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Walking to the bottom of the Bend, Dec. 2011. Down to Mariscal Mtn. and back

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Offline mule ears

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Dec. 8th-13th, 2011

67 miles walked, 63 with pack, 4+ without



There are a few areas of the park that I have never been to and on top of the list was Mariscal Mountain, the southern most extent of the Rocky mountains and the very bottom of the Big Bend.  The problem is how to get there.  Because we always fly in and have to rent a vehicle that will just sit for a week while we walk, I never want to pay an extra $200 for an SUV just to get into someplace.  I kept looking at where we could park a passenger car and still walk to Mariscal Mountain.  Several options were possible but the best was if we could get down to the junction of the Glenn Springs and Juniper canyon roads.  It would allow for the best combination of mileage, water and pack carry weights.  The second choice would be to park at the Mule Ears overlook but that would add at least 10 miles to the loop and make for some uncomfortable pack weights on some days.

This trip has been three years in the planning and further inspiration came from various trip reports like tjavery’s exploration of the badlands below Robbers Roost and the now many reports of trips to the waterworks in Fresno canyon starting with TWWG and billh.  Finally DJ’s combination paddle of/and hike over Mariscal.  As the date became closer I got solid road reports from el hombre and TWWG and confirmed water reports for the two important sources, Fresno canyon and Dominguez spring, from jeffblaylock and again TWWG.  The trip was on thanks to everyone!  :notworthy:

I was going to do this trip next winter but with the drought and it’s forecast for possibly continuing for several years, I decided I had best get it done while there was at least some water in the Sierra Quemada.  On short notice my two cohorts from the across the park hikes were not available so I brought yet another person to the park who had never been there before.  Even crazier, I had never hiked with Mark but knew him from other common pursuits.  This was to be a hard trip but he has hiked extensively in the Grand Canyon and climbed many of the highest peaks in North and South America and was interested in Big Bend.  He said he wasn’t a complainer, I can now say, true dat.

We flew from North Carolina to San Antonio arriving about 1:00.  Rental car and off to Good Sports for fuel canisters (thank you Musey!), some road food and we were on I-10 to Marathon by 2:30.  The 80 mph speed limit makes it much faster than it used to be and we got to Marathon by 7:30.  We stopped to order a pizza at Guzzi Pizza and went to check into the Marathon Motel while it cooked.  We sorted and packed equipment over pizza and beers and then passed out.  I still recommend the Marathon Motel even with the trains, but I slept through them with no trouble.

Trail Day One

Up early and at Shirley’s Burnt Biscuit at 6:30.  Good coffee and sausage gravy biscuits and we are down the road to the park as a great sunrise greeted us.





We get to PJ at 9:00 and the young ranger gave us no trouble when we said we wanted to take a passenger car down the Glenn springs road, “just go slow” he said.  Neither did he blink when filling out the permit but I did just give him the zones we wanted and didn’t elaborate on the route.  :icon_wink:

Fill up some water bottles and we are off.  It is 7 miles down the Glenn Springs road to the Juniper Canyon road turn off and we did go slow, with only the deep gravelly sections near Chilicotal Mountain being a bit disconcerting. :icon_eek:  We arrive with no damage and there is a good place to pull off right at the junction.



We are on the trail by 10:30 with 27 pound packs including a week’s food and 3 quarts of water each, enough to get to water in Fresno canyon tonight.  Temps in the 50’s and sunny, typical Big Bend weather.

Here is the full route map with each day's route in a different color and the camps and springs marked.  GPS track to be provided later.



The route took us south down the wash that becomes, what I refer to as, Holly spring canyon.  Not bad walking until we come to a 40’ pour off but we can get down the slope on the right hand side.



We can begin to see the vast badlands to the west.



We reach the bottom and begin to see bear tracks in the sand that is between very cool rock formations.



11:30 and 2.25 miles later we reach Holly spring which has several small clear pools, at least one you could dip water out of.



A break in the shade and we head out into the flats below the badlands and west of the Black Gap road.  As we are cutting through some low hills we find about a dozen of these odd little rock structures all on one low bench above the wash?



The next stop is Screwbean spring which is in a broad wash and all we find is some damp, salt crusted sand.



On westerly towards a wash that will take us up through the badlands and past several springs on the way to Fresno canyon.  This wash runs in a northwesterly direction past three springs and is NE of points 2929 and 3049.





We see the location of Shelf spring which is up on a shelf above the main wash with lots of vegetation but don’t climb up to look for water and see none below the shelf.



Soon we come to a pour off and decide it is a good time to stop for lunch before climbing around it.  6.2 miles so far and 1:00.



A nice long break and we make the easy climb around and start looking for Shrub and Yum springs but see no sign of either.  At the intersection of the side wash that Yum spring was to be at we hung a left up that wash in a slight southwesterly direction.  Soon the wash is choked with vegetation so we climb the south side up onto the ridge and into a recently burned area.   Makes for much easier walking that is for sure.



We are now looking down into Fresno canyon and we make our way down into the wash right above the upper of the two pour off/amphitheaters in this section of the canyon.  8.6 miles to this point.



Now we start the fun walk up, the mostly rock bottomed, Fresno wash.  After about a half an hour the palm tree shows itself, growing in a crack at a narrow turn of the canyon.



Not too far up canyon is Fresno spring and it’s lone cottonwood, all we find is two medium sized green pools with no flow.  A bit worrying as this might be the best spring in the drainage.  :-\



After some more rock scrambling and a few dank pools



We begin to see several clear pools with water running between them.  For at least a quarter mile there is running water from Estrecho spring.  Parts of the canyon here are really a dark black shiny rock like that at Banta Shut-In.  We fill up with water for tonight and the morning and begin to look for a campsite.





We find the first of two garter snakes we will see this trip, both dead.



Arriving at the junction of a large wash that comes in from the south, Elephant Tusk side, the canyon opens up and there is a nice soft gravel bar to sleep on.  It is 5:30 and we have come 11.7 miles today, a good solid start to the trip.  66 degrees was the high for the day.  We will be going up over the far saddle tomorrow.



Tomorrow we will explore up canyon through the waterworks and...
« Last Edit: January 03, 2012, 07:48:22 AM by mule ears »
temperatures exceed 100 degrees F
minimum 1 gallon water per person/day
no shade, no water
http://40yearsofwalking.wordpress.com/

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Offline jim2

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i always enjoy your trip reports mules ears. glad there is more to come!

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Offline trtlrock

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Awesome -- I'm looking forward to the rest of the report.

I love that black, shiny Banta rock.
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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Offline The Scorpion

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cool  :13: :13:

James
everything is better with bacon!!!

http://jamesb.smugmug.com/BigBendNationalPark/

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Offline TexasAggieHiker

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WOW! What a route! 

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Offline Flash

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Thanks Mule Ears for the 1st installment of an intriguing report.  :icon_cool:

According to this link I ran across a while back...
http://www.panoramio.com/photo/28754436
those odd little rock shelters may involve kids!  ;D
« Last Edit: December 18, 2011, 06:46:04 PM by Flash »

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Offline TexasAggieHiker

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Yep, gave 'em shade and protected them from eagles.

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Online Robert

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Great report and photos, can't wait to see the rest.  :eusa_drool:

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Offline mule ears

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Thanks Mule Ears for the 1st installament of an intriguing report.  :icon_cool:

According to this link I ran across a while back...
http://www.panoramio.com/photo/28754436
those odd little rock shelters may involve kids!  ;D

Thanks Flash!  I had some slight memory of something like that.
temperatures exceed 100 degrees F
minimum 1 gallon water per person/day
no shade, no water
http://40yearsofwalking.wordpress.com/

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Offline alan in shreveport

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I've wanted to see Mariscal also but (also)never had a 4 wheel drive to get there. I think I'm more likely to get a 4wd than I am to duplicate your trip- congratulations on your sucess. I'm anxious to see more.

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chisos_muse

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 :notworthy: :notworthy: :notworthy:

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Offline jeffblaylock

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Very sweet trip ME. Looking forward to the rest of it.
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 Casa Grande

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Walking to the bottom of the Bend, Dec. 2011. Down to Mariscal Mtn. and back
« Reply #12 on: December 19, 2011, 05:55:42 AM »
You guys are my own personal heroes. Amazing trip!  I'm waiting with baited breath......

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Offline homerboy2u

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Nice to have the Musey around, for some real camping stuff when you need it, huh?.

  It is a really desolate place and ever challenging to stand there with just packs and a friend. Excellent so far.
Stay thirsty, my friends.

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Offline Juan Cuatro Lados

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Great photos .... the small rock shelters are called "chiquiteros", used to shade newborn goats.  There are quite a few of them scattered around -
at one spot along the river below San Vicente Canyon there are hundreds of them.  Nice trip!

 


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