The Other Side of Big Bend NPShare
You saw a bit of what I did in my Overview of Big Bend. That post didn’t get down to the nitty gritty of where I went and how I got there though. It all started innocently enough. Pulled into Panther Junction, got an Annual National Park Pass for $80, talked to the ranger about what to see, and settled on one day middle, one east, and one west.
Already being in the middle I took a short drive to the Lost Mine Trail. Hiking this trail gave me a chance let my mind wander and realize that there will be many more days like this for me in the future. Between that and stopping to take pictures I rather quickly found myself looking out from the top of a 7,421 foot summit overlooking a good portion of the park and into Mexico.
After consulting my map I didn’t find any more short/medium hikes nearby so I setup my campsites for the next few nights. There are about 50 primitive camping sites throughout the park that can be driven to. They only require a permit ahead of time and a $10 fee paid for the permit regardless of how many nights or sites are requested.
I decided to head to the east side of the park and get one site for two nights and spend my last night on the west side. Access to these sites is from an unmaintained dirt road. What I quickly learned is that dirt road meant primarily 3-5 inch rocks with short stretches of rough dirt and gravel. This was my first time riding a bike on this type of terrain and it showed.
The bike ended up on its (right) side a few times while I bounced along at 10mph. Only one fall had any sort of speed associated with it, still I managed to shear a latch on one side case and, I later discovered, crack my horn case. In all it took me close to 3 hours to go 20 miles. By the time I rolled into camp, I was drenched in sweat and wondering what I’d gotten myself into. At least the road had improved slightly and my abilities had grown a fair bit more.
The good part of this is that I’d started early afternoon, brought as much water as I could carry, and learned quite a bit about myself and the bike to take with me on the rest of the journey. The bad is that my two spare water supplies both were leaking water and my “camp” was as barren a landscape as you’d ever wish to be in. On reaching camp, off came all my clothes and out came a cold beer. Ahhh, now we’re getting somewhere. I had to drink the beer so I could pour the ice remains into other containers since my cooler was one of the leaking culprits right?
Since I was out there, I wandered around the campsite, went to the Rio Grande and Mexico border, and went on a desert hike. In the afternoon I talked myself into suiting up and getting back on the bike to go to a mercury mine that shut down 70 years ago. There was much more there to look at than I’d expected. Remains of the stone buildings they’d used, some of the equipment, and about 6 different mine entrances (all blocked off). Even without my mining background it was still interesting. Not so for everyone apparently. After I’d finished my bit and was sitting down by my bike a jeep rolls up, stops, starts, stops, drives up to where I’m sitting. “Is there a way to drive up there?”
“No you take this path right behind me”
“Ok, thanks”, backup again, take a picture out the window and off they go. Really? You just drove over 30 miles of rocks for that? I bet 10 people a day don’t get out there and apparently not even all of them go to see what’s there.
The drive to and from the mine went without incident and gave me enough confidence to head out that evening for a soak in the springs. The road out had a lot more soft sand and gravel, but the bike and I made it through without the hassles of the day before.
My last day I went over to the Saint Elna Canyon which is magnificent. Take the time to hike into the canyon. It’s amazing how quickly it swallows you up and you feel like you’re in a lost world. Luckily I was on my way out when the two busloads of middle schoolers were on their way in. Was a bit less serene then.
My next camp area had a bit more nearby and was on a tributary to the Rio Grande. I wasn’t up for a big undertaking so I found my own little swimming hole and hung out there for a few hours. The water was 4 foot at its deepest. All the water passing through was on the bottom half while the top half was staying still and warming up. There was at least a 20 degree difference between the two levels. Made for interesting swimming.
I finished up Big Bend with a short hike south from my swimming hole to some more 1900’s ruins, this time from farmers. It was cool to see that on it’s own in the landscape without signs and guides showing you the way. Also shocking to imagine how people tried to eek out a living from that land. Though I did read on one sign that there used to be trees all along the riverbanks and that humans are the reason it’s so barren near the water now.
All week the camping has been great! Cool and clear at night, with a light breeze, and a full moon. Haven’t had to get out my headlamp yet. The nights in the desert I used my tent without the fly and went with my hammock the nights I actually had trees around.