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Christmas Mountains

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Offline Red Hawk

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Christmas Mountains
« on: January 26, 2009, 01:37:06 PM »
Greetings fellow trekkers . I finally got the opportunity to hike from Terlingua Ranch to the summit of Little Christmas Mountain, on an old mining road.

Up until about a year ago the mountains were a sort of no man's land, off limits to the public. More recently BBNP made it possible to access the north eastern face up Oak Creek wash, a difficult route. This past fall the lease was transfered to Terlingua ranch to protect this unique preserve. Now, with a permit from the Ranch Office, a relatively easy route to the heart of the mountains and beyond is available. Road directions to the trailhead are routed to avoid private houses and are nearly ok for even a rental car. A small parking lot is at the end of the drivable road.

The Christmas Mountains form a buffer zone between the northwestern regions of the National Park and the hurley burley of Terlingua ranch, and it has features of both places as well as its own unique beauty and secrets. The views from the road are lovely, verdant and craggy at once. The view of the road is less so, especially as it easily points out how far it is you have yet to climb. It reminded me of the Ross Maxwell drive in miniature. I think it's about 4 miles to the summit and it took me less than 3 hours to reach it.

From the trailhead it's a steady south-ish climb along an old switchbacked mining road that is nearly washed out in places near the bottom. Views of a big canyon in the bottom of the valley invite exploration another day perhaps. The route skirts the west flank of the central hills for the first half and good shade is available much of this part. The track then crosses over a high bench to the east side of the range for a while and the first grand views of the Chisos are wonderful from this open tableland. The track then crosses back to the interior and into a gorgeous bowl, like a little Basin. This high mountain meadow is spotted with junipers and covered in rich grasses with lots of birds. it has very little flat ground. The track descends to the bottom and to a narrow window on the east side perfectly framing the whole Chisos range. A clear late afternoon photo from this spot would win the calendar for sure.

Having lost perhaps a third of elevation gained earlier, it seems a long way indeed back up out of the bowl and beyond to the summit. There is a ruin of a cabin on the one flat spot on the south side of the bowl near where the road forks to distant prospects. Take the left fork towards the summit where some amazing road engineering and grand views of the bowl provide interesting contrasts to the buffer zone nature of the place. A couple more massive switchbacks lead eventually to the end of the road at a high spot where explosive blasts from a small mine once echoed around and around the bowl.

From there a 100 yard scramble leads to the 5699 foot summit, and a spectacular 360 degree view of the Park and the surrounding big ranches is laid out before you. Persimmon Gap, Rosillos Mtns., Sombrero Ranch, and the whole north, west, central and southern areas of BBNP including The Chisos, the Sierra Quemada, Cerro Castilan and Sta. Elena. The Paint Gap, Slickrock Canyon, Onion Flat and The Grapevine Hills are at your feet beneath the sheer northeast face. Two radio towers take advantage of the same views and for some reason don't seem inappropriate.

The downhill trek is a relief after the relentlessly steady ascent, the occasional rolling rock under your boot will keep you attentive. The views of the decent seem totally different, perhaps because of the light. Now the Christmas window shows a sun streaked black and red, unusually lofty view of the gorgeous west wall of the Chisos. The valley floor seems richer and the canyons deeper and more secret in the lowering light. The way still looks long but seems to go quickly; time now to explore the cabin, the seemingly man placed standing stones scattered about, the amazing efforts and skill of the road builders and the tremendous views that every switchback provides.

I didn't see any water along the way but there is evidence there may be short lived pockets and tinajas in the willows near the bottom of the bowl. Take it up with you and enough for the way down. The trail is permitted for foot, horseback and mountain bike but I sure wouldn't risk my neck on a bike, it's a long ways down sometimes and the road is often littered with stones just the right size to roll you over the edge.
 
Two hours should take you down but I spent three and hope to spend days if camping is ever allowed, there is so much yet to explore in just the east side of the range where I trekked yesterday.

The attached pics show some of the views but an opportunity exists for a clear day and a better photographer than I to make some really fine shots.

spc     

Moderator Note: the attached picture files were apparently lost during a server move.  :icon_cry:
« Last Edit: February 27, 2013, 02:27:36 PM by RichardM »
Barn's burnt.
Now
I can see the moon.

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Offline catz

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Re: Christmas Mountains
« Reply #1 on: January 26, 2009, 02:13:19 PM »
Thanks!!

Can you tell me how exactly one finds "Terlingua Ranch"?  North of Study Butte?  South?  About how far? 
Wake me when it's time to go.

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Offline jim2

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Re: Christmas Mountains
« Reply #2 on: January 26, 2009, 02:58:21 PM »
great report ! sounds like a great hike .

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Offline mule ears

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Re: Christmas Mountains
« Reply #3 on: January 26, 2009, 03:26:16 PM »
Wow!  :icon_biggrin: Thanks Red Hawk, those are the first pictures I have ever seen of the Christmas Mtns. from the "inside", would love to see more. Your description makes it sound as if it is only day use, no camping is that true?
temperatures exceed 100 degrees F
minimum 1 gallon water per person/day
no shade, no water
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Offline Sanjuro82

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Re: Christmas Mountains
« Reply #4 on: January 26, 2009, 03:37:08 PM »
Great report!  Thanks a lot, I will giving that hike on my next trip.  I'm interested in the canyon that you spotted.  Any more info on the canyon that you could share?

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Offline Red Hawk

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Re: Christmas Mountains
« Reply #5 on: January 26, 2009, 06:18:47 PM »
The Christmas Mountains Preserve is nearly surrounded by Terlingua Ranch except for the 1 mile border with BBNP. TR is a sort of 200,000 acre subdivision of private land holders and homesteads, accessed by 1100 miles of private road. The headquarters are at the Terlingua Ranch Resort. 17 miles north of Study Butte on 118, Then 16 miles in on the ranch road (last three are not paved). Call ahead (432) 371-2416 Tues-Sat.

With just the TR permit, it's day use only. But that may possibly be overcome with a little effort: a request to the Texas Gov. Land Office, or a back country permit from the BBNP (since they share access) should be possible. I dunno, I've not tried either yet.

The TR Lodge cabins pool and restaurant are temporary closed.There is the hopeful possibility they will reopen but probably not this season.
   
The mouth of the dark canyon is visible left of the bluff in the xmas trail photo. This was made within the first mile.  I doubt anyone has seen it's interior for a great many years. It's yours to explore (tell us what you see). The summit trail winds high above it to the east (left) well past the pink chimney.   spc

Barn's burnt.
Now
I can see the moon.

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Offline Fred

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Re: Christmas Mountains
« Reply #6 on: February 08, 2009, 10:19:47 PM »
Thank God NPS does not now have control of it.  If memory serves me correctly, the NPS "Plan" would not have allowed your drive up and easy hike.

For anyone else that takes the easy way up, described here, send a letter of thanks to that Patterson guy at GLO.  If not for him, this would not now be allowed.

Cooler heads have prevailed and the public now has access that they would not have were it in the hands of the NPS.

If you just cannot stomach a thank you letter to old Jer' then by all means take the long hard NPS route from the north side.

Here's a fun idea, lets have an annual X-mas Mts. summit race in August.  For those that just love the NPS and want every acre of Texas under their control, you can start on the NPS side.  For those that love and appreciate public access to public lands, take the Terlingua route.  Last one up is a rotten egg! :rolling:
Follow the writings of the old men, for they knew more than you or I.

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Offline Fred

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Re: Christmas Mountains
« Reply #7 on: February 10, 2009, 07:04:19 PM »
I am thinking on my next Bend trip, I will burn a day and go out there and check it out.

You never know when others might gain control and throw up the locked gates.

Thanks for the report.
Follow the writings of the old men, for they knew more than you or I.

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Offline Roy

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Re: Christmas Mountains
« Reply #8 on: February 10, 2009, 07:16:44 PM »
Thanks for the report, Hawk.  Glad someone finally got out that way.

Fred, if you're going to be political, at least get your facts straight.  If Ol' Jer had had his way, this would all be private property, little or no public access from any direction.

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Offline RichardM

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Re: Christmas Mountains
« Reply #9 on: February 10, 2009, 08:13:25 PM »
Thanks for the report, Hawk.  Glad someone finally got out that way.

Fred, if you're going to be political, at least get your facts straight.  If Ol' Jer had had his way, this would all be private property, little or no public access from any direction.
Maybe what Fred meant was that if "Ol' Jer" hadn't shot his mouth off (pun slightly intended) so the public got wind of his plans relatively early on, things might have turned out different where we wouldn't have access at all.

Fred, we'll look forward to your report with any pics you might care to share of the area.

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Offline jeffblaylock

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Re: Christmas Mountains
« Reply #10 on: February 10, 2009, 09:47:17 PM »
While we wait for Fred's trip report, and to get back on topic, it would be cool if Red Hawk would sketch out his hiking route on the appropriate topo map and share with the group. The Christmas Mountains are on the short list of places I'd like to explore this year (or early next).
Jeff Blaylock
Austin, Texas

"We'll be back, someday soon. We will return, someday, and when we do the gritty
splendor and the complicated grandeur of Big Bend will still be here. Waiting for us."--Ed Abbey

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Offline Fred

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Re: Christmas Mountains
« Reply #11 on: February 11, 2009, 07:58:01 PM »
Thanks all for the replies to my rantings.

As far as trip reports go, I am still a little spooked by cyber rangers looking for any reason to bust one of their loyal customers, so not sure I want to fore-go my 5th amendment rights here on the chat.  Maybe I can rejoin under an assumed name, .....like LC4L II, or some such, and protect my self in that way. :rolling:

Oh, wait a moment,  this property is not now under the control of NPS rangers.  Maybe I'm worried about nothing?

Good to be back.

Fred
Follow the writings of the old men, for they knew more than you or I.

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Offline aggiehiker

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Re: Christmas Mountains
« Reply #12 on: February 12, 2009, 01:05:36 PM »
I, too, would like to see a map. I'll be out there at Spring Break in Mar and would love to hike to the canyon. I've talked to PJ on the phone but couldn't get a definite yes to backpacking. I'll keep trying and post the results.

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Offline sleepy

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Re: Christmas Mountains
« Reply #13 on: February 14, 2009, 11:36:09 AM »
Red Hawk,
were you able to get the permit same day?  I see the permit application is online, but just a PDF to fill out.
It's never too late to be what you might have been-Geroge Elliot

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Offline Fred

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Re: Christmas Mountains
« Reply #14 on: February 19, 2009, 10:30:39 PM »
For newbies here, the link below hopefully will take you to an article on the subject that summarizes how and why we now have easy access to our own public lands.  Easy access that would not have been allowed if the land were turned over to the National Park.  The national park had drafted a use plan for the property and that plan only allowed access through a long hard difficult hike.  Now we have been given a drive up and short hike option, which will allow more folks to enjoy this property than would have otherwise been the case.  To be perfectly honest, I believe few if any would have used the property if it had gone to the park. 

Hopefully, enough folks will now want to go up there to provide enough interest to allow the Ranch to reopen at least some of the Lodge operation, thereby providing local jobs and helping fund road maintenance.  This is a perfect marriage of public and private interests and I applaud all involved in getting this done and helping our people to have access to our public lands.

When I go up there, I will ask if the property owners association will accept donations.  Helping these folks is the best way we can continue to enjoy this resource.



http://www.bigbendgazette.com/blog/_archives/2008/8/14/3838005.html
« Last Edit: February 19, 2009, 10:44:29 PM by Fred »
Follow the writings of the old men, for they knew more than you or I.

 


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