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Exploring the Sierra Quemada and Tornillo Creek

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Offline jeffblaylock

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Exploring the Sierra Quemada and Tornillo Creek
« on: November 30, 2008, 12:27:28 AM »
Ay Chihuahua! and I just returned from a weeklong backpacking trip to Big Bend, and it was easily the best backpacking either of us has done in the park -- and Top 3 all time, anywhere, for both of us.

The trip would have two distinct segments: a 5-night backpack into the Sierra Quemada and an overnight to the Banta Shut-in. A detailed report will develop over time, as we sort through our more than 1,000 photos, GPS tracks, and recollections. In the mean time, here's the Cliff Notes of the Cliff Notes version:

We left Austin a week ago Friday (Nov 21) and spent the night in the Basin.  We hiked up Pinnacles Trail to the Juniper Canyon Trail. Just before that trail junction, we saw a bear in Big Bend for the first time. We struggled to get water from Upper Juniper Spring, so, exhausted, we made camp nearby. The next morning (Nov 23), we finished the Juniper Canyon Trail and began the Dodson Trail, ending up on the pass just east of Fresno Creek.

Our next day saw us continue along Dodson to the Smoky Creek Trail, which we took heading south. At a particularly difficult pour-off, we continued following the drainage downstream, while the "old" trail branched off to the east. Had we taken the "old" trail, we would have saved ourselves the trouble (and bloodshed) of bushwhacking our way from one drainage to another. We ended up at the mouth of the wash we would take into the Quemada. Ay Chi explored upstream, discovering a pretty waterfall, while I explored the hoodoos downstream.

We hiked up an unnamed wash to an unnamed pass and down an unnamed wash past unnamed pouroffs before ultimately reaching Fisk Canyon. The brush there was downright nasty, and vengeful, and we ended up spending several hours removing thorns, spikes, barbs, and other pricklies from our skin and clothes. We camped at Dominguez Spring, one of the most dramatic places I have experienced in Big Bend. From our campsite, we could see the daunting challenge that waited for us the next day: Jack's Pass.

On the day before Thanksgiving, we broke camp and scrambled, slowly but surely, over Jack's Pass, 1,000 feet above the spring. After soaking up the views, we followed a fence line into a wash, and then followed the wash all the way back to Smoky Creek. We hiked cross-country toward the Mule Ears, bypassing an excellent camping opportunity because we had inaccurate information about where the Mule Ears Spring trail enters Smoky Creek. We ended up hiking several miles out of the way, finding a suitable campsite at sunset. We had not seen a soul since Upper Juniper Spring, though the frequent appearance of bootprints along the route gave us comfort. In fact, we saw two distinctly different sized prints traveling together, which we hoped belonged to Badknees and Little Goodknees (They did!).

We hustled to the Mule Ears overlook because we hoped a ride might be waiting for us if we got there by 10am. I will not name the individual who was waiting for us here, because I do not want any readers of this report to think he runs a shuttle service for hikers. But Ay Chi and I are very grateful that he took several hours out of his Thanksgiving Day to visit with us, discuss other destinations in the Quemada, and, of course, ferry us back to our vehicle in the Basin. And thanks to the other board member for facilitating. Anyway, we were back in civilization, and the Basin was CROWDED.

Ay Chihuahua! had the great idea of going to Study Butte for showers and Terlingua for real food served on a plate and eaten with real utensils. We had an excellent traditional Thanksgiving meal at the Ghost Town Cafe, then had some beer and wine at our backroads campsite, Roy's Peak Vista. We broke camp late the next morning, thinking we would not need long to reach the Banta Shut-in. It took a lot longer than we thought.

Following some adventures with quicksand, we found a place to drop our packs and proceeded to the shut-in with just our food, water, and cameras. The way into the shut-in was blocked by high, cold water, so we picked our way up to the rim and enjoyed the views. We returned to our packs and moved them to a campsite just downstream, at an amphitheater-like bend in Tornillo Creek where a series of ledges creates waterfalls. We hiked out the next morning and returned to Austin.

That's the high-level summary.

Now, I mentioned we took over 1,000 photos between us. Not knowing really where to begin, let me begin with the beginnings ... of each day. Below are photos of each sunrise from our backcountry campsites:

Juniper Canyon


Dodson Trail


Smoky Creek


Dominguez Spring


Near the Mule Ears


Roy's Peak Vista


Waterfall Bend of Tornillo Creek


Lots more to come ... stay tuned.
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 Al

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Re: Exploring the Sierra Quemada and Tornillo Creek
« Reply #1 on: November 30, 2008, 02:08:48 AM »
You guys covered a lot of ground!

Al

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Offline Al

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Re: Exploring the Sierra Quemada and Tornillo Creek
« Reply #2 on: November 30, 2008, 02:30:00 AM »
Jeff, you must of hiked a bit for the shot from Roy's Peak Vista . . .



G9 shots?

Al
« Last Edit: November 30, 2008, 02:35:00 AM by Al »

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Offline mule ears

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Re: Exploring the Sierra Quemada and Tornillo Creek
« Reply #3 on: November 30, 2008, 06:52:46 AM »
Awesome beginning, all great places and I agree that Dominguez spring is a very dramatic place to camp. Can't wait to read and see all the details. Thanks.
temperatures exceed 100 degrees F
minimum 1 gallon water per person/day
no shade, no water
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Offline Ay Chihuahua!

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Re: Exploring the Sierra Quemada and Tornillo Creek
« Reply #4 on: November 30, 2008, 07:27:22 AM »
Jeff,

I'll chime in with some pics and something relevant to say when I get everything put away and my head together.  I'm still a bit wiped.

Nice start, btw.   :icon_smile:

AC

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Offline Casa Grande

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Re: Exploring the Sierra Quemada and Tornillo Creek
« Reply #5 on: November 30, 2008, 08:31:59 AM »
wow, wow, wow!  what a teaser!

thanks for posting so soon!

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Offline walkingman06

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Re: Exploring the Sierra Quemada and Tornillo Creek
« Reply #6 on: November 30, 2008, 09:17:43 AM »
Thanks for the early report, Jeff.  I'm looking forward to the rest.

BTW how about water at Boot Canyon or Fresno Creek?
« Last Edit: November 30, 2008, 11:36:42 AM by walkingman06 »
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chisos_muse

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Re: Exploring the Sierra Quemada and Tornillo Creek
« Reply #7 on: November 30, 2008, 09:33:27 AM »
Between you and Homero, I need to get a vat of popcorn and a case of wine.....  :eusa_clap:

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Offline sleepy

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Re: Exploring the Sierra Quemada and Tornillo Creek
« Reply #8 on: November 30, 2008, 10:02:15 AM »
Glad you boys made it out alive.  Can't wait for details and more pics.


It's never too late to be what you might have been-Geroge Elliot

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Offline homerboy2u

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Re: Exploring the Sierra Quemada and Tornillo Creek
« Reply #9 on: November 30, 2008, 10:44:37 AM »
Between you and Homero, I need to get a vat of popcorn and a case of wine.....  :eusa_clap:

 Yeap!!...si se?ora,but i do not hold any water against Jeff's fotos.I am glad he is with us.
Stay thirsty, my friends.

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Offline jeffblaylock

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Re: Exploring the Sierra Quemada and Tornillo Creek
« Reply #10 on: November 30, 2008, 03:05:58 PM »
Thanks for the early report, Jeff.  I'm looking forward to the rest.

BTW how about water at Boot Canyon or Fresno Creek?

We did not check the pipe below the cabin, but we heard no water. We only went up Boot Canyon as far as the Juniper Canyon junction, so we can't vouch for water upstream. There was none between the cabin and the junction that we could see from the trail. Fresno Creek flows quite nicely. There is some water in the drainage just west of it. We did not check out Dodson Spring but there seemed to be some water seeping out and there are probably pools downstream. A stream flows through Fisk Canyon. Dominguez Spring has a small but drinkable flow over the base of the old dam. Smoky Spring is trickling and runs about 150 feet. Mule Ears Spring is a mini-gusher.
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 walkingman06

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Re: Exploring the Sierra Quemada and Tornillo Creek
« Reply #11 on: December 01, 2008, 07:51:43 AM »
Thanks Jeff for the water report.  I'm one week away from my OML trip.  I'll probably need to pack enough water to get to Fresno Creek :icon_frown:


Moving in silent desperation
Keeping an eye on the holy land
A hypothetical destination
Say, who is this walking man?
James Taylor
Posted from Tulsa, OK

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Offline jeffblaylock

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Re: Exploring the Sierra Quemada and Tornillo Creek
« Reply #12 on: December 01, 2008, 09:21:58 AM »
I should add that there is water available at Upper Juniper Spring, but you have to risk life and limb to get to it. Take the spur trail (marked with the Juniper Camp sign) until it ends at some faint ruins. There was a trickle of water flowing there. A large pool of water lies steeply downhill from there. The hillside is covered with dead leaves, hiding the rocks and crevasses underneath. The vegetation is thick and the climb difficult. A healthy bushwhack awaits on the way out. Ay Chi punctured his water container here. So, with all those caveats, there is another water source between Boot Spring and Fresno.

Another option, if you have high clearance and time, is to cache water at the Dodson/Juniper Canyon trailhead.
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 Burn Ban

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Re: Exploring the Sierra Quemada and Tornillo Creek
« Reply #13 on: December 01, 2008, 09:58:49 AM »


Another option, if you have high clearance and time, is to cache water at the Dodson/Juniper Canyon trailhead.

the next time i do this hike i will cache water here.  it may be inconvenient, but it would be well worth the effort.

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Offline 01ACRViper

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Re: Exploring the Sierra Quemada and Tornillo Creek
« Reply #14 on: December 01, 2008, 11:37:15 AM »
awesome report  :eusa_clap:

i really wish i pushed the time off issue harder, i think i missed an amazing trip. i'm waiting for more pictures, so get to it  :icon_wink:

 


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