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rubywrangler
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PostWed Feb 10, 2021 9:18 pm 
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I was in Big Bend National Park from Jan 6-17 and in Guadalupe Mountains National Park from Jan 22-31. I didn’t mean to be in either place for that long, but... there’s a lot to do, it was hard to leave. (Also I recently got one of those new M1 MacBooks with incredible battery life as well as a massive battery to charge it so I can work very-remotely for extended periods biggrin.gif). Bigbendchat.com, a site much like this one, is a great resource for info on the Big Bend region and surrounding areas.

When I first considered going to Big Bend, I checked rec.gov and all the campsites at all three campgrounds were booked.  Boo. But a couple weeks later I checked again. And again and again. And booking one or two nights at a time, eventually I was able to string together 9 nights at 2 campgrounds and snag one night on the south rim. I did a bunch of dayhikes, two overnights, and a short kayak trip while I was there.

Big bend dayhikes:
  • Cattail falls:  Easy hike to an 80’ waterfall.  Use to be sekrit, now definitely not.
  • Ernst tinaja: Short walk up a wash into a pretty canyon with tinajas (potholes).  Trailhead is a long drive on an unmaintained road with scratchy overhanging branches that your car’s paint job will not appreciate.
  • Boquillas canyon: Easy hike to great view of the Rio Grande and pretty canyon.  Lots of vendors from across the Rio selling trinkets and tamales along the trail.
  • The Window: ~5 mi RT hike to a crack in the Chisos mountains with an obstructed view of the desert. The view was actually the least interesting part.  The sunset light on the high Chisos from the trail is gorgeous, and the trail itself is really interesting as it gets close to the window. (Apparently the view is better if you take the oak creek cutoff trail, but I didn’t get that memo until after.)
  • Casa Grande peak: everyone who goes up to the Chisos hikes the Lost Mine trail.  Based on some info I found on BBC, I hiked a mile on the lost mine trail to a saddle, then turned right and followed a way trail along the ridge. Shortly the trail begins to make a gently rising traverse on the north slope of Casa Grande peak, around a couple pinnacles, and then eventually turns upslope and climbs. When I was there, the trail was covered by ~1’ of snow but was easy to follow.  The summit is the high point of a rolling plateau complete with forest. The views are lovely.
  • Lower burro mesa pour off: This was a mistake. There is a lower and upper, I couldn’t remember which was recommended.  Not this one.
  • Rio Grande Village nature trail: I walked this short loop at sunset along with everyone else who was camped at the Rio Grande Village campground that day.  It was worth it.
cattail falls
cattail falls
cattail falls
cattail falls
ernst tinaja
ernst tinaja
ernst tinaja
ernst tinaja
boquillas canyon
boquillas canyon
santa elena canyon
santa elena canyon
santa elena canyon
santa elena canyon
sunset from sotol vista
sunset from sotol vista
sunset from sotol vista
sunset from sotol vista
sunset from sotol vista
sunset from sotol vista
the window
the window
the window
the window
the window
the window
casa grande
casa grande
casa grande
casa grande
casa grande
casa grande
rio grande village nature trail
rio grande village nature trail

Big bend overnights:

South Rim loop: This is the hike you MUST do at big bend, according to Backpacker Magazine circa 1999 or whenever my subscription expired.  It was burned into my brain. The route is described in detail many places and was nice. I hiked in through Laguna meadows and stayed at east rim 7 campsite, which is just a hop skip and jump away from pretty great views of the Sierra Quemada to the south and the Sierra del Carmen to the east.  I guess all of the campsites up there have good views in close proximity. They were mostly empty, which was weird because they were all reserved. On the way out I hiked up to Emory peak, the highest point in the park, and then out the Pinnacles trail, which was a sheet of ice for 2+ miles.  Of course I was carrying micro spikes but was sure the ice would “end soon” so I never stopped to put them on.  I was a little distracted the whole time because my dad went into the hospital suddenly a few hours before I was supposed to start this trip. (He’s fine and is also being vaccinated tomorrow. Woohoo!)


Marufo Vega lollipop loop:  THIS is the hike you ACTUALLY should do at Big Bend. My favorite by far. Can’t say enough good things about it.  For the first couple miles, the trail crosses the open desert. Then it climbs through the Sierra el Caballo Muerto and drops down to the Rio Grande. At the ranger’s recommendation, I took the north fork on the way in.  The trail descends a shady steep-ish canyon and pops out on a plateau above the river, with awesome view of then Sierra del Carmen just across the border.  The views get bigger and better as the trail traverses above the river until meeting the south fork trail.  From the intersection, you can take a short trail down to the river (a lot of people camp on the beach) or turn right and go up.  I went right and climbed ~800 feet to a plateau with several campsites, all with incredible views.  It was breezy so I picked one that was tucked near a giant split boulder.  There was one other solo hiker camped on the plateau but he was way out on the edge overlooking the river. It was a very warm night, probably didn’t drop below 50. Glorious. I got up to watch the sunrise and then continued out on the south fork trail.  The trail winds through the desert and then a wash back to the main trail.  On the way out I ventured off-trail to “Randell’s overlook”, a BBC find and very worthwhile side trip.  Then just retraced my steps back to the car.

illegal, crossed the border to eat our shrubs
illegal, crossed the border to eat our shrubs

Guadalupe mountains
I stopped here because I was heading west and it was on the way.  I expected to stay for 3-4 days and do some backpacking but ran into some complications: 1) ranger wouldn’t give me a permit because he thought my planned loop was too difficult and 2) “strong and damaging winds” popped up in the forecast - which is saying something in this place. It is crazy windy.  So, instead of backpacking I bided my time with a couple dayhikes to Devils Hall (a short narrow slot) and Guadalupe peak ("the top of texas").

pine springs nature trail
pine springs nature trail
Devil's Hall 1.23.21
Devil's Hall 1.23.21
Devil's Hall 1.23.21
Devil's Hall 1.23.21
Devil's Hall 1.23.21
Devil's Hall 1.23.21
Devil's Hall 1.23.21
Devil's Hall 1.23.21
Guadalupe peak 1.24.21
Guadalupe peak 1.24.21
Guadalupe peak 1.24.21
Guadalupe peak 1.24.21
Guadalupe peak 1.24.21
Guadalupe peak 1.24.21
Guadalupe peak 1.24.21
Guadalupe peak 1.24.21
Guadalupe peak 1.24.21
Guadalupe peak 1.24.21

Then the forecast got even worse - rain, snow, cold - but it looked better later in the week, so I worked from the Pine Springs campground for 2 days and then went back to the ranger station prepared to negotiate.  Surprisingly I got a permit for the same itinerary I had requested earlier from a different ranger who gave me zero grief.

My loop started at Pine Springs, went over Bush mountain (#2 highest in Texas) and down to the really lovely Marcus camp on Day 1;  to Dog Canyon developed campground for water, up dog canyon then over Lost peak to Tejas camp (wooded, ok) on Day 2; up to Hunter peak via the Juniper and Bowl trails and out Bear Canyon on Day 3.

Map for reference:
 

It's a really interesting place. The mountains look big and rugged as you approach, but once you’re up high it feels like rolling hills.  Zoom in on this photo for more info:

Salt basin dunes 1.31.21
Salt basin dunes 1.31.21

Another interesting thing is that you are not allowed to collect water in the park; all water must be left for wildlife. I came across a bunch of mule deer and 2 javelinas licking fresh snow off the trail on the first day of my loop.


I hung around Guadalupe though the weekend and did a couple more dayhikes.  On Saturday, I hiked to McKittrick Canyon, an excellent choice on a day with 85 mph winds. The canyon is pretty; a lot of leaves are still on the trees so it wasn’t as brown and bare as I expected, but based on the descriptions, I thought there would be more water. Pratt cabin is located a couple miles into the canyon and has a big front porch with many chairs and great views. I continued up the canyon past a few other landmarks (the grotto, another cabin) and climbed almost to the ridge before the wind turned me around.

McKittrick Canyon 1.30.21
McKittrick Canyon 1.30.21
McKittrick Canyon 1.30.21
McKittrick Canyon 1.30.21
McKittrick Canyon 1.30.21
McKittrick Canyon 1.30.21
McKittrick Canyon 1.30.21
McKittrick Canyon 1.30.21
McKittrick Canyon 1.30.21
McKittrick Canyon 1.30.21

On Sunday I got up to see sunrise on El Capitan (of Texas) and then went out to the Salt Basin dunes.  It was a nice walk with good views of the Guads from the west, but I wished I’d gone at sunset.

El capitan sunrise 1.31.21
El capitan sunrise 1.31.21
El capitan sunrise 1.31.21
El capitan sunrise 1.31.21
El capitan sunrise 1.31.21
El capitan sunrise 1.31.21
Salt basin dunes 1.31.21
Salt basin dunes 1.31.21

Related note: This week's episode of Nature is: Big Bend: The Wild Frontier of Texas Also available to stream I think. I already watched it over here in mountain time and it was great.
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Malachai Constant
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PostWed Feb 10, 2021 10:15 pm 
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Great report, we got kicked out of Carlsbad NP last spring due to COVID although it seems ten years ago. Went up Mckittrick Canyon and planed to climb Guadalupe but was too windy and park was closing. Camped the next night just outside the park on the road to Gypsum Dunes, an amazing area. Beautiful area with great hiking so unlike west Texas to us. My experience was all Dallas Fort Worth and Houston very flat. Still want to return to bag the peak.

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"You do not laugh when you look at the mountains, or when you look at the sea." Lafcadio Hearn
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RichP
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PostThu Feb 11, 2021 7:10 am 
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I just barely touched on these two parks on a recent cross-country trip. Good info here for future visits to explore some more.
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Eric Hansen
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PostThu Feb 11, 2021 7:49 am 
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Thanks for the report and pictures!

"Guadalupe mountains
I stopped here because I was heading west and it was on the way.  I expected to stay for 3-4 days and do some backpacking but ran into some complications: 1) ranger wouldn’t give me a permit because he thought my planned loop was too difficult"


Could I ask what the ranger's reason was to think the route was "too difficult"? Waterholes unusually dry or not there at all?

And feel free to ignore this if you would rather not go into it.
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Brushbuffalo
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PostThu Feb 11, 2021 9:20 am 
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Bibe and gumo.....I was thinking " where has she gone this time?"  Clever!  Our equivalents are mora,  noca, and...what....oly?

rubywrangler wrote:
my dad went into the hospital suddenly

Glad he's OK.

rubywrangler wrote:

Good calcite crystal, a dominant mineral in the Guadalupe Mountains ( think ' Carsbad'). The ancient coral reef that is the heart of the Guadalupes is limestone (made mostly of calcite), but crystals of this size and form develop in place after initial formation of the reef. (Megan, you didn't ask for all that, but you know my tendency to wordiness! )

rubywrangler wrote:
It is crazy windy

The one time I was at Guadalupe NP, the wind was easily 60 mph on the summit  of Guadalupe Peak. Apparently that's routine and maybe even relatively calm!

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Passing rocks and trees like they were standing still
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rubywrangler
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PostThu Feb 11, 2021 2:18 pm 
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Malachai Constant wrote:
got kicked out of Carlsbad NP last spring due to COVID

Ah well I skipped Carlsbad due to COVID so I have to come back too. Did you go to White Sands? I was impressed with the dunes at Guadalupe, but wow! White Sands is another level.

RichP, I saw your road trip report when I was driving from AZ to SC and almost followed in your footprints to the high points of the southern states on my way back. But the beach was calling me smile.gif

Eric Hansen wrote:
Could I ask what the ranger's reason was to think the route was "too difficult"? Waterholes unusually dry or not there at all?

He said he didn't think I could make it from Pine Springs to Marcus camp in one day (11.6 miles) but not why. He asked another ranger who was working at the time for her input and said she thought it would be doable if I started early. He also said they have a new policy that allows him to say no to any permit itinerary, and that they would not grant a permit for any itinerary that includes a day over 12 miles.

There is no water along the route at any time, except at Dog Canyon developed campground.  And my understanding is that even if you happen to find water, you're not allowed to take it - you either have to carry in all you need and cache it, or refill at Dog Canyon.

Brushbuffalo wrote:
and...what....oly?

Olym actually! Not as catchy. I picked up bibe and gumo from BigBendChat.

The crystal photo was actually taken at Big Bend, but I found similar at Guadalupe. Lots of interesting geology on this trip! And more to come, I expect.
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Malachai Constant
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PostThu Feb 11, 2021 4:44 pm 
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We tried to go to White Sands but it was also closed. We headed East and boondocked at a closed ski area near Cloudcroft NM where we could see the white sands. We hiked around Lincoln National Forest at near 10,000’. New Mexico has some high mountains. By now we were pretty disenchanted and drove to Las Cruces and headed over to Arizona and a rock hounding area known for fire agates. Now we realize that the danger was far lower than now and wished we would have stayed longer. Will head back if we ever get vaccinated.

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"You do not laugh when you look at the mountains, or when you look at the sea." Lafcadio Hearn
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Kim Brown
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PostFri Feb 12, 2021 1:07 pm 
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rubywrangler wrote:
The Window: ~5 mi RT

I chuckled when I read this sentence; my mom & dad and I visited Big Bend in about 1983 (we'd been several times) and camped at Chisos Basin campground; we did this little hike and I loved the Window view, and the caption in my old photo album is, "The Window - 5 miles RT!"

Boquillas Canyon, McKittrick Canyon, Santa Elena, and some others I recognize. The hot springs, Terlingua....

I was hoping to do a trip there several  years ago, but couldn't find a partner. My brother camps there nearly fall;  perhaps I'll join him and do day trips.

I had always thought I'd marry a hamdsome cowboy who roams the Guadalupe and Davis Mtns. Well, I guess "dreamed" is a better word for it - though I was pretty dumb and perhaps really did think I would.  hmmm.gif

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" I'm really happy about this! … I have very strong good and horrible memories up there."  – oldgranola, NWH’s outdoors advocate.
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Brushbuffalo
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PostFri Feb 12, 2021 2:15 pm 
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rubywrangler wrote:
Lots of interesting geology on this trip! And more to come, I expect.

Beware, it's EVERYWHERE, even under your feet. winksmile.gif

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Passing rocks and trees like they were standing still
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Eric Hansen
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PostFri Feb 12, 2021 7:08 pm 
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"Could I ask what the ranger's reason was to think the route was "too difficult"? Waterholes unusually dry or not there at all?

He said he didn't think I could make it from Pine Springs to Marcus camp in one day (11.6 miles) but not why. He asked another ranger who was working at the time for her input and said she thought it would be doable if I started early. He also said they have a new policy that allows him to say no to any permit itinerary, and that they would not grant a permit for any itinerary that includes a day over 12 miles.

There is no water along the route at any time, except at Dog Canyon developed campground.  And my understanding is that even if you happen to find water, you're not allowed to take it - you either have to carry in all you need and cache it, or refill at Dog Canyon. "

Thanks Ruby Wrangler for that clarification. That is weird and perhaps patronizing, that ranger turning you down. Not that I haven't seen similar. NPS has its strange aspects.

That water doctrine is a new one on me but I like it. I don't think it is good to be anal about it but it is good to remind folks - start good conversations - that the critters are dependent on the water pockets. And sleeping next to the water pockets in that kind of country is not so good manners. Nice to be a good quarter mile off, give the critters elbow room to come in and drink.

Thanks again and happy trails! I enjoy your reports.
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