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Walking Down the Eastern Side, Feb. 2014, Dog Canyon to Marufo Vega

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Offline mule ears

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Dog Canyon to Marufo Vega, almost.

Feb. 2nd-9th, 2014

79 miles walked, 68 with pack, 11 without


I always have trips in the planning stage, some take years to get around to actually doing this one was just such a case.  The idea of a long walk, north to south down the long eastern side of the park that would tie together many interesting places I had never been to was the basic idea.  The initial sparks for the actual route came from threads on Big Bend Chat like this one from 2007 about a canyon (Canyon sin Nombre as named by mountaindocdanny) near Dagger Flat and this one from 2006 about Devils Den, Dog Canyon, Dagger Flat and Ernst Tinaja.  Use your bookmarks feature people, you will be hard pressed to find these kinds of threads for trip planning later on!

2013 marked the 40th anniversary of my first trip to Big Bend but we couldn’t get it together to do a December trip which has become my normal window.  Early February would do nicely but the crazy winter weather of 2014 would conspire against us a bit.  Scott and Lee would both return to the park with me, the first time back for each of them since Scott walked with me across the eastern half of the park in 2004 and Lee the western half in 2008.

Just getting to the park was its usual endeavor.  Flying into Austin, Lee’s flight was delayed by 6 hours and put us into Ft. Stockton by midnight.  Up early with rain and wet snow it begins to clear and warm up as we drop down out of the Glass Mountains, the clouds spilling down off the mesa after us.


 
A stop at the Marathon Café for the last real meal for a week then into the park where we drop a cache off the Dagger Flat road and then to Panther Junction for a permit.
 
Our exit is the Marufo Vega/Strawhouse/Ore Terminal trailhead which we don’t want to leave a car at for a week, overnight OK but not 7 nights, so we drive down to the Boquillas crossing station to see if we can leave it there in the relative safety of the Border Patrol etc. and it would only be about a mile and a half walk from the trailhead.  They say sure.  We drive back to the Rio Grande Village visitor center to finish packing and meet our shuttle by 11:30.

I had put out a feeler on BBC for a ride and WetFeet replied about a week before we were to leave.  He showed up right on time and had us to Bone Spring draw by 1:00.  It was great to meet him, found out we even graduated from the same high school!  Without his help the logistics of getting to the trailhead would have been more difficult and expensive, we cannot thank him enough!

Off down Bone Spring draw, just about a mile, to the Devils Den exit for the night.  We carried in an extra gallon of water each just for the afternoon and morning with the rest of the water in the packs that would get us to our cache on the third day.  You can see Devils Den cutting its way down the slope directly ahead.


 
It was a beautiful day but windy, we found a campsite up on the flats mostly sheltered behind some big creosote bushes and settled in for a late lunch.  Late afternoon we day hiked up into Dog Canyon with its flat bottom and tortured geology, especially on the southern Sierra del Carmen side. 





Back to camp we have a nice dinner with a gentle sunset on the Santiago mountains.



Trail Day 2 but the first full day of walking.

The wind blew like hell all night and we woke to 31 degrees and an overcast sky, what happened to our beautiful desert weather?  This would turn out to be a pattern for the whole trip.


 
Quickly up the wash for Devils Den to the first rocky section and tinaja holding some water, it has a tiny arch in it to boot.



We take the easy trail up alongside Devils Den not wanting to climb the small pouroffs with full packs.  Good views down into the cut both up and down canyon showed the many drops some with water at their base.





At the top we drop down into the wash that drains the northern end of Dagger Flat and then exits out down Devils Den.  We plot a route up the opposite ridge to the low saddle in the middle of the picture.



Not too hard a climb and as we cross to the other side we scare up a group of Aoudad that run over the far ridge. 



We follow their Aoudad highway east towards a drainage that we will work our way down.  In the end we will cross three more small divides some of which can be seen in the distance,



as we work our way across the northern foothills of the Sierra del Carmen on the way to the mouth of Canyon sin Nombre seen here in the far center of the picture.



The canyon itself is a fairly easy climb/walk up into the southern end of Dagger Flat.  Filled with quite a few boulders it is not too bad to work your way up wash.  Even though this canyon is very isolated, we still saw a set of footprints headed up canyon.



At the junction of the Buda and Boquillas formations we find a few tinajas, some with a tiny bit of water.  This contact of the two geologic layers almost always seems to give a few water holes in the lower Buda formation.  Did I mention that it was a chilly day?  The high maybe hit the 50's, maybe, with wind.



Finally we pop out into lower Dagger Flat and find a great campsite on some nice fine gravels for the night.  9.9 miles for the day and it appears to be clearing off giving us a tremendous sunset, best of the trip.



Here is the map for the first days route



Here we go, more to come...   :icon_biggrin:
« Last Edit: February 15, 2014, 04:16:00 PM by mule ears »
temperatures exceed 100 degrees F
minimum 1 gallon water per person/day
no shade, no water
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Offline Andreas

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Re: Down the Eastern Side, Feb. 2014, Dog Canyon to Marufo Vega
« Reply #1 on: February 14, 2014, 10:14:47 AM »
let me be the first to thank you for your excellent TR and beautiful photos, enjoyed it very much!
"Any time you're throwin dirt you're losin ground."

Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men

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Offline wogelsby

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Re: Down the Eastern Side, Feb. 2014, Dog Canyon to Marufo Vega
« Reply #2 on: February 14, 2014, 10:15:16 AM »
@mule ears,

 :notworthy: I am soooo grateful for this post.  Very interested in the East side.  Done the Ore Rode in a Jeep and very interested in side hikes. It is startlingly beautiful.
It's gettin' hot.

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Offline steelfrog

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Re: Down the Eastern Side, Feb. 2014, Dog Canyon to Marufo Vega
« Reply #3 on: February 14, 2014, 10:54:59 AM »
Awesome!  Please continue...

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Offline wigfall

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Re: Down the Eastern Side, Feb. 2014, Dog Canyon to Marufo Vega
« Reply #4 on: February 14, 2014, 12:23:26 PM »
I wonder what would happen if someone left there car at Boq Xing and they arrived after they had  locked the gates for the day?

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Offline mule ears

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Re: Walking Down the Eastern Side, Feb. 2014, Dog Canyon to Marufo Vega
« Reply #5 on: February 14, 2014, 12:34:26 PM »
I wonder what would happen if someone left there car at Boq Xing and they arrived after they had  locked the gates for the day?

You would be stuck for the night or days if it was Mon.- Wed.  We made sure we were coming out on a day they would be open and to get there before 5:00.
« Last Edit: February 17, 2014, 06:51:10 AM by mule ears »
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: Walking Down the Eastern Side, Feb. 2014, Dog Canyon to Marufo Vega
« Reply #6 on: February 14, 2014, 02:33:26 PM »
Trail Day 3

The clouds move in and out most of the night, then it clears off completely and the temperature plummets to 20 degrees!  I only brought the 35 degree sleeping bag so there was some work to keeping warm.  We awoke to heavy frost all over the sleeping bags and equipment.  Of course the water was frozen too.





But it was a beautiful sunny day and it warmed up quickly.  This is the view north through Dagger Flat and the long ridge of Dagger Mountain.



Okiehiker talked about “backpacking through the slot to the west” of Canyon sin Nombre but also showed pictures of his kids climbing a face in the same slot canyon.  We headed up wash and over to this slot canyon



Several hundred yards into the canyon it became clear as to what the correct answer was, a 60 foot pouroff blocked any further progress without ropes.



We turned around and headed north along the escarpment for 10 minutes and then climbed up through a break in the rim to the top, easy.



Once up top there was a great view of all of Dagger Flat.  This pano shows the entire valley looking east, from Dagger Mountain in the north down to the south end.  Canyon sin Nombre is seen as a dark squiggly line about three quarters of the way to the right.



We work our way back south into the drainage for the blocked slot canyon and on south and over a small divide just east of pt. 3315.  We had great views of both the Rosillos and Chisos in the distance.



We continued south across flats and washes towards Leopold tinaja.  No water and some tough broken country.


 
We worked our way to the bottom and found a spot in the shade for lunch.  Very thorny route down wash to a larger drainage and we then climbed up the ridge opposite it, just below pt. 3468 and into the top of the drainage that Dickey Well is in.  Easy walking and interesting igneous rock layers down to the now toppled wood derrick that was Dickey Well, no water.



There were several snake trails across the dark gravels in the wash.



Just past Dickey Well we cross the Dagger Flat road and reach our cache.  The cache held the next 5 days food and a few quarts of water each, just enough to get us to Muskhog spring.  The cache allowed us to carry all the water we needed for the first two days without the added weight of the extra food.  Of course the food was in two Bearvault 500 canisters (approved by the NPS, the Sierra Interagency Black Bear Group and the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee) both the canister and the water were labeled with names and retrieve dates as required in the Superintendents 2013 Compendium Section 2.10: Camping: Backcountry camping (d), page 11.  (picture taken after removal and names removed to protect the innocent).



After repacking we go due south until we hit the Old Ore Rd. (OOR) and run into two motorcycles, the only people we would see in the backcountry the whole trip.  This is looking back north at the hills we had just come through past Dickey Well.



We head down the wash that crosses the OOR at the spot marked 3148.  Lots of foot prints and at least one motorcycle track.  Great formations all along this drainage.



Near the bottom we cut across a low hill over to the Javelina Creek drainage proper and Muskhog spring.  The stone corral is right next to the narrow, layered mouth of the canyon that holds the spring itself.



Sure enough there is good water flowing from the pools down the rock and into the gravels at the bottom.  A few bees are working the lowest water but they don’t bother us as we get water for the next day.  Great water.



We camp out on the flats with a great view of the Chisos and we can see the lights of PJ.  Beautiful warm night with no wind.  12.1 miles today.

Here is the map for todays route

« Last Edit: February 17, 2014, 12:27:23 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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Offline steelfrog

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Re: Down the Eastern Side, Feb. 2014, Dog Canyon to Marufo Vega
« Reply #7 on: February 14, 2014, 02:58:37 PM »
Go on, go on...   :icon_biggrin:

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Offline badknees

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Re: Down the Eastern Side, Feb. 2014, Dog Canyon to Marufo Vega
« Reply #8 on: February 15, 2014, 08:02:20 AM »
ME,

Excellent stuff. The base of Leopold looked like it had some grass growing. Was the ladder still there? Glad to see that Muskhog had water. That appears to be pretty reliable.


Keep it coming and thanks for the great photos!
Not all those who wander are lost.
– J.R.R. Tolkien

Through the Mirror
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Offline mule ears

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Re: Walking Down the Eastern Side, Feb. 2014, Dog Canyon to Marufo Vega
« Reply #9 on: February 15, 2014, 08:49:23 AM »
ME,

Excellent stuff. The base of Leopold looked like it had some grass growing. Was the ladder still there? Glad to see that Muskhog had water. That appears to be pretty reliable.


Keep it coming and thanks for the great photos!

Thanks, yes some kind of grass and the ladder is still there.
« Last Edit: February 15, 2014, 04:17:39 PM by mule ears »
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: Walking Down the Eastern Side, Feb. 2014, Dog Canyon to Marufo Vega
« Reply #10 on: February 15, 2014, 09:14:50 AM »
Trail Day 4

The wind picks up big overnight, looks like another front blowing in, damn!  :pissed: 36 degrees and we move camp quickly over to a protected area to make breakfast before heading out.  The walk starts out going up the little canyon that Muskhog spring is in and is the Javelina Creek drainage too. 



At the top we head SSE across some ridges which are a fault line and the dividing line between the Aguja and Javelina formations where many of the parks fossils have been found.  All of the drainages end with pouroffs down to the lower layer.


 
At the last one we find a nice tinaja again in the Buda formation





and the ledges above have quite a few fossilized shells.



We hit the OOR and walk about a mile and a half down it with the McKinney springs drainage on the east and the huge wash that Mercy spring is in on the west.  We look for Mercy spring but cannot see it 200 feet below us and are too lazy to climb down to find it.



We also are keeping an eye on the ominous clouds rolling over the Sierra del Carmen, hope this isn’t some really bad weather.



We do drop off the road down to McKinney Spring with its big cottonwoods and water flowing for some distance down the wash.



We then follow that wash down through complicated geology to its junction to with Tornillo creek, here we finally see the first bluebonnets beginning to bloom.



The wind is still blowing really hard downstream but we find a sheltered spot for lunch before heading down the creek.  There is lots of water starting just above the confluence and on down to Banta Shut-In but most of it in pools above the wash coming in from the Roys Peak Vista campsite.



Scott finds a great piece of petrified wood



And in places there are so many accumulated salts on the gravels that it looks like snow.



This stretch of Tornillo creek is one of the coolest places I have been in Big Bend.  I know lots of folks have walked it and TWWG has extolled many of its virtues but I was blown away by the geology, it also seems to drop a lot of elevation from the ledges you walk down but it turns out to only be about 300 feet.



We hit the Shut-In by 4:30 and it is really cold and windy.  We drop the packs and scout for a campsite out of the wind and to see if we can get through the canyon with dry feet.  Last time we were here we had to wade through ankle deep water.  This time it is dry all the way with a few rock bridges that someone had built over some pools near the lower end.



No good campsite above the Shut-In so we fill up with about 8 quarts of water each, enough to get us through two days.  We get it from a pool just below the spring which is above the Shut-In and has less sodium in it.



You can see how many salts are dissolved in the water in this pool.  These minerals can lead to a laxative effect, let me just say that I have experienced this before and wanted to try and avoid it.   :icon_eek:



We load up the heavy packs and head through the Shut-In, I am always amazed by how black the rock is.



The wind is really blowing up and down stream and we search for a site on an inside corner that misses most of it.  Finally several turns down stream we find a fairly protected place just as it is getting dark.  14.9 miles today and there is a weak sunset, maybe it will clear off again and we can get back to some sun tomorrow.



Here is the map for today.

« Last Edit: February 17, 2014, 12:28:25 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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Offline Andreas

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Re: Down the Eastern Side, Feb. 2014, Dog Canyon to Marufo Vega
« Reply #11 on: February 15, 2014, 09:20:07 AM »
please don't stop! :notworthy:
"Any time you're throwin dirt you're losin ground."

Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men

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Offline badknees

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Re: Walking Down the Eastern Side, Feb. 2014, Dog Canyon to Marufo Vega
« Reply #12 on: February 15, 2014, 08:18:22 PM »
ME,

Any water at McKinney?
Not all those who wander are lost.
– J.R.R. Tolkien

Through the Mirror
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Offline mule ears

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Re: Walking Down the Eastern Side, Feb. 2014, Dog Canyon to Marufo Vega
« Reply #13 on: February 15, 2014, 08:48:51 PM »
ME,

Any water at McKinney?

Yes good flow, I will correct that, thanks.
temperatures exceed 100 degrees F
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Offline trtlrock

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Re: Walking Down the Eastern Side, Feb. 2014, Dog Canyon to Marufo Vega
« Reply #14 on: February 16, 2014, 12:45:52 PM »
Great trip report ME! Waiting for more...

You haven't had much luck with the weather, if I recall. Wasn't your last trip the Mariscal one, and didn't that one turn cold, cloudy and blustery as well?

Love the Banta pics!
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

 


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