07 PM by trtlrock »
John & Tess

"...and I'll face each day with a smile, for the time that I've been given's such a little while..." - Arthur Lee


Offline trtlrock

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25-day hike across the Bend Pt-2
« Reply #1 on: January 15, 2014, 11:37:30 PM »
This is Part 2, which begins on Day 15, leaving the Nat'l Park and entering the State Park. It covers that portion of the hike through Day 21...

Day 15: got a slow, sleepy start (yes, shocking!). Hiked out to Lajitas RV Park, got a hot shower, then checked by sat phone on the status of all the reliable springs we would be passing over the next 6 days to make sure there was water. We were told everything was dry. Crestfallen, we wondered what to do. We had not cached water for this portion, and suddenly needed to carry 4 more gallons than we had, and hope for the best. We also needed to hike additional water into an already-dropped cache near W Contrabando trailhead, and we had no vehicle or Tardis to accomplish this.

Luckily, the person at the Lajitas General Store came up with somebody they thought might be willing to ferry us to Contra W and then to Barton Warnock at the last minute, which offered (given the water report) literally the only hope of continuing our hike.

Already almost 1:00 in the afternoon, we were saved by our trail angel. Thank you so much Sian -- words cannot convey our thanks! And good company, too. By about 2:30 the additional water was cached, and another 4 gallons was crammed into our suddenly obscenely heavy packs, then after getting the permit at BW, and eating a really late lunch, we crawled/lurched onto the Contrabando Trail and into the State Park via the east trailhead, needing to knock out about 2-3 miles to get to our theoretical camp site in the drainage east of and below the highway-like bike trail that circles Lajitas Mesa.

We were told earlier by an unimpeachable source that there were prodigious pools of crystal-clear water there, and...sure enough, we arrived with the seams of our packs near-bursting with the heavy load, only to find a multitude of swimming-pool sized clear pools!

Aaaaargh!  :banghead:   :icon_rolleyes:   :icon_lol:

And so it went - everywhere we were told there was no water over the next 6 days was covered in water. So much freakin' water you thought about building an ark.

Ah well, so it goes. Builds character, I guess.  :icon_smile:

Anyway, Day 15 ended with a slowwwwww hike up the wide and beautifully shelved drainage, taking pictures of the golden late light reflected in the crystal clear pools of water, and on the walls of the canyon.

Day 16: continued CCW around Lajitas Mesa, following first the gorgeous drainage we were in, then hopping out (well, there was no actual hopping given our heavy packs) onto the main trail and onwards towards a supposed lithic procurement area and mining prospect we wanted to check out before continuing our CCW circle around the mesa. From a distance, we saw a couple of bike riders, then a group on horseback taking a tour, then later another bike was really quite a wrenching change from the utter solitude we had been used to on the trail.

No lithics were found, nor was a mining prospect found. Oh well. We did, however, pass through a reasonably sized hill made up of (I kid you not) NOTHING but quartz-like crystals. Just that one hill. It was straight out of Teletubby Land or HR Puff'n'Stuff. There is a dedicated trail to this called (strangely enough) the Crystal Trail. Put it on your bucket list...high on your bucket list.

We got back on our route and ate a hearty but late lunch in the scant shade of a small acacia tree. Pretty hot out there. Then we dropped into Contrabando Canyon and made for the spectacular ruins above the supposedly empty Contrabando Waterhole. Well, needless to say, there was loads of water, although it certainly didn't look appetizing. Onwards we went to camp, where, after endeavoring to absorb the constantly changing geologic wonders of the cliff bedding along Contrabando Canyon, we climbed out to a high terrace with stunning views of the Contrabando Dome in the setting sun. This feature looks like a giant toadstool right out of Alice in Wonderland. Only our 2nd day in the State Park and the strange beauty was relentless and spine-tinglingly exciting. It would only get better...

Day 17: continuing CCW in Contra Canyon, we gathered our cache and proverbially hopped into lower Fresno Creek. We still had 4 gallons of water to carry, and had to play it smart since eventually one of these water sources would be dry, and we would be in a world of hurt if we didn't have water at that point. Up Fresno we went, and shortly we came to The Narrows, which we initially thought was a dike similar to Dike Tinaja, then maybe a sill, and eventually maybe a laccolith. Regardless, vast amounts of clear wondrous water was pushed to the surface, and it was running downstream for maybe a good quarter-mile. The rock house ruins up on the east side were quite interesting as well.

We had just about assimilated this mind-boggling entity when we hove into view of the Wax Factory Laccolith, with more splendiferous pools of water at the supposedly dry spring. Camp was made on another terrace featuring scenery straight out of a 60s Star Trek episode, and we fell asleep to the sound of owls, after first conversing with the hawk perched on a rock about 30 yards away.

Day 18: the next morning dawned beautiful, as usual, and there was no sight or sound of the family who must have been trailing us yesterday...they camped barely in sight via binocs and faint sound farther south in Fresno. We were a bit surprised at the geology student who wandered south in the drainage looking for suitable rock samples for his field work. A nice guy, we chatted for a bit -- he had summited Wax Factory Laccolith the previous 4 days or so as part of his project...which pretty much involved finding out what the WFL really is, as it's a bit of an inexplicable geologic mystery, apparently.

We started upstream, and took in the beautiful cottonwoods that had dotted Fresno Creek along the entire way, and the stunning colors and layering of the WFL. Shortly thereafter we came upon the candelilla processing ruins and the multitude of rock houses adjacent, and, once again, many a picture was taken.

Then it was on to the Flotation Mill ruins, where we devoured lunch, having really only covered about 1 mile thus far on the day. Well, really, at this rate we weren't getting anywhere, but it was a heckuva lotta fun. A side trip to the Whitroy Mine was deleted in favor of any ascertainable forward progress, and we proceeded further up FC, passing more golden cottonwoods, wet fern-laden seeps, insanely twisted and beautifully layered know, the usual stuff.

Ah, but 'twas only a bit farther on that the brand new Canon S110 bit the dust, mocking us with the same dreaded lens error that killed the S100 earlier. A few choice curse words were uttered, the remaining functional S100 was now joined by the previously zoom-use-only Panasonic superzoom with Leica lens and innumerable dust spots (as Panasonic apparently cannot build a P&S that is even marginally, much less hermetically sealed)...

...and the hike went on. Farther up FC we found running water thinly pouring over beautiful rock shelving, and, at this point we needed to harvest, so the Aquamira tablets were broken out, and the packs were doffed while we climbed out of FC to check out the adjacent Sleeper Cabin, an interesting place that very closely resembled the tramping huts found in New Zealand.

Getting late, back into FC we hopped (packless at this point, we might have actually hopped), and upstream we went just a bit to The Cascades, which had been advertised as dry.

And guess what? They WERE actually dry! In a perverse moment, I vaguely recall a cry of joy from both of us.

It was time to get up and out of FC, which we were leaving tomorrow, and camp was made in the usual accommodating high terrace, which yielded serene views downstream through the scattered cottonwoods, their leaves lit like gold with the setting sun...

Day 19: morning dawned beautiful, as was the norm, and we donned our heavy, heavy (still 2 full days to our next water cache and you've got to play it safe) packs, and began the ascent about 1000 feet up to Chorro Vista. The initial climb was mild, and leveled out above and paralleling Arroyo Primero; we were no longer hiking northwards at this point, but pretty much due west. Soon a strange sound could be heard -- what could that be? Why, it's the sound of a virtual river of water coursing down Arroyo Primero. We looked below and saw the silvery glint winding its way amongst the yellow-clad cottonwoods.

Along we went towards Madrid House, where we settled down for lunch near a small (as in about 3 inches) waterfall, scattered cottonwood (and maple!) leaves, and a thick mass of horsetails. There were also 2 different types of palmetto-like trees to be seen amidst the verdancy. Afterwards, we explored the adobe ruins of Madrid House, which evidenced cursory signs of being propped up to forestall its eventual demise. We read later it was built in the late 19th century, which I would imagine means the adobe has been somewhat maintained over the years or it would have melted away into nothing.

Onwards we went, leaving Arroyo Primero and crossing Chorro Canyon to begin the real ascent onto the high Chorro Vista plateau. Stepping over the running water, we started the long, slow climb. On our way up, we spied two yuccas in full bloom laden with white blossoms. The blossoms are quite tasty, and, had we had the energy to doff our packs, we would have harvested a few to brighten up that night's dinner. Further up, we could see Madrid Falls (2nd or 3rd highest falls in Texas, I believe), and saw it was pouring with a pretty significant amount of water to Chorro Canyon below. There is a spring upstream from the falls, so it was pretty much a continuous run of water from the spring almost all the way down to Fresno Creek.

We finally broke out at the top plateau, and saw the full Chisos, Cerro Castolon and the Sierra Aguja distantly in the east. We had been there about a week earlier. We made our way towards Mexicano Falls trailhead, then farther out to the edge, overlooking the ruins of the Crawford Ranch in Fresno Creek about 700 feet below. All the flatirons of the Solitario, as well as Fresno Peak, and the large cave of Los Portales presented themselves for inspection. The mass of Rincon Mtn and its grassy flanks glimmered like pyrite in the waning light. We made camp, and notched another mind-blowing day under our heavily laden hipbelts. Sleep came quickly...

Day 20: with no water to be harvested, and a cache beckoning at the end of the day, we finally had our pack weights down to a more enjoyable level. We followed the trail (an old ranching roadbed) towards the Mexicano Falls overlook, and tiptoed out to the edge for heart-racing views of the flatirons, Fresno Peak, the dry falls (with a huge pool of water below), and the winding cottonwood-lined drainage of Arroyo Segundo (aka Arroyo Mexicano) below, making its way to Fresno Creek. Silvery threads marked scattered water in the distance.

Soon the trail left the roadbed and turned into a 'route', which means you need to look for the next and previous cairns in order to find your way. In this case the route led safely away from the precipitous edge over Mexicano Falls hundreds of feet below, and while the hiking wasn't easy, what with dodging lechuguilla, sotol, yucca, and various other thorny flora, and constantly losing and regaining 10-20 feet dealing with each miniature drainage that needed crossing, our packs were comparatively light, and we sauntered on (PS - that might be stretching the truth just a wee bit).

Eventually we descended down into Segundo, with more fairyland scenery: purple tuff cliff bands and a huge weeping cottonwood grandly holding forth in the middle of the arroyo. Lunch was beckoning, but first we wanted to check out a potential series of springs farther west in the arroyo. Soon a large water-filled tinaja revealed itself, at the bottom of a blue-grey slickrock chute. Dropping our packs, we climbed up and around, discovering more pools before the water disappeared. The next 100 yards or so was like a slightly wider version of Closed Canyon, with shorter walls. Otherwise identical in most respects.

Farther on it opened up into a long line of mounds of delicate golden grasses, leading to a collision of cottonwoods, some with utterly white trunks, others reaching for the blue, blue sky, bearing their glowing leaves and rattling in the soft breeze. A huge monster cottonwood had fallen over probably more than a hundred years earlier, but shrugged it off and spawned 4 or 5 separate and large trees in their own right, all reaching skyward from their horizontal parent. The gap narrowed between craggy, thick volcanic walls, and beyond, after pushing through a cluster of low willows, a spring gurgled in the open for a while before diving underground...

...and there were also large mountain lion tracks, which somehow reminded us we were both mortal...and really, really hungry. Back we went to the 1st tinaja, where we devoured lunch amidst the ocasional nervous glance behind us.

Unfortunately, the day was ticking away, and it was time to get moving. We climbed up a narrow drainage, which was well-cairned, and made our way over a landscape of buff-colored rock that looked as if it had been an ocean, frozen into rock with wave peaks and troughs captured in mid-motion. Sotols sprouted from the rock, and we again whipped out the cameras and shook our heads in wonder.

The cache was retrieved and jammed in the pack, and we wandered on looking for the flat spot that beckoned on our topo, promising a fine selection of campsites. On and on we trudged, but we found only rolling gullies covered in thorny vegetation, more alien-looking buff moonscape rock, and innumerable bones. Javelina, mule deer, you name it. This was a killing field - specifically, some lucky (and very efficient) mountain lion was roaming this bountiful turf, and, as far as we could see, he or she enjoyed killing anything that dared to enter. With day drawing to a close, wind picking up dramatically, and the temperature falling like a rock off a cliff, we soldiered on, willing to accept even a C- camping spot as soon as it appeared.

Well past our theoretical campsite, on the verge of bedding down in the middle of a sandy wash and hoping the lion wasn't particularly hungry tonight, we finally found a nice spot amidst the creosote on a slightly elevated terrace. Yes, there were more than a few bones scattered around, but at that point we were too tired and cold to care. Dinner was devoured, although that was probably a poor choice of words, given the situation, and the bags were zipped together. In we dived under the covers, pulling the hoods far above our heads, and counting on the miraculous powers of goose-down to keep us safe until morning...

Day 21:

...which dawned grey and blustery, and about 17 degrees. Heck, at least we were alive!


Our water in the Nalgenes was frozen, and, as luck would have it, I was having whatever random breakfast was in the most recent cache. In this case that meant cold cereal with freeze-dried berries (rather than one of the delicious Packit Gourmet hot grits, or maybe some Belgian waffles...), and, having dispensed quite a while ago with the annoying mix-your-powdered-milk concept, I gouged a hole in the frozen water of the Nalgene and drizzled some mighty cold water over my repast. Tess had her daily hot oatmeal, which, try as I might, I cannot stomach. We treated ourselves to tea AND coffee, and waited a bit for the sun to hit us, which warmed things right up into the 30s or thereabouts.

Down we descended into Ojo Mexicano, which took some doing, as every route seemed to end in a moderate but un-descendable 10-foot pouroff. Ojo Mex had no obvious water, but we stumbled upon one harvestable flow that would have provided water if we needed it. We were now back in Arroyo Segundo/Mexicano, and we reversed course and followed it east downstream a bit to check out some cool tuffaceous cliffs. The sun was now out, and temps for the day topped out in the low 50s.

Back upstream we went, leaving Segundo/Mexicano and following another drainage at a slight but annoying ascent in soft sand to a cache near Papalote Llano. From there we were supposed to go cross country to another cache near Tascate-1, but, as we were behind schedule on the day, we elected to road-walk this segment, especially as the topo looked a bit gnarly, and we had fresh memories of the gullies we had to traverse last night while the topo was advertising a flat basin.

We picked up the Tascate cache, and, with temps already having plummeted into the mid 30s, we went on westwards, bushwhacking through low thorny vegetation towards a high saddle that still needed crossing. Eventually we grabbed a decent campsite, well short of our goal, but by then temps were in the 20s, and a quick dinner was consumed. Hot tea was virtually chugged, and into the bags we went. Both of us felt like our feet were frozen, and it took a good 15 minutes for them to get warm.

This is a good place for a shout-out to our Feathered Friends Swallow bags, which got a professional cleaning and refurb recently, adding more down to make them 20-degree rated. They performed like champions, and we cannot recommend the brand and service highly enough. Like most things in life, you get what you pay for...

I think we were in bed by maybe 7:30, after watching the golden light play over a small volcanic formation that alternately looked like a rooster's comb, or a giant hand emerging from the ground with fingers splayed...
« Last Edit: January 16, 2014, 11:18:40 AM by trtlrock »
John & Tess

"...and I'll face each day with a smile, for the time that I've been given's such a little while..." - Arthur Lee


Offline Al

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Re: 25-day hike across the Bend Pt-2
« Reply #2 on: January 15, 2014, 11:59:02 PM »
I was going to say your pictures more than told your story, then I read this. The pictures reflect a perception one can only get by walking through the desert.  Then the story only gets better.


Offline trtlrock

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25-day hike across the Bend Pt-3
« Reply #3 on: January 16, 2014, 02:08:35 AM »
This is Part 3, which begins on Day 22, continuing the hike through the State Park...

Day 22: The original plan was to descend via Oso Canyon into Tapado Canyon, and hope we could climb out the other side to a flat area just west of Las Burras. This was always sketchy, and when we learned the Las Burras road was impassible at a point before our cache spot, we switched gears to a road-walk north, west, and then south around Oso Mountain. Later we found the road was fixed, but we kept the revision as the original idea had too many potential pitfalls to feel comfy.

Off we went, making slow progress towards the saddle we were suppose to pass through the day before. It took a long time for the ascent, and at the top the views west towards Oso Mtn and Bofecillos Peak beyond were superb. Nary a decent campsite was to be had after the steep descent, so we made the right decision. The cold front was obviously waning, and by mid-morning I was down to my hiking shirt, and a thin windshirt. The thorny vegetation was increasing, and we temporarily cliffed out when we tried to climb higher on the north to avoid it. Eventually we recovered and did the avoid-the-thorny-raking-plant slalom (a variant of the famous lechuguilla two-step) until we hit the Guale Rd just north of Los Cuates.

From there we went north, picked up a cache at the Oso connector road, and hiked that west until we neared Las Burras road, where we bushwhacked a corner and headed south on the LB road to the Nopalera trailhead, where another cache awaited. We dealt with that, and camped a few hundred yards farther down the Nopalera Trail in a nice site with great views back to some blond formations much like The Chimneys. They glowed with sunset, and Oso Mtn (otherwise pretty mundane looking despite being the highest peak in the park) thrust its pyramidical shape up in the background. Temps had warmed, and it was nice to have a physically easy day...

Day 23: today's sunrise was easily one of the best we've ever seen in the Bend. There were plenty of clouds to provide a surreal and gaudy display - I might very well have filled an SD card and killed a battery shooting it. I'm pretty sure I got whiplash trying to see all portions of the sky and the surrounding mountains at once. It lasted a good 20-30 minutes, and was a welcome sight. Earlier in the trip we went literally 72+ straight hours without a cloud in the sky...

We got a pretty early start and proceeded west on the Nopalera Trail, which at this point was still following an old roadbed. Cresting a small hill, we descended into a beautiful valley, with nice views to the south towards the Las Burras hills amidst the Bofecillos Mts. Ahead of us could be seen Bofecillos Peak, and we knew that in front of that lay our destination...Auras Canyon.

Soon we were approaching the Nopalera ruins, which appeared to be an old ranching line camp, which had been augmented and turned into a very rustic hunting shack. Once inside, we saw the bunk room, complete with multiple beds, and an adjacent kitchen/dining area. An interesting place...

We went on from there, and dropped back down to the trail, which soon petered out into a near-impenetrable mess of dense thorny vegetation frothing around small islands of unclimbable Grapevine Hills like rocks. The rocks were pretty, but the going was really, really, reallyyyyyyy tough and slow. We had to leave what was left of the 'trail' anyway and bushwhack to the north and then west to pick up our last cache at the northern/eastern end of Auras Canyon.

Oh my it was BAD. I strongly recommend to anyone reading this to never head west of the line shack on the Nopalera trail, and most certainly do not bushwhack off it if you are foolish enough to continue. The GPS was consulted almost every 2 minutes in a vain attempt to navigate the sea of unclimbable rock islands, which would only result in cliffing out should you try them instead of the thick thorny brush.

Ahhh...the brush. There must have been a dozen species of pant-ripping flora I had never seen before. None of the stings-like-a-pile-of-wasps catclaw, or maybe I just missed all that, but who cares...we were swanning around at about 0.5 mph like a drunken sailor, literally bleeding from a multitude of minor wounds. Finally we located the drainage we needed to descend. The descent was relatively minor, but there were a bunch of 5-6 foot pouroffs that needed negotiating, and the drainage was narrow and clogged with unpleasant vegetation that wanted nothing more than to kill you - of that I am absolutely sure. I'm certain I cursed so loudly at times they could hear me in Sauceda, probably 10 miles away as the raven roams...

Finally, thankfully, blissfully, we got to our cache and could attend to our wounds. Oh yeah, and also load up 4.5 gallons of water, which, unpleasant as that was, was in the park compared to having your flesh ripped to shreds.

We found the trail and proceeded down Auras Canyon, hoping to see Papalote Severo, and make camp beyond, below the layer-cake tuff heights of the massive cliffs on the south side of the canyon.

Severo was cool. The turbine was gone from the windmill, but there was a ton of water below in the wellbox. Didn't look too appetizing, what with the top layer of floating dead bugs and pond scum. And, of course, who knows what carcass might be mouldering in the hidden depths below? Not to mention you would've needed maybe 15+ feet of rope [had it], and a bucket of some kind [didn't have it - seriously, you think we're going to carry a bucket?!] to dip down and bring it up. But hey, if you had the means to retrieve it, and double-filtered it with 2 bandanas, and then double or triple dosed it with the Aquamira tablets, then I suppose it could just save your life. Me? Well, let's just say that suddenly my groaningly heavy, water-laden pack didn't feel quite so bad.   :icon_smile:

Onwards we crawled, and found a nice spot below the stunningly gorgeous cliffs to set up camp. We had just enough time to climb up high and explore the cliff area a bit, enjoying the golden rays of the setting sun splashing on the other side of the canyon and down in the drainage below.

We then ate dinner. A lot! And snacks. And just about anything else we could get our hands on - given a choice between eating it or carrying it, was an easy decision. We began thinking we could hike all the way out tomorrow and shave a day off the schedule (which is what we ended up doing), so a lot of the food was theoretically superfluous anyway. We weren't so cavalier with the water, though, as we had been unable to ascertain for sure whether we could actually make it all the way down Auras Canyon, with its tight S-curves and high walls. Actually, I figured it was 50/50 that an impassible pouroff or a giant boulder jumble might await us, in which case we would have to reverse course all the way back up Auras, and then climb a high pass to descend a long and sketchy, steep trail to the main park road.

Well, the water needed to be conserved, but I didn't think we were likely to starve to death, and superfluous food weighs quite a lot more in your pack, when it could be in your tummy.

Sleep came quickly...

Day 24: we woke early, as we wanted to explore the cliff-face more thoroughly before setting off down the canyon. As we ate breakfast, we heard the sharp keen of a pair of raptors, careening across the canyon from one gigantic wall to the other. Not another sound was heard...Auras is a very special place.

We satiated our further desire to explore the cliff walls, then packed up and headed out at about 11:30, needing to cover about 5.5 miles of unknown canyon, then another 1.5 miles of flats before hitting pavement and getting picked up by our shuttle.

I figured we'd cross our fingers and hope for luck, and, if all went well, we'd whip out the sat phone at about 2pm and see if our shuttle would come get us at the end of the day, instead of tomorrow.

We hadn't gone more than 10 minutes down-canyon before thorny vegetation began, and a minor pouroff needed to be negotiated. I intoned that if this was any indication, we'd be heading back up canyon before we knew it, or be forced to camp in the wash halfway down...anyway, I'm sure I said something bright & cheery like that.


...that was it!

No more thorns.

No more pouroffs.

Even though the 50-100 foot canyon walls narrowed at times to about 15 feet across, it was like a luke-warm knife through cold butter. We flushed two or three packs of javelinas, who looked fat and happy. Down near lower Auras, we flushed a grey fox who crossed the canyon about 50 yards in front of us. We saw numerous soaring hawks, who seemed to urge us on...on...

...ON to a hot shower!

ON to dinner at the Starlight!

The sat phone call was made!

The shuttle was moved up!

Lodging was procured!

Alea iacta est!

Now we just had to make it the last mile or two down the canyon and hope for no last-minute dream-shattering obstacles...

When we rounded the final bend and came out the mouth of the canyon, I giddily poured out the 2 gallons of water I was still hauling. We saw the green, irrigated fields in Mexico across the Rio Grande awaiting us in the distance. Well, we sure weren't going that far, but they were awful purdy...

Oh yeah, we did see one more thing of note. All day long Tess had been seeing mountain lion sign, if not in reality, at least in her imagination, or so I thought.

We have three cats at home, and what do cats like to do? That's right, they like to eat grass, then throw it up (usually on your living room floor, or at least that's how it is for us). Shortly before we came out of the canyon we came upon a big chunk of recently regurgitated grass. Still oozing juicy stomach fluids. A fly was happily buzzing around it. Heck, it was probably still warm!  :vomit:  :icon_eek:  :nailbitting:

Ahhh...but we made it out to tell the tale...  :dance:



PS - a note on the water-availability predictions:

I obviously mined the dire water predictions a (teeny, tiny, little) bit for humor, but here's the real deal, at least given my (lengthy) experience hiking in BiBe:

1) it sometimes seems as if the NPS purposely lies to you, telling you there's no water anywhere, and what you might stumble upon should be left for the wildlife. I'm sure that's not really true, and there are some rangers who will give you recent and accurate info if you are lucky enough to pose the question to them specifically.

2) the info I got from BBRSP was undoubtedly a mangled miscommunication, and assuredly was not meant to be misleading.

3) the info predicting no water might well have been TRUE, and it's incumbent on the hiker to take enough water to survive, even if the info is in doubt.
« Last Edit: January 23, 2014, 02:23:59 PM by trtlrock »
John & Tess

"...and I'll face each day with a smile, for the time that I've been given's such a little while..." - Arthur Lee


Offline kevint

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Re: 25-day hike across the Bend Pt-3
« Reply #4 on: January 16, 2014, 05:36:09 AM »
-- Kevin (W5KLT)

"It's not an adventure until something goes wrong."  --Yvon Chouinard


Offline trtlrock

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Re: 25-day hike across the Bend Pt-2
« Reply #5 on: January 16, 2014, 06:06:14 AM »
I was going to say your pictures more than told your story, then I read this. The pictures reflect a perception one can only get by walking through the desert.  Then the story only gets better.

Thanks Al, that's really nice. Much has been added & edited since I saw your post...
John & Tess

"...and I'll face each day with a smile, for the time that I've been given's such a little while..." - Arthur Lee


Offline mule ears

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Re: 25 day hike across the Bend Pt-1
« Reply #6 on: January 16, 2014, 07:53:07 AM »
Speechless!  You and I must be of the same genetic material, your route choices are exactly the same as mine.  Can't wait to see that Muskhog>McKinney>Tornillo stretch myself in a few weeks.  The whole trip to the end is magnificent, thanks!   :notworthy: :eusa_clap:
temperatures exceed 100 degrees F
minimum 1 gallon water per person/day
no shade, no water


Offline steelfrog

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Re: 25 day hike across the Bend Pt-1
« Reply #7 on: January 16, 2014, 08:58:30 AM »


Offline elhombre

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Re: 25 day hike across the Bend Pt-1
« Reply #8 on: January 16, 2014, 09:01:05 AM »
A true adventure!  Thanks for sharing.

Do you have any idea what kind of mileage per day you averaged? 
Who is Roger Stone and what did he do??  

Seek out the facts for yourself.  Begin by using the search engine,  not google.

May God Bless America!


Offline Ranger Tim

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Re: 25 day hike across the Bend Pt-1
« Reply #9 on: January 16, 2014, 09:39:22 AM »
Excellent trip report, sir! I hope to one day follow that route myself, provided the powers that be can establish some sort of coherent policy on the caching of consumables. ;)
"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


Offline catz

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Re: 25 day hike across the Bend Pt-1
« Reply #10 on: January 16, 2014, 11:23:51 AM »
Wake me when it's time to go.


Offline Homer67

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Re: 25 day hike across the Bend Pt-1
« Reply #11 on: January 16, 2014, 12:06:17 PM »
Wow, very nice!  I love extended hikes; they can offer some challenges with food, water and clothing.
Ah Big Bend, we will soon return to reacquaint ourselves in our ritual of blood, exhaustion and dehydration. How can we resist the temptation to strip ourselves of the maladies of civilization?


Offline trtlrock

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Re: 25 day hike across the Bend Pt-1
« Reply #12 on: January 16, 2014, 12:22:42 PM »
Do you have any idea what kind of mileage per day you averaged?

As planned, it was about 6.25 miles per day. As hiked, I believe more like ~7.5 per day. So maybe about 180 miles total?
John & Tess

"...and I'll face each day with a smile, for the time that I've been given's such a little while..." - Arthur Lee


Offline Ay Chihuahua!

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Re: 25 day hike across the Bend
« Reply #13 on: January 16, 2014, 03:15:17 PM »
Goodgodamighty!   :great:   :eusa_clap:   :notworthy:


Offline Andreas

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Re: 25 day hike across the Bend
« Reply #14 on: January 16, 2014, 03:43:51 PM »

"Well done is better than well said."

But in your case, you've achieved both...and thrown in many great photos as a bonus. What a great accomplishment, thank you for sharing.

with a perfect and very low bow,

"Any time you're throwin dirt you're losin ground."

Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men



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