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Of Burros and Marufo Vegamatics

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Offline jeffblaylock

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Of Burros and Marufo Vegamatics
« on: January 30, 2008, 10:12:50 PM »
I finally hiked the Marufo Vega Trail, one of Big Bend's most spectacular and least hiked major trails. It is one of the few opportunities to see one of Big Bend's great canyons from the rim and the floor in the same hike. I intended to hike the trail over Thanksgiving weekend, but the weather conspired against it (that, and I had 7,454 Christmas lights to put on the house). So I was thrilled when a couple of my pals here in Austin suggested going to Big Bend in late January.

It would be their first trip to that part of Texas, so I knew I had just this one shot to make a good impression. Our original plan was to hike the South Rim. However, recent reports indicate the mountains are dry, and none of us felt like carrying two nights worth of water up the Pinnacles Trail. So, I started talking about Marufo Vega. Politely, they said they would do whatever I wanted, but I believe Randell's experience the week before sold them.

Weather was still an issue. All the forecasts were calling for cloudy skies through the weekend, but gradually improving toward being sunny on Monday. The plan would try to take advantage of the improving weather by placing the most scenic viewpoints later, rather than earlier, in the hike. Thus, the plan called for doing Randell's hike in reverse, plus a couple of off-trail excursions he hadn't done. We left Austin after work on Friday and booked it to Fort Stockton, where we crashed for the night. I don't think anyone slept -- too much excitement! -- despite having a couple beers each while the guys repacked their packs and I watched. We waved hello to Paisano Pete (No photo, again!) and I lamented the demise of King's Court, the Chevron station I fill up at every time out there. It's still there, but it's not the King anymore.

SATURDAY

5:17 a.m. came fast, and early. We loaded up, topped off the gas tank, scrounged for some food, and were off to the park. I love entering Big Bend around sunrise, and my traveling companions were slowly awakened to the beauty of the desert. High clouds had obscured the stars, but they couldn't stop the growing light of dawn. Mountains began to take shape in the distance. Santiago Peak dimly rose over the desert plains. Plants began to appear. Rabbits -- 19 of them -- darted here and there, one dangerously close to a final darting. I watched my pals looking around in all directions, discovering the desert as the dawn continued to approach. The sun broke over first the Deadhorse Mountains, and then the Sierra del Carmen, as we reached Panther Junction. It was a beautiful sunrise.





Permits in hand, we headed down the road toward Rio Grande Village, stopping at the store for a couple last-minute supplies. Then it was down the Boquillas Canyon access road to the trailhead. We were the only vehicle parked there. We tried our best to hide anything that might attract a thief, slung our packs on our backs, and paused for a pre-trail photo. It was 9:20 a.m.



We were off! The trail follows a broad wash north, a path shared by the Ore Terminal and Strawhouse Trails. I hiked the Ore Terminal Trail in February 2002, on a day when the temperature felt like it was 105 but was probably in the mid 80s. The lack of shade and the constant radiation (and reflection) off the limestone sands is draining in hot weather, even when "hot" is a relative term. As we walked, I talked about the Puerto Rico mine and the aerial tramway which was constructed almost a century ago to haul ore across the Rio Grande and this desert to the end of the "road" to the train in Marathon. We first encountered a fully collapsed tower, not even 15 minutes into the hike, and saw the rusting cable lying on the ground. In a few moments, we saw a half-fallen tower standing (more or less) in front of the Deadhorse Mountains, and I immediately wondered if this was the same tower which was still fully standing in 2002 (It was, look):

January 2008:


February 2002:


Another tower, way high on a ridge to the west, served as a reference point as we continued up the trail, gradually passing the junctions with the Ore Terminal and Strawhouse Trails. At the latter junction, a metal sign is attached to a boulder (UTM 13 0701009E 3233757N NAD27), and it was the guys' first real sense as to the ruggedness of what would follow. From there, the Marufo Vega Trail climbs steeply up a crumbling limestone slope in tight zig-zags, rapidly gaining slightly over 300 feet in elevation, and it took us nearly 40 minutes to make the climb. Talk about three guys not in shape!

But it wouldn't be long before we'd get our first glimpse of El Pico and the crest of the Sierra del Carmen, and the steep climb disappeared from our collective minds.



To be continued.
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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BigBendHiker

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Re: Of Burros and Marufo Vegamatics
« Reply #1 on: January 31, 2008, 06:56:51 AM »
Great pictures and story, Jeff!

Looking forward to the next installment!

BBH

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Offline Casa Grande

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Re: Of Burros and Marufo Vegamatics
« Reply #2 on: January 31, 2008, 07:14:23 AM »
great read, Jeff! 

It is interesting about the ore tower's decay.....sounds like I need to get out there soon before at all evaporates.....a testament to the fragility of the area.

looking forward to the next installment (and after your and Randall's report, marufo vega has made it to the top of my short list.)

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Offline homerboy2u

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Re: Of Burros and Marufo Vegamatics
« Reply #3 on: January 31, 2008, 08:29:40 AM »
More pictures please...can you make your pictures clickable?.

 

 P.s.- Don't work too much, write instead today.
Stay thirsty, my friends.

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Offline trtlrock

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Re: Of Burros and Marufo Vegamatics
« Reply #4 on: January 31, 2008, 08:34:03 AM »
Jeff -- are you tucking your pant cuffs into your socks?!   :icon_eek:

Explanation please?   :eusa_snooty:

The fashion police want to know!   :icon_lol:
John & Tess

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Offline STARLITDARKNESS3

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Re: Of Burros and Marufo Vegamatics
« Reply #5 on: January 31, 2008, 10:08:04 AM »
Sounds like a great trip so far.  CG, your right, testament of fragility and how the desert reclaims its land. 
Great pictures.  I really enjoy the 'before and after' pics.  Looks like most of the plants are the same ones, endurance.
 
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Offline jeffblaylock

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Re: Of Burros and Marufo Vegamatics
« Reply #6 on: January 31, 2008, 11:30:49 PM »
PART 2.

Once atop the big zig-zag, we had reached an elevation of 2,560 feet, pretty much all the elevation that was needed to take the north fork. The trail crosses a rolling plain, which was covered by many cacti. I pointed out different species to the guys as we trekked along, and we pondered how beautiful they would be in full bloom. I suspect very few people get to see that show, as the window for both hiking the trail and seeing the cacti in bloom must be very narrow, and fickle. Ideally, it would be the day after a late blue norther blasts its way through, and the day after that. Otherwise, it would be too hot to be comfortable.

We soon reached a point which looked suspiciously like an old road and though we espied the foundation of a long-gone ruin. Logically, it seemed impossible that someone would have built a structure this far from a water source. We investigated nonetheless. Indeed, it looks like an old road winds down from the point (UTM 13 0701562E 3234014N NAD27) toward the southeast, but the "structure" foundation turned out to he entirely natural. It offered a nice, if hazy, view of the Sierra del Carmen, and the rolling desert landscape around us was inspiring. Following our brief exploration, we returned to the trail and continued on the north-south route junction.

About 40 minutes later, we the trail climbed out of a wash and skirted the back side of a high hill. It was near this point where Randell recommended we depart the trail and head cross-country to what we kept referring to as "Randell's Valley," the spectacular viewpoint where we would spend Sunday's sunset. We had been taking turns carrying a one gallon bottle of water which would be our reserve when we came back this way the next day. We cached it near a narrow pinch in the small canyon we had been hiking through, very close to our eventual off-trail departure point. Relieved of this weight, we continued on up the wash toward the eventual split in the trail.



A little after noon, we paused a moment at one of the best sitting rocks I've ever encountered (UTM 13 0702303E 3235550N NAD27). It was complete with a footrest. We paused here for a few moments and had some of Mark's most excellent trail mix. Chocolate. Peanut butter. Raisins. Peanuts. Walnuts. More chocolate. Definitely not a trail mix for the summer months, but it was SOOOOO wonderful pouring forth from his Nalgene bottle. Personally, I despise Power Bars and their ilk, so I eat very little while on the trail. Mark's trail mix energized us, and we pressed on. We reached the split about 15 minutes later. Following a short pause, we began the climb up the north fork. We crested a ridge and began our descent into Boquillas Canyon, although the scenery belied this fact. The north fork doesn't have grand, sweeping views of the canyon. Instead, the north fork descends via a narrow, steep side canyon.

It was getting steep. We passed a couple of impressive caves -- Where there any mountain lions poised to strike? No -- as the trail got steeper. As I was leading my companions down the north fork, there came a point where I stopped dead in my tracks and started laughing out loud. I saw a trail duck about 50 feet below me and slightly to the right, and another about 20 feet below me to the left. From my vantage point, balanced on a rock, I couldn't see a way to either of them. When we completed the "trail" through there, my pal John remarked, "Have these people ever heard of a thing called switchbacks?" When I marked the waypoint on my GPS upon completing this section, I labeled it "Ludicrous" (UTM 13 0703047E 3236601N NAD27). At the bottom of this steep section, we stopped for lunch. It was 1:13 p.m.



Back on the trail, we continued down toward the Rio Grande, passing through what Randell called the Valley of the Hole. High up on the canyon wall was a large hole, which one day will make a spectacular natural arch. Today, though, it looked like a dark single eye, watching us slowly negotiate the steep trail. The bottom of this area provided the first real views of the opposite canyon wall, but no glimpse of the river below. We continued steadily down the narrow canyon, finally reaching a bench above the Rio Grande, which gave us our first view of the river itself.



A few minutes later, we were at the junction with a cross-trail to the south fork. The route we were on descended to the river. We briefly discussed going on to the south fork versus descending and camping, and we agreed to continue hiking. I don't know what's down the north fork trail toward the river, so I can't advise anyone thinking of going that direction. Instead, we started along the connecting trail, which crosses a series of ever higher humps above the Rio Grande. Views of the Sierra del Carmen got better and better as we trekked southeastward. Mark stopped, remarking he heard a gruff roar. It turned out to be a feral burro, warning us that we were entering his territory. There were five burros staring us down, standing under an alcove in the sheer canyon walls above us.



The burros kept an eye on us as we plodded along. About now, we were tired. Short night. Long hike. Heavy packs. We were getting eager to find a campsite. But the connecting trail was getting further and further away from the river. The Marufo Vega Trail suffers from few adequate campsites, especially for more than one person. Access to the Rio Grande was getting harder as we continued eastward then southeastward. But we were captured by the increasingly grand views of the Rio Grande, the heart of Boquillas Canyon, and the Sierra del Carmen.



There are views of the Sierra del Carmen that cannot be had anywhere but this connecting trail. The immediate scenery of Boquillas Canyon changed as we hiked on, but the Sierra del Carmen remained constant. The view evolved as we followed the trail, and we continued to be struck by the magnificence of the mountains beyond the canyon. Had we hiked the trail the other way, as tired as we were, I wonder if we wound have even noticed.

But we faced a continuing dilemma. With each up and down, the trail strayed farther from the river. As our tired legs approached the junction with the south fork trail, we realized we would be facing a long climb down to the river. Indeed, the half mile arc down a V-shaped side canyon wasn't difficult, but each step was heavy, lumbering, and clumsy. It was almost cruel. We just wanted to throw our packs down and rest.

At last we descended to the river plain, and we made an immediate mistake. We turned left, following the footprints of other hikers and the hoof-prints of burros, to a steep access point of the Rio Grande. "Not very good," John said of the area where water could be drawn. And the whole place was covered with burro droppings. In fact, the whole trail to this point had been littered with their nuggets. Gross! The river plain was no different, and we dodged their potties back to where we entered the plain, then beyond toward the sound of rapids. We dropped our packs on a grass-covered stretch of sand about 100 yards from where the Rio Grande was a series of shallow rapids. Here (UTM 13 0705824E 3236878N NAD 27) we would camp for the night, quite happy to get the packs off our back and our weight off our feet.



To be continued ...
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 trtlrock

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Re: Of Burros and Marufo Vegamatics
« Reply #7 on: January 31, 2008, 11:47:35 PM »
Excellent report & great photos!  Looking forward to the rest...
John & Tess

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Offline randell

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Re: Of Burros and Marufo Vegamatics
« Reply #8 on: February 01, 2008, 09:00:13 AM »
Great read! 

I am surprised you saw 5 burros!  I thought there were only three and when I only saw two I thought one had met its end.  The third one must have been getting reinforcements while I was passing through.
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Offline jeffblaylock

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Re: Of Burros and Marufo Vegamatics
« Reply #9 on: February 01, 2008, 09:52:39 AM »
Jeff -- are you tucking your pant cuffs into your socks?!   :icon_eek:

Explanation please?   :eusa_snooty:

The fashion police want to know!   :icon_lol:

Yes. Keeps crawlies out and reduces the chances that my pants leg will snare on the shrubbery and pick up a sharp object that I might sit on later.  :icon_cool:

Quote from: Casa Grande
great read, Jeff!

It is interesting about the ore tower's decay.....sounds like I need to get out there soon before at all evaporates.....a testament to the fragility of the area.

looking forward to the next installment (and after your and Randall's report, marufo vega has made it to the top of my short list.)

Probably have a lot of time before it all evaporates. The terminal has already fallen over, as have most of the towers. There's still a few good ones visible from the MV trail, and I recall there being several cool ones (including one with a set of sun-bleached antlers nailed to it) on the way to the terminal. Like MV, definitely a winter/early early spring hike.

Quote from: randell
Great read!

I am surprised you saw 5 burros!  I thought there were only three and when I only saw two I thought one had met its end.  The third one must have been getting reinforcements while I was passing through.

It looks like there might be a 6th in that grouping. Look below and to the right of the darkest burro. Looks like a rump of another burro to go along with the 5 sets of ears in the photo. We saw 4 burros when climbing up the south fork.
« Last Edit: February 01, 2008, 09:55:11 AM by jeffblaylock »
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: Of Burros and Marufo Vegamatics
« Reply #10 on: February 01, 2008, 10:08:34 AM »
Jeff, great trip report as always.  I've got to ask in that last shot of Part II, is that the trail right by your camp?  Shades of Buck Nekkid!

Al

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Offline jeffblaylock

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Re: Of Burros and Marufo Vegamatics
« Reply #11 on: February 01, 2008, 10:25:09 AM »
Jeff, great trip report as always.  I've got to ask in that last shot of Part II, is that the trail right by your camp?  Shades of Buck Nekkid!

Al

No, the trail ends about 1/4 mile from our campsite. You're looking at the "burro expressway," a social trail leading to several Rio Grande access points and covered in, um, leavings.
Jeff Blaylock
Austin, Texas

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Offline randell

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Re: Of Burros and Marufo Vegamatics
« Reply #12 on: February 01, 2008, 11:02:12 AM »
Jeff, great trip report as always.  I've got to ask in that last shot of Part II, is that the trail right by your camp?  Shades of Buck Nekkid!

Al

It is very difficult to find a camping spot along this trail and meet the rules:
Quote
IN OPEN ZONES, CAMP AT LEAST 1/2 MILE AND OUT OF SIGHT FROM ANY ROAD AND AT LEAST 100 YDS. FROM ANY TRAIL, HISTORICAL STRUCTURE, ARCHEOLOGICAL SITE, DRY WASH, OR CLIFF EDGE.

Camping along the river meets these guidelines.  However, the popular "split rock" campsite does not.  Other than along the river, there is only one or two spots I can think of where you could be 100 yards from a trail, dry wash, or cliff edge and not be on the side of a cliff/steep mountain slope.  There are slim pickings for a 14 mile trail.  Where I camped the first night was .75 miles from the trail and I had to really look hard to find a spot for my tiny one man tent.  I would hope the park service would understand if you did not meet all of the guidelines on this particular trail due to the nature of the area.  Even with a good effort, you may have to hike a few miles of rough terrain to find a spot for a single tent.

Jeff, I bet it was cool to hear the sounds of rapids as you drifted off to sleep.  I was thinking that would be a fun place to camp when I was there.
There's nothing like a good quest to get you intimate with a place. - Tom Clynes

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Offline jeffblaylock

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Re: Of Burros and Marufo Vegamatics
« Reply #13 on: February 01, 2008, 11:14:08 AM »
Jeff, great trip report as always.  I've got to ask in that last shot of Part II, is that the trail right by your camp?  Shades of Buck Nekkid!

Al

It is very difficult to find a camping spot along this trail and meet the rules:
Quote
IN OPEN ZONES, CAMP AT LEAST 1/2 MILE AND OUT OF SIGHT FROM ANY ROAD AND AT LEAST 100 YDS. FROM ANY TRAIL, HISTORICAL STRUCTURE, ARCHEOLOGICAL SITE, DRY WASH, OR CLIFF EDGE.

Camping along the river meets these guidelines.  However, the popular "split rock" campsite does not.  Other than along the river, there is only one or two spots I can think of where you could be 100 yards from a trail, dry wash, or cliff edge and not be on the side of a cliff/steep mountain slope.  There are slim pickings for a 14 mile trail.  Where I camped the first night was .75 miles from the trail and I had to really look hard to find a spot for my tiny one man tent.  I would hope the park service would understand if you did not meet all of the guidelines on this particular trail due to the nature of the area.  Even with a good effort, you may have to hike a few miles of rough terrain to find a spot for a single tent.

Jeff, I bet it was cool to hear the sounds of rapids as you drifted off to sleep.  I was thinking that would be a fun place to camp when I was there.


Yeah, Split Rock would not qualify. It's about 7 yards from the trail and 5 yards from a cliff. But what a view! Just about all the half dozen or so potential campsites I saw were right off the trail, but I guess that makes sense since I wasn't walking 100 yards from the trail. When we got our permit, the ranger mentioned only the 1/2 mile from any road part, to which I replied, "Not a problem."

The rapids were a nice lullaby. It's not often you can go to sleep at Big Bend listening to the sound of water rushing by. We were still a pretty good distance away, but we could hear it. Whenever I woke up, I could see the stars and the moon above the cliffs and hear the water. Being awakened by the canyon wrens in the morning was also nice. The sheer canyon wall on the Mexican side served as an amplifier. Having water pretty close by was another plus.
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: Of Burros and Marufo Vegamatics
« Reply #14 on: February 01, 2008, 12:10:00 PM »
I recommend canoing the canyon.  It's a really nice trip plus you can have more stuff!









Al

 


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