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Smoky Creek to San Jacinto Springs Trip Report

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Offline Robert

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Smoky Creek to San Jacinto Springs Trip Report
« on: February 11, 2018, 11:13:13 AM »
I previously posted a springs report for a trip I took over the holidays. This is the trip report for that hike.

Here is the track log.

I had been wanting to go back and revisit the San Jacinto Springs drainage and get an updated set of photos and track logs for that area. Mule Ears and I had been in the area two years ago but didn't have time to get over to the springs. I added some areas I wanted to check out, specifically the route marked on older topo maps that showed the Smoky Creek trail going down south of Sugarloaf (pt 4685) before cutting north and skirting west side of Sugarloaf before dropping into the main Smoky Creek drainage just upstream of the black rock canyon. The other section would start in that drainage south of Sugarloaf near Canyon Spring and head due south up and over to Smoky Spring (west of 3935) and the last section would be walking down the wash that goes from Smoky Spring to Santa Spring.

I headed out early morning in late December via IH10 with a front having moved in overnight. As I moved westward the temps got lower and the light drizzle froze on my windshield and the bridges started to get icy. By the time I got to Ft. Stockton temps were in the 20's and the wind was blowing hard. I knew Big Bend was likely to be at least 20 degrees warmer but had not slept much the night before and needed an excuse to hunker down and get a good night's sleep. Plus the Longhorns were going to be playing in their bowl game later that night.

I checked into Motel 6, toured the old Fort, enjoyed some local Tex-Mex at Mi Casita, and was on my way to the park in the morning. Pushed through some dense fog driving into the park but the climb up to PJ got above the clouds and arrived to clearing skies and a lot of activity in the parking lot.


I was the second one in line to get a permit when they opened and had no problem getting my permits. But lots of people were scrambling to figure out where they were going to stay. I was on my way down to the Mule Ears overlook by 9:20 and hiking by 10:20.

It was a beautiful day, cool and clear. Today's goal would be to hike out Mule Ears and north up Smoky Creek. Jump out of the wash upstream of the Black Rock canyon and head off trail south east to the drainage south of Sugarloaf. 


While walking out the Mule Ears trail I passed several groups hiking to and from the springs. Past that point I only saw one other hiker, a woman on her first visit to the park who had walked out to the overlook of Smoky Creek. By 12:15 I was at the junction with Smoky Creek.

Looking across towards Smoky Spring, tomorrow I hoped to be looking back at Mule Ears from the broad mountain in the upper left. Another trip report commented on the cairns pictured here thinking there was a trail to the spring but noted they actually just lead to the main drainage of Smoky Creek.


On up Smoky Creek, it had been a few years since I had walked this section of trail. I expected to see a lot of water so was not carrying much and glad to have a light pack.  As soon as I entered the lower portion of the Black Rock canyon I saw water. This is near what is called WIllow Spring on some maps. I have a similar photo to the one Mule Ears took on his earlier trip and there was less flow on my trip.

I head on up to where the wash takes a southeastern turn and where it turns back northeast I came to the spot where I wanted to exit the wash and continue in a southeast direction. It was 1:45 and I had traveled 6.5 miles. So I took a break for a quick lunch.

The spot where I exited the wash, looking northeast at Picacho Peak and South Rim.


I started up from about 3500 feet and topped out at around 3900 feet. It was pretty steep at first, no clear defined route, lots of grass and cactus. Eventually some nice views appeared.

Trap Mountain sticking out above pt 3902 in center with Santa Elena behind it, Cerro Castellan center left and Goat Mtn upper right.


WInding my way along the high side of Sugarloaf without losing elevation I got to the south side of Sugarloaf and got the views south.

Pt 4015 with pt 5168 in center right background. Far right center you can see the canyon that has Canyon Spring and high pouroff.


The old route went down the right side of a drainage but it was too brushy and rocky so I stayed up on the flat ridge that jutted out and looked over the canyon entrance. I was able to climb down the ridge through some hard rock layers, slow going but not dangerous. In the image below from on top of the ridge, you can see a side wash coming in from the south (center view) and the opening to the canyon. I camped a 100 yards up the side wash.


Just below getting to the wash I found an old corral.


I never saw any evidence of an old trail. It was not an easy hike and slow going. I would not want to repeat this hike unless I wanted to go check out the view from pt 4358. So I probably would not recommend this for others to hike unless you know what you are getting into.

Once down in the wash I found water at Canyon Spring. I also found a good spot to camp up the side wash. Then I walked down the canyon to the pouroff. There was also water in this section with some dripping over the pouroff.


Then back to set up camp, I collected some water for drinking and washing up. The evening was mild, no wind, with overnight lows in the 30's. Mostly clear skies with a bright full moon to wash out all the stars. I woke up before sunrise, the moon had set and I saw about 6-8 meteors in the space of a few minutes, all coming from the same spot, and a few satellites. 9 miles for the day. Tomorrow would be the hard day.
« Last Edit: February 11, 2018, 11:26:03 AM by Robert »

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Online Slimkitty

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Re: Smoky Creek to San Jacinto Springs Trip Report
« Reply #1 on: February 11, 2018, 05:41:10 PM »
Wow, it looks like it was really clear!  Beautiful photos.  Iím looking forward to seeing more!


Sent from the future.

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Offline elhombre

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Re: Smoky Creek to San Jacinto Springs Trip Report
« Reply #2 on: February 11, 2018, 06:45:28 PM »
x2 on real nice pics.  I really like the one from the parking lot and the clouds.  Was it cloudy on both sides of Persimmon gap?
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Offline Robert

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Re: Smoky Creek to San Jacinto Springs Trip Report
« Reply #3 on: February 11, 2018, 06:59:35 PM »
x2 on real nice pics.  I really like the one from the parking lot and the clouds.  Was it cloudy on both sides of Persimmon gap?

Foggy upon leaving Ft. Stockton until just after Marathon. But hit it again in the long flat section before entering the park.

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Offline Robert

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Re: Smoky Creek to San Jacinto Springs Trip Report
« Reply #4 on: February 11, 2018, 07:46:04 PM »
I was packed up and walking by 8:20. But to find a way out of the wash took a while as I backtracked down wash until I found a suitable spot to get through the brush. Then started the climb up and out of the drainage towards the broad saddle between pt 3935 and the flat mountain that overlooked Smoky Creek and Mule Ears.

As I got higher I had a good view back down towards the South Rim, Sugarloaf , and the drainage that I camped in.


A little later I could see down into the canyon with the high pouroff and Santa Elena.


On the previous day's hike I was looking for a spot up high for a potential campsite before dropping down into the drainage but there were no potential spots. However, on the broad saddle dividing watershed going north towards Sugarloaf and south towards Smoky Spring there were some good spots with good views. Of course, how would I have known? But to get a view of Smoky Creek I needed to get to the top. At a point overlooking the drainage heading south, I dropped my pack before heading up to the top. Pretty easy walking, not too steep and I was soon up top but the summit was so big and broad I could not see below it until I hiked a ways further towards Mule Ears. Then finally I got a good view.


View Southeast, Smoky Spring is just out of view blocked by the summit on the left.


I took a few photos and then headed back to my pack, eager to see how difficult it would be to hike down to Smoky Spring.

Here is the view down that drainage.


It took me about 30 minutes to get to the little pointed rock outcrop that is in the above photo and the furthest down the wash spot you can see. I could not walk directly in the wash for more than a few feet, lots of rocks to climb around but more importantly, the brush was very thick. So I'd go down one side parallel to the wash and when I couldn't go any further I'd cross to the other side. So a tough slog.

Here is the next section after the rock outcrop. That far view is looking up the drainage above Smoky Spring towards Jack's Pass.


At this spot I planned to stay high and to the right as I knew that there was an easier way down from the flat spot at the lower right. A few years ago I had climbed up from the Smoky Spring side and ascended to that spot. It entailed going into a brushy box canyon with a chimney like pouroff that could be climbed without a pack but would not be easy going down with a pack. But at the flat spot one could go around the front side of the mountain and descend from there.

Looking down at the Smoky Spring drainage in the direction of San Jacinto Spring. I would cross the ridge in the foreground to get into that drainage.


Once down in the wash I stopped for lunch. I didn't bother to check out Smoky Spring. If I had, I'm pretty sure I would have said, "water is running, low flow and shallow". After a short lunch I climbed out of the wash on the opposite side from where I got in. Then climbed the ridge dividing the Smoky Spring and San Jacinto Spring drainages.

Dropping into one of the upper arms of the drainage there is a pouroff with a shelter under the pouroff. We had come across it on a trip over 10 years ago.


The upper sections of the drainage are narrow and brushy but it soons opens up. The geology is different here. There is more crumbly rock and has a badland type look. I ran across some unmarked springs with damp soil and a little water. Eventually I came to a pouroff that can be skirted on the right. This pouroff is just above San Jacinto Spring.


To get around the pouroff I had to get into the wash directly to the west. Dropped down that wash and worked my way back over to below San Jacinto and come back up the wash to it.


But there is another pouroff below San Jacinto so I had to go back into the western drainage and continue down to where it joins the main San Jacinto drainage. Just before the junction this route runs into San Jacinto B. This spring is not on the map but had running water going down the wash a ways. The spring itself is very overgrown and hard to get to.
Water from San Jacinto B


Walking further down the wash I came to another pouroff. I went up and around on the right but it was a little tricky because of the loose crumbly soil so it took me a while to descend down the slope.

View from above the last pouroff


There was one last section through the black canyon in the photo above before hitting the drainage that I was to take up to Casita Springs.  Soon after making the right turn there is a section of large boulders and water was coming down the wash. This was Boulder Tinaja.

Boulder Tinaja


Plenty of water through the boulder field on up to the second spring, Triangle Tinaja. This section does not photograph too well because they canyon walls are very narrow and there is a climb up. When entering this narrow spot there is a slight right turn, as I made the turn I startled a big hawk who must have come down for a drink, actually both of us were startled and he took off. Another thing I wanted to mention was that the floor of the canyon in this area had a lot of small rockfall and after exiting the canyon I heard some rocks tumbling down. That gave me a scare as well.

This view is from the top down.


After exiting the canyon there are two washes that meet at it's entrance. The one coming in from the left goes to Casita Spring and there is an unnamed spring just above the junction that had water in the wash. Then on up to Casita Spring where there was quite a bit of water in the wash.

Ruins at Casita Spring




At this point I was starting to feel hot and tired. I wasn't drinking enough so I took a break and after filling up some water bottles I headed on up the wash. It was 3:20 PM. Lance had come down this way on one of his trips and reported a pouroff that required some effort to get around going up wash. So after looking at Google Earth I noticed that there were two parallel ridgelines that were very flat on top. If I could find a way up to the top I could have an easy walk up to where I could drop back into the Smoky Spring drainage.  So I walked on up to the pouroff, then back down to where Lance did his work around. I saw a route leading up to the ridge top with no apparent barriers and it was just a straight up the ridge climb, steepest sections near the top but not risky. Once on top I had some great views.

Looking back towards Casita Springs from the ridgetop, you can just see the tree near the ruins in middle left. Parallel ridge is to the right.



Walking on out to the end of the ridge, it was an easy drop into the Smoky Spring drainage.


Once in the wash it was easy walking. While the wash wasn't especially wide, it was very sandy and easy on the feet. There were only a couple of sections that I had to slow down for. I was hoping that there would be water at Santa Spring so I could rinse some of the sweat off so I was anxious to get there and didn't stop for any photos. But I was thinking that if someone wanted a short overnight trip, this would be a nice area to explore. I was down to the junction with Smoky Creek just above Santa Spring by 5:30. Water was running down the wash for some distance. Lots of water. 9.6 miles for the day. The trip was almost over.
« Last Edit: February 12, 2018, 11:13:25 AM by Robert »

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Offline mule ears

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Re: Smoky Creek to San Jacinto Springs Trip Report
« Reply #5 on: February 11, 2018, 08:18:08 PM »
Great trip Robert and happy to hear about all the water below Smoky including Santa!  Look forward to the rest.
temperatures exceed 100 degrees F
minimum 1 gallon water per person/day
no shade, no water
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Offline Robert

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Re: Smoky Creek to San Jacinto Springs Trip Report
« Reply #6 on: February 14, 2018, 10:50:40 PM »
After arriving at my destination, I backtracked up the wash to find a spot to camp. Then I went and collected some water and rinsed the sweat off before starting dinner. Again, the evening was mild but temps dropped steadily overnight with a clear sky (and bright moon) so that by morning it was in the upper 30's with a very slight wind that gave me a little chill.

I had a short and relatively easy hike back to the car but didn't want to dawdle because I still had to drive home so got going about 8:30. But first I wanted to check out all the water so I walked down the main wash to where the water disappeared into the sand about a .2 mile from the junction of the two washes.

View down at the lower end of the canyon.


Hard to get the scale from the photo but the drop is about 3 feet.




Smoky Creek is to the coming in from the left, this is looking upstream.


After exploring the area I headed up the Smoky Creek trail and soon noticed someone's footprints which I followed all the way to the junction with the Mule Ear's trail (tracks going in both directions). But I didn't see the tracks down near the water so perhaps the hiker just turned around before the springs.

It's an easy walk back up the wash, this is probably the third time I've hiked it. Then after getting on the Mule Ear's trail there is a nice climb out of the Smoky Creek valley and back to the Mule Ear's trailhead.  I was back to the car before noon, and after dropping my solo hiker permit off at PJ on my way home. It was a good trip, I wasn't in peak hiking condition which lead to a little fatigue on day 2 but no other issues. Weather was better than I hoped, especially given the crappy weather I had coming out and other winter storms we've had this year. This is the second time I've been to Santa spring and just been amazed at all the water. It is very impressive. Too bad it is not reliable because we were here two years ago and it was dry as a bone. The mileage for the last day was 6.1 with a total at just under 25 miles.

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Offline mule ears

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Re: Smoky Creek to San Jacinto Springs Trip Report
« Reply #7 on: February 15, 2018, 06:23:08 AM »
What beautiful weather!  I am also amazed at the water at Santa spring especially after it was dry when we were there 2 years ago, just an example of how well all of the springs are running this year compared to others.  Thanks for the report.
temperatures exceed 100 degrees F
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no shade, no water
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Offline Reece

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Re: Smoky Creek to San Jacinto Springs Trip Report
« Reply #8 on: February 15, 2018, 08:16:31 AM »
Thanks Robert! Another fine trip and thanks for taking the time to report back. You have really inspired me and given me some good life-saving advice over the years. One thing you mentioned really caught my eye since I'm just about at the age to start thinking "one-nighters." I have a Jeep so I can get to a lot of good out and back hikes, camping near a water source.
Quote
"I was hoping that there would be water at Santa Spring so I could rinse some of the sweat off so I was anxious to get there and didn't stop for any photos. But I was thinking that if someone wanted a short overnight trip, this would be a nice area to explore."
Are you talking Mule Ears TH to Santa Spring as the overnight trip?

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Offline Robert

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Re: Smoky Creek to San Jacinto Springs Trip Report
« Reply #9 on: February 15, 2018, 09:02:43 AM »
Quote
Are you talking Mule Ears TH to Santa Spring as the overnight trip?

In general, yes. People are always looking for overnight or short trip suggestions and I think this area has a lot of opportunity for someone who doesn't want to worry about getting lost or hiking something overly difficult. If the water is running at Santa, then yes this would be a great basecamp for someone to use and other hikes could be made up to Smoky Spring or down toward Triangulation Mountain. If water is not present a loop hike could be done incorporating Smoky Spring to camp near or refill water.

 


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