Big Bend Chat

Big Bend or Bust! => Your Trip Reports => Topic started by: congahead on September 10, 2019, 10:39:39 AM

Title: Night Hiking Trip – Aug. 30 – Sept. 2, 2019
Post by: congahead on September 10, 2019, 10:39:39 AM
My older son and I decided to spend the Labor Day holiday trekking through BIBE at night to see what we could see, after reading on this board how magical the desert is at night. It did not disappoint!

Friday, Aug. 30

Left the house at 07:00 sharp for the 650-mile trek. Had planned to stop at Cooper’s BBQ in Junction so I could compare it with Lum’s, where my wife and I had eaten lunch three weeks earlier on a trip to New Mexico. Cooper’s was packed, so we headed to Lum’s. Not the best I’ve had, but tasty.

Arrived in Study Butte around 18:00. Checked into the luxurious Chisos Mining Company Motel. It’s where I stay when I’m there with my son. If I’m with my wife, we upgrade to the Big Bend Casitas. Unloaded our gear and headed to the Chili Pepper for supper. In honor of House Made of Dawn, I ordered the chicken enchilada plate and iced tea. HMoD, you’re right that the tea didn’t cause you to dehydrate on your recent Dodson hike. I’ve had water that was stronger.

For the first night, we decided to drive down Old Maverick to the Chimneys west trailhead and hike for a short while into the desert. Saw a very large kit fox on the way, but nothing else. We pulled into the trailhead just as dusk was ending. Not surprisingly, ours was the only car at the trailhead. I told my son that if we wanted to avoid other humans, we’d come to the right place. Only I’d turn out to be wrong about that. (Foreshadowing.)

I was trying out my new Black Diamond Storm, which I’d bought specifically for night hiking. I’d used previous headlamps only for doing camp chores and answering nature’s call in the middle of the night (when the moon wouldn’t suffice.) Great headlamp. Followed the trail with no problem. Saw lots of mice, toads, lizards and millipedes.

After about ¾ of a mile in, we decided to head back to the car. About 100 yards from the trailhead, I turned to get one last look at the magnificent, new moon sky.

That’s when I saw a flashlight heading our way. I was instantly startled and spooked. It looked like it was about 100 - 200 yards away. I alerted my son; as he turned to look I shined my light in that direction. Then the other light went out.

My son said, “Whoever it is, they don’t want us to see them.”

I am never scared of animals in the park. But humans, at night, in a very remote section of the park, spook me. I said, “Let’s get out of here ASAP” and jogged the remaining distance to our car. We quickly packed and headed out.

We determined that whomever we’d seen fit one of three categories:

1.   Night hikers like us.
2.   Someone up to no good.
3.   Law enforcement.

Saturday, Aug. 31

Slept late and had the breakfast buffet at the Alon station after a coffee at Canyon Brew and headed into the park. The entrance station was still unmanned at 09:30. At about 09:40, just a few miles in on Maverick Drive, we came across a dead Trans Pecos rat snake. At about 09:45, a few miles later, we came across a very-much-alive, three-foot western diamondback heading off the gravel shoulder into the brush. Pulled over for some pictures. As my son got within about eight feet, the snake immediately turned around to face him, coiled in its defensive posture, and started rattling. Man, that is a sound that spooks you even when you know it’s coming. Took a few photos and a video and then left it alone to continue its journey into the brush.

Drove into the Basin, hiked up Pinnacles to Colima, across Colima to Laguna Meadow and back down. A good five-hour, nine-mile jaunt. Seemed kinda foolish to go all that way and not visit the South Rim, but it would’ve added almost four miles to our total, and we wanted to save our energy for that night, when we planned to hike the western end of the Dodson. Plus, Colima was the only Chisos trail I’d never done, so I was able to check it off my list.

Drove back to the motel and had DB’s Rustic Iron, among my favorite BBQ anywhere. DB was already out of brisket, but the pulled pork was tasty. Napped for a bit and then packed up for the night’s adventure.

Headed back into the park. Again along Maverick Drive we encounter another western diamondback (two-and-a-half footer), this time on the road. Jump out to take a few photos. It is very pissed off, so we don’t stay long. We do stay long enough to prevent another car from running over it while it complete its journey off the road into the brush.

Arrived at Homer Wilson right as dusk ended. It was actually kinda hard to find the trail in the dark, despite our headlamps. Finally found the Dodson trail sign and began. Less than two feet in, I see the tail end of a western diamondback slither into the grass. Whoa. We find it and snap a few photos.

We start to resume our journey. The trail is covered in grass. My son, in the lead, says, “I don’t want to sound like a wimp, but after what we’ve just seen, I don’t feel comfortable walking through here without my snake boots.”

I agreed. It would’ve been foolish to continue under those conditions.

So we come up with Plan B: drive down Ross Maxwell to East Chimneys and hike a mile or so in. I’ve done that trail a few times before. It is wide, flat, level and well-marked; grass shouldn’t be an issue.

On the drive to Chimneys, we encounter a beautiful black-tailed rattlesnake on the road. So, out for a few photos.

While we normally don’t break rules, we couldn’t stand the thought of somebody not paying attention and running over this animal. So, we encouraged it with a (fully-extended) trekking pole to go off the road into the bush. It complied with barely a rattle … the polar opposite of a western diamondback. Very docile.

Arrived at the Chimneys East trailhead a few moments later and began walking. Nice, smooth, flat, not covered in grass. Made it about a mile in when I decided to stop, kill the lights and experience what “dark” really is like. And to enjoy the spectacular new-moon night sky show. After about a minute, we switched our lights back on and started walking. I was in the lead. I stopped after about half a step, because four feet in front of me was a western diamondback coiled up in the middle of the trail. I uttered an expletive or two and leapt backwards. It wasn’t even rattling! I shudder to think what would’ve happened had I wandered just a bit ahead with my lights killed.

So we decided to head back to the Jeep and the motel.

Sunday, Sept. 1

Again slept late and had the breakfast buffet at the Alon station after a coffee at Canyon Brew.

Decided to check out Santa Elena Canyon because we hadn’t been there in several years. We weren’t the only ones with the same idea. I think just about every park visitor was there.

Then we headed to the Basin for lunch. It was Spring Break-busy.

Headed back to the motel to catch a nap and rest up for our last night.

The agenda was the east part of the Dodson, which would require a 1+ hour trip along Glenn Spring and Juniper Canyon roads. It was very smooth until we hit the Pine Canyon turnoff, reasonably smooth until we hit Juniper Canyon, and then got quite bumpy. I also christened our new Jeep Grand Cherokee 4x4 Trailhawk with its first Big Bend pinstripes. I hated hearing that noise, but I kept telling myself that’s why we bought the vehicle in the first place.

We arrived at the Juniper Canyon/Dodson bear boxes right at dusk and headed down the trail. Unlike the western half, it was not overgrown at all. We hiked about a mile in and enjoyed the stars once more. Turned around and headed back. Not a single snake.

On the way back down Juniper Canyon Road, we spotted another black-tail rattler in the brush. Jumped out and grabbed a few photos. Finally made it back to the motel about 02:30. Grabbed a shower and crashed.

Monday, Sept. 2

Up early, another coffee at Canyon Brew and back home via I-10, which was a nightmare past San Antonio.

A great trip. Loved night hiking in the Bend and will do it again. Now I’m ready for some cooler weather so I can sleep on the ground while our serpentine friends are tucked deep in their underground burrows. Just a few more months!
Title: Re: Night Hiking Trip – Aug. 30 – Sept. 2, 2019
Post by: jim2 on September 10, 2019, 12:56:34 PM
All those rattlers! Gave me the the willies. Sounds like a great trip with your son, that's the best kind of trip.
I agree with your wife, the CMC motel units are "dated'.   Cheap enough, that's why I stayed there.
Enjoyed reading your report
Title: Re: Night Hiking Trip – Aug. 30 – Sept. 2, 2019
Post by: steelfrog on September 10, 2019, 01:25:31 PM
Great report.  Thanks for sharing.

Blacktails are a nice docile snake; the largest fangs per body size of any rattler, but the weakest venom.

I've picked one up before and no rattle even.
Title: Re: Night Hiking Trip – Aug. 30 – Sept. 2, 2019
Post by: Lance on September 12, 2019, 11:30:43 AM
Good report sir!
Title: Re: Night Hiking Trip – Aug. 30 – Sept. 2, 2019
Post by: mule ears on September 12, 2019, 02:39:00 PM
Great trip and report, I am just not sure I am ready for mid summer desert hiking.  Yes the CMC motel is well used but for the price it has what I need post trip- a shower and a decent bed.
Title: Re: Night Hiking Trip – Aug. 30 – Sept. 2, 2019
Post by: Hang10er on September 12, 2019, 02:48:12 PM