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Trip Report April 2 - 12, 2013

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Offline Jonathan Sadow

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Trip Report April 2 - 12, 2013
« on: April 21, 2013, 12:59:41 AM »
I recently went out to the Big Bend area for 1.5 weeks.  Here are the highlights of the trip with some photos:

Tuesday, April 2
I drove to Alpine without incidence, other than having to wait about 45 minutes in Ozona for AAA to unlock my car so I could get the key I'd left in the ignition after getting fuel.

Wednesday, April 3
I drove to Marfa and then Presidio on my way to Big Bend Ranch State Park.  I stopped at El Patio for lunch since Wednesday is one of its buffet days, but I decided to order a cheaper entreé (for future reference, Wednesday features barbecue brisket and chicken, and Friday features fish and Mexican food).  After lunch, I picked up supplies at Porter's Thriftway and proceeded to Sauceda, where I had booked a bed in the bunkhouse for three nights along with breakfast and dinner each day.  Along the way on the main park road, I encountered the road grader, so anyone going out there in the near future should have relatively smooth driving, at least to Sauceda.  My dining companions were a park volunteer and a couple from San Antonio who were staying in the Big House (there were also four mountain bikers who showed up after we were finished who were also staying in the bunkhouse).  After sunset I tried looking for Comet PROSTARRS in the very dark sky, but it was too low in the sky given the horizon with which I had to work.

Thursday, April 4
I'd always been intrigued by the "Road to Nowhere" mentioned in park literature, so I decided to check it out.  It also gave me an excuse to visit the Solitario again, which is intriguing to someone with my geological background, so I made the hour-and-20-minute drive to the Tres Papálotes site.  According to the BBRSP "Discovery Map", the road south of there becomes 4WD, so even though I have a 4WD high-clearance vehicle, I decided to park at Tres Papálotes and hike from beyond there.

The view of Tres Papálotes from the Road to Nowhere:

13404004 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

Frankly, I can't see why the road is classified as such;  it was no worse than the Solitario road I'd just driven seven miles over other than the hills were a bit steeper.  The same was true when I got to the Road to Nowhere.  During my last visit to the park in August 2012, I got it into my head that I should climb Mount Oso, the highest peak in the park, so I did.  To get there, I drove the eastern part of the Oso Loop.  For the most part, it was in worse shape than the Road to Nowhere, in many places being more of a rockpile than a road, and it took me about 20 minutes to drive the two miles to the foot of Mount Oso.  Except for a small section, the Road to Nowhere is less rocky, although it is quite narrow.  The road has a spur that goes north into the Solitario, with two branches that lead into it.  The eastern branch that goes to it is essentially non-existent;  it was so washed out that I missed it the first time I walked by it.  The western branch is still there but steep and not at all level and would require great care to drive down.

Looking west from the previous location, in the middle of the image you can see the western branch of the spur road proceeding into the Solitario.  The washed-out eastern branch is actually near the bottom of the image:

13404003 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

I took the previous two images from the below the knob near the right side of this image (you might be able to see the Road to Nowhere faintly).  On the left side of this image, you can see the Lefthand Shutup and through it Nine Point Mesa on the right edge (about 24 miles away) and (just barely) the Santiago Mountains on the left (about 34 miles away):

13404005 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

I spent the rest of the day exploring the Road to Nowhere, making it back to Sauceda just in time for dinner.  I found that all of my dinnertime companions from the previous day had left, so I would be in the bunkhouse by myself the next two nights, In the meantime, the Big House had been rented the next two days by a woman and her husband from Fort Davis, her brother and his wife and son from Kentucky, and her son and his wife from Oregon, and the eight of us had a convivial time at dinner.

Friday, April 5
This day I decided to hike from the Puerta Chilicote trailhead to the Mexicano Falls overlook, taking the trail around the north side of Cerro Chilicote and returning via Ojo Chilicote.  In a previous post, Juan Cuatro Lados described the difficulties of this trail, and he wasn't exaggerating.  On the Discovery Map (and the Fresno West Rim map you can get at the park office), it's marked as a "route" rather than a "trail", and that's a fair description.  For most of it a trail barely exists, and you have to follow cairns to find the way.  Most of the way this isn't a problem, but there are tricky stretches.  The route at one point leads down into Arroyo Mexicano itself and procedes for a short distance in it, then climbs a steep gully out of it and makes a sharp left turn to parallel the arroyo until you get to the overlook.  At that point I lost the cairns and had to climb further upslope and then angle downward until I picked up the cairns again.  After about three hours I had managed the 4.3 miles to the overlook, except TPWD has no signage at the overlook, so I walked right past it for about a quarter mile.  At that point the path had turned south and appeared to be an old doubletrack, so I realized I was now on the way to the Mexicano Falls trailhead.  I doubled back and found the overlook (which now appeared rather obvious) and ate lunch there.  Because there had been little recent rain, the falls weren't falling very much, but it still was a pretty sight.

The view of the falls from the overlook:

13405001 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

You can look down the canyon in the opposite direction and get a nice few of Fresno Peak and the flatirons of the Solitario:

13405002 by Jonathan Sadow, on Flickr

Knowing the way back now, I was able to return to the trailhead in about 2.5 hours and drove back to Sauceda for dinner with the seven people staying in the Big House.  That night, while trying to find the comet (and failing again), I turned off all the lights in the bunkhouse, went outside, and soon was surrounded by several javelina, whom I could barely see but who were making obvious grunting and snorting sounds - a rather interesting experience.

Saturday, April 6
After breakfast, I packed up my items and left BBRSP, stopping on the way out to check out the wildlife at Ojito Adentro.  Perhaps the most interesting thing I saw wasn't at the spring but above it, as a piercing cry made me look up and spot a Zone-tailed Hawk patrolling the area.  Afterward, I had lunch at El Patio in Presidio and bought supplies for my overnight stay at Chinati Hot Springs.  As usual, the springs were relaxing, other than the one guy who was there for the weekend with his wife and son and the son's girlfriend and who was drunk most of the time (the men's room trashcan was full of beer cans and tequila bottles); I and the three other couples staying there avoided his group the rest of the night.

Sunday, April 7
I drove to Presidio in time to attend Mass, then continued along the River Road and enjoyed the sights until getting to Study Butte in the early afternoon.  I had lunch at the Big Bend Motor Inn café and then checked into my room at the Mission Inn.  With several hours left in the day, I traveled down the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive checking spots for wildlife.  Sam Nail Ranch was quite productive, the most impressive sightings being a Desert Cottontail and a Grasshopper Mouse scurrying in the underbrush.  There wasn't much at the Homer Wilson Ranch, but at Cottonwood campground a kind lady put me onto one of the roosting Great Horned Owls.  It was lying spread-eagle (spread-owl?) against some limbs and staring down at us (probably wondering why we were looking at it).  Overall, I was struck by the number of Warbling Vireos that I found; it seemed like every place with water had at least one pair of them in the area.  I drove to the Basin to eat dinner at the Lodge restaurant and then attend Ranger Bob's evening talk at the campground amphitheater.  Titled "The Many Faces of Big Bend", he said that it was mainly an introduction to BBNP, but it was entertaining even to someone like myself who's been to the park a number of times.  Ranger Bob served at Yellowstone for a number of years, and he said that, as fine a park as Yellowstone is, for diversity of environments Big Bend has it beaten.  My drive back to Study Butte was perhaps the most productive period of the whole trip for sighting mammals.  Running across the road in front of my vehicle during the trip was a total of two rabbits (one Desert Cottontail and one Blacktail Jackrabbit), six mice (too small to identify while going 45 mph), and as I approached the Maverick Junction entrance station, a herd of at least a dozen Mule Deer just finishing crossing the road.  Fortunately, I manage to miss every single creature.

Monday, April 8
After breakfast at the BBMI café, I dropped by the Panther Junction visitor center to get my backcountry permit for the next two nights in the Chisos.  My first choice, Boot Canyon 3, was available, so I took it.  I amused myself for a while flipping through a book about ultralight camping (I don't think the author has spent much time hiking in the desert), then proceeded onward to Rio Grande Village.  I stopped at Dugout Wells and walked the nature trail there but didn't find much.  My sack lunch was taken at the Daniels Ranch picnic grounds, and the area was more productive.  A Yellow-throated Vireo near the start of the Hot Springs Trail was interesting, but perhaps the best birds of the area (and the trip) were the two Common Black Hawks nesting in the area near the store cordoned off for them by the NPS.  Despite the name, Common Black Hawks are not at all common in Texas, and this pair has been nesting in that area for several years now.  I would've taken a photo of the hawks (they were posed nicely, the female on the nest and the male standing watch nearby), but this was the time the battery in the camera gave up the ghost, and as I had forgotten to bring the charging cable with me, there would be no more photos for this trip.  I also checked out the nature walk at the RGV campground but didn't find much.  On my way back to Study Butte, I noticed that the signs for the turnoff to Boquillas were covered up and wondered if they had anything to do with the border crossing that was supposed to be opening soon....  I ate dinner at the Chili Pepper Café, did laundry, and prepared for the next two days' backpacking.

Tuesday, April 9
After breakfast at the BBMI café, I spent the rest of the morning assembling gear, checked out of the room, and made my way to the Basin.  After lunch at the Lodge restaurant (my last good meal for two days) and some more cramming of gear into my pack, I was ready to go and took off at about 3 P.M..  I passed one couple by near Juniper Flats, and in about 2.5 hours I had hauled my gear and 11 liters of water up the Pinnacles Trail to Pinnacles Pass, where I stopped for a rest and an energy bar (and unlike the last time I backpacked up Pinnacles, I didn't see a mountain lion at the pass).  I resumed my trek and rolled into the BC3 campsite a bit past 7 P.M..  I discovered that I would have neighbors, as BC4 just a few dozen feet away had four people at it.  While boiling water for my freeze-dried dinner I made inquiries and discovered that my four neighbors would be staying for that one night, and judging from their accents, appeared to be from eastern Europe.  They turned out to be good neighbors.  After dinner, I stargazed for a while (with the non-flat horizon, seeing the comet was hopeless), then had a snack and went to sleep.  I had pitched my tent originally without the fly but decided to add it so cold air from the approaching front wouldn't blow in through the tent's mesh sides.  Although it got rather windy at times, BC3 is fairly well-shaded, and the wind wasn't really a problem.  The site also is only about a quarter-mile from the Boot Rock and gives you a fairly nice view of it, although somewhat obscured by trees.

Wednesday, April 10
I woke up, boiled water for my freeze-dried breakfast, then prepared my pack for a day-hike to the South Rim while trying to see as much wildlife as possible between here and there.  I proceeded up the Boot Canyon Trail and diverted to check out Boot Spring.
[Obligatory Boot Spring report: it's bone-dry, with not even a drop coming out.  There were a few small pools of stagnant water in Boot Canyon, but that's it.]
I was hoping to see Colima Warblers in the canyon.  As it turned out, I heard several calling, all from high up the canyon walls and far enough way for no reasonable hope of seeing them.  I did better after making a short detour onto the Juniper Canyon Trail.  Shortly after I turned up it, I spotted a pair of Gray Flycatchers working their way through the trees, a life bird for me.  Although Gray Flycatchers aren't uncommon in the Rocky Mountains, the Chisos Mountains are the only place in Texas one can reasonably expect to find them.  Later, I spotted a Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, a bird more common in the desert but which occasionally makes a detour up into the Chisos.  I added the Juniper Canyon 1 campsite to my list of Chisos Mountains campsites on my GPS, then returned to the Boot Canyon Trail and made my way to the South Rim.  Of the four times I've been to the rim, this was easily the worst view that I've had.  Thanks to the wind, there was a huge amount of dust in the air;  anything beyond Elephant Tusk was obscured, and I could barely make out the profile of the Sierra del Carmens only because I knew where to look.  I ate lunch and spent the remainder of the day easing my way down the South Rim and Colima Trails back to BC3, where another freeze-dried dinner awaited.  The only people I'd seen all day (other than my now-departed neighbors at BC4) were a couple on the Boot Canyon Trail and a lone person carrying camera equipment at the junction of the South Rim and Colima Trails.  The weather forecast had called for colder temperatures that night, and it wasn't wrong.  It started feeling quite cold after dinner, so for the last couple of hours before I went to sleep I stayed in my sleeping bag reading.

Thursday, April 11
It seemed quite cold when I woke up, so I checked my tiny $3 thermometer, and it read in the mid-30s.  Fortunately, the sun had risen, and it was warming up.  The backcountry permit said I had to be out of the site by noon, and between eating breakfast, packing up items, and my usual slowness in the morning, I made the deadline by about 15 minutes.  After that, it was straight onto the Basin, which I made in about three hours with a stop at Pinnacles Pass to change out of my thermal underwear, as it had warmed up into the 60s, and another stop to chat with the SCA interns doing trail maintenance at Juniper Flats.  I enjoyed a nice lunch at the Lodge restaurant and checked into my room at the Lodge (I figured that, after two nights camping out, I could afford one night in the Lodge).  I spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing, and after dinner at the restaurant, I went to the evening talk at the amphitheater.  It was about grasses in Big Bend and given by one of the park volunteers, organized around the question, "Why is there no grass on Tornillo Flat?" (the short answer: the soil there is so fine-grained that water can't infiltrate the ground).  Afterward, I did some stargazing (again, the horizon was such that I couldn't see the comet) and was impressed at the changes made to lighting around the Basin to reduce the amount going into the sky.

Friday, April 12
It was time to go home. I ate breakfast at the Lodge restaurant, checked out of my room and strolled around the Window View Trail for one last check on wildlife, musing about how I'd miss the raucous calls of Mexican Jays.  I exited the park through Persimmon Gap and got to Marathon in time for lunch.  I remembered eating a decent meal once at the Oasis Café, so I went by there and found it closed.  Someone's going have to suggest to me a place to eat in Marathon where one doesn't have to take out a bank loan to pay the bill (i.e., not the Gage). At least I was able to eat lunch eventually at Bienvenidos in Fort Stockton, get gas in Ozona without locking my keys in the vehicle, and made it back to Austin that evening without further incident.

Of course, I want to go back (this time with a fully-charged camera battery and spare plus charging cable).  Maybe January....


Offline Geezer

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Re: Trip Report April 2 - 12, 2013
« Reply #1 on: April 21, 2013, 01:40:48 AM »
Thanks! Sounds like a fine time.



Offline mule ears

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Re: Trip Report April 2 - 12, 2013
« Reply #2 on: April 21, 2013, 06:50:24 AM »
Jonathan sounds like a thorough tour of the greater Bend including culinary and lodging stops.  Great report, thanks for the attention to detail!  :eusa_clap:
temperatures exceed 100 degrees F
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no shade, no water


Offline Voni

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Re: Trip Report April 2 - 12, 2013
« Reply #3 on: April 21, 2013, 08:23:56 AM »
Thanks for bringin us along!  Your word pictures are really vivid!

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Offline kevint

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Re: Trip Report April 2 - 12, 2013
« Reply #4 on: April 21, 2013, 01:26:50 PM »
I like hearing more about the Ranch. Thanks.
-- Kevin (W5KLT)

"It's not an adventure until something goes wrong."  --Yvon Chouinard


Offline trtlrock

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Re: Trip Report April 2 - 12, 2013
« Reply #5 on: April 21, 2013, 09:03:07 PM »
Nice report
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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