West Texas / Southern New Mexico Adventure
March 13 - 28, 2009 - 16 days
3 National Parks, 4 State Parks, 1 National Monument, 1 National Forest,
1 Recreational Area, World Heritage site, Petroglyphs site, lots of Historical places
and lots of Scenic Lookouts along the way.
Driving over 1,400 miles (mostly scenic) Average price of gas was $2.05
$1,500.00 per person including $500.00 airfare.
No Rental Car fee but there was gas, food and park fees.
Camping 12 nights and hiking almost everyday around 4 miles on the average.
This is my second trip to this area of the US. The first time was 12 years ago in May 1997.
This second time was even better then the first because I had more time to explore, had a new perspective, plus an extra person who owned a Toyota 4x4. The adventure started in El Paso Texas (population 900,000). My friend and I flew in from Hartford Ct. for an afternoon landing to meet our other friend with his 4x4 who drove in from California. All 3 of us have known each other for over 30 years because we grew up together in the same neighborhood in Danbury Ct.. After lunch at La Casita we stocked up on food at the local Big 8 Foods and then headed south down route 10 to route 90. The drive from El Paso to Big Bend has plenty of moments when you just want to stop the car and take a photo, thatís probably why we started having break problems near the end of the trip. A few times I saw abandoned mobile homes along the way, wondering were they are now and wondering what kind of life they were living in a trailer in such a remote area? Our first stop along the way was a small town named Marfa (3 hours & 200 miles from El Paso, 1.6 square miles, population 2,121). A quaint and peaceful town and a nice break from driving. Next was the town of Alpine (4 hours & 220 miles from El Paso, 4.1 square miles, population 5,786) this is where we call it a night at the La Loma Inn Motel across the street from the Pecan Grove RV Park. After a nice breakfast at Magooís Place we headed south, past the Sul Ross State University in Alpine, onto route 118 under some drizzling rain. The weather was cooler then expected. There was even ice on the roadside cholla cactus. Then down the road we saw a herd of pronghorns grazing in a field next to the road, and then we saw some wild turkeys, a javelina, a dead coyote, cows, horses and some buzzards all on Route 118. It felt like I was on safari. One thing about Texas is they donít have the abundance of BLM land like other neighboring states. Almost all the land in the Lone Star State of Texas is privately owned so pulling off the road to camp is not a good idea since itís legal for Texans to shoot first and ask questions later. (Bureau of Land Management manages 261 million acres in the U.S. and very little of that is in Texas)
Finally after 2 hours & 95 miles we arrived at Big Bend National Park, over 800,000 acres of desert and mountains on the border of Mexico. (Quick facts) Our first stop at the Bad Lands we headed to the visitorís center Park Headquarters to secure some backcountry campsites, also known as Primitive Roadside Campsites, which there are 72 in the park and also 42 backpacking campsites in the Chisos Mountains(I pronounce Chisos as Cheese Toast). It was spring break and one of the busiest times in the park so a lot of the campsites were filled and reserved. We got lucky and reserved campsites for 6 nights. We also were informed about the rules and regulations of the park and were also given some much-needed information about being safe on our visit. Our first campsite was Roy's Peak Vista. But before driving to the campsite we decided to take a short hike to Balanced Rock on Grapevine Hills Trail (2.2 miles round trip). The trail head starts near the end of Grapevine Hills Road and is 2 mile round trip. It has an easy climb at the end with nice views of the Sierra Del Carmen Mountains and of course a Balancing Rock. After the hike we backtracked to Panther Junction and drove to Dagger Flat Auto Trail and then to Old Ore Road where our first campsite was located at Roys Peak Vista. Our 4x4 got us there with no problems.
I watched in envy as a few motorcycle riders enjoying the dirt road kick up some dust as they past. There are plenty of activities to do in Big Bend so I would definitely visit their website before visiting. The remote campsite at Roys Peak Vista has some nice views and plenty of room for 3 tents. There are some interesting features to explore around camp as well so itís not that boring. The next day we headed towards our next campsite, but first we took a short hike to start day # 2 on Telephone Canyon Trail. Nice easy hike with some nice views and lots of cactus of course. After all Big Bend has more types of Cactus then any other national park in the U.S. After our hike we headed to our next campsite, Camp de Leon, near the Sierra del Carmen Mountain Range and Sierra del Casballo Muerto Mountains. The campsite is not that far from the main road that leads to Rio Grande Village where you can get a shower, some gas, wash clothes, get a little food and some supplies at the village store which is open all year. Also a little bit up the road is another visitor center were we were able to fill our 5 gallon water bottles. The next day, before we headed to our next campsite, we decided to hike Boquillas Canyon Trail next to the Rio Grande River. (Boquillas is Spanish for "little mouths" that refers to the many small streams or arroyos that and flow into the Rio Grande). Boquillas Canyon Trail is an easy hike with nice views with some nice trinkets being sold along the way by Mexicans who quickly go back and forth over the river to collect money for sold items. I actually bought one of those copper scorpions on my last visit to the park. After our hike we headed through the park tunnel to the Green Gulch into the Chisos Mountains to hike the Lost Mine Trail (4.8 miles round trip). This was our longest hike so far and one of the most scenic. Lost mine peak is 7550 ft. On my last visit I hiked to Emory Peak at 7825 ft., also a nice hike. After the hike we went to our next campsite at K-Bar, which is at the end of a dirt road. The next morning (Day 5) on our way back to Rio Grande Village we decided to take a quick dip in the Langford Hot Springs or Boquillas Hot Springs where Tornillo Creek enters the Rio Grande at around 240,000 gallons a day. The temperature of the springwater, which is heated geothermally, is 105įF year-round. The water contains calcium carbonate, calcium sulfate, sodium sulfate, sodium chloride, and lithium. After a quick stop at Rio Grande Village we headed to our next campsite by the river, Gravel Pit 2. This is 17th of March, Happy Saint Patrickís Day. This was the day that I was really noticing just how freaking hot the sun can be here. The desert can really give you a beating at times if youíre not careful. My chapped lips and sunburn face were a good sign that I better start paying more attention to mother nature. Plus there are no medical services in the park and the nearest hospital is 100 miles away in Alpine. The next day we headed to our next campsite at Pine Canyon, where the campsite is right next to the Pine Canyon Trail which is an easy hike that has some cool relief from the sun because of the many trees along the trail with even more trees as you hike in the canyon. We met a lot of nice people on this trail, especially Lesa and Mitch who were nice enough to share some coffee and yogurt with us, which we enjoyed immensely. The next day we headed to the other side of the park and drove down the Ross Maxwell Scenic drive. We stopped and hiked the Mule Ears Spring Trail. Nice easy hike with a little oasis near the end of the trail. Next was a quick stop at the Castolon Visitor Center. Around the corner at cottonwood campground we replenished our water supply before heading to Santa Elena Canyon. Santa Elena Canyon is a nice spot to just relax on the sandy riverbed and enjoy the surroundings. You can also go swimming or take a short hike down the Santa Elena Canyon trail (1.7 miles round trip) and watch rafters floating down the river. Next we drove down old Maverick Road to our next campsite at Ocotillo Grove were you could still see Santa Elena Canyon from the campsite (Day7). Two women from the next campsite over approached us and asked if they can camp next to us. They had uneasy feelings about the group of people next to their campsite so we told them that they could camp next to us.
Then the next day we took a short hike down the Chimneys trail before leaving the park to head to The Big Bend Ranch State Park which is the largest state park in Texas with over 300,000 acres and 66 miles of trails in the Chihuahuan Desert. On the way we replenished our water and supplies in Study Butte/Terlingua and then stopped for a quick bite to eat at Rio Bravo Mexican Restaurant on route 170. After a nice meal we made a quick stop at Terlingua Ghost Town (Historic district). Our first stop in The Big Bend Ranch State Park was the Barton Warnock Environmental Education Center to get some park info and camping information. Our first stop in the park was a cool little town called Lajitas. We had a quick beer at the Thirsty Goat and watched some NCAA Basketball. You could see were they were rebuilding the 18 hole Ambush Golf Course that was destroyed from severe flooding from the Rio Grande in mid-September, 2008 from Tropical Depression Lowell which caused the river to grow to over 30 feet deep in places that are normally 2-3 feet deep. After that we continued our drive down route 170 (El Camino del Rio meaning 'The River Road'). Saw some cool things along the way like the Tee Peeís Rest Area and an awesome lookout up the road called Big Hill. You have to take a small steep hike up the hill to get the full view, which is totally worth it. Next we headed to the Arenosa Primitive Camping Area to setup camp. This is a nice campsite next to the river. We still had plenty of time in the day so we decided to hike the Closed Canyon Trail, which is a very deep and narrow ravine through cliffs near the Rio Grande. I happened run into the same group of women I met on the Pine Canyon Trail in Big Bend. Seeing the same people usually happens on these types of trips since everyone is trying to see and do as much as possible while on their vacation. After the hike we headed back to camp where we had one windy night of camping. The wind was blowing so hard that night that my tent filled with sand and my face was covered in dirt by the mourning, fun time.
The next day we headed towards our next destination, the Davis Mountains State Park (Day 9). On the way we first had some Breakfast in Presidio at the El patio dinner, which is 2 hours & 68 miles from Study Butte to Presidio. Presidio to Fort Davis is about 1.5 hours and 82 miles of scenic driving down Route 67 through Marfa then onto the Davis Mountains. The Davis Mountains State Park is a very tranquil park with lots of activities and wild life. The park is 2,700 acres at an elevation of 5000 Ė 6000 ft. Located in Jeff Davis County, just four miles northwest of Fort Davis the park was developed between 1933 and 1935. The mountains were formed from volcanic activity over 25 million years ago. The campsites are nice here and they also have nice facilities with showers. After visiting the Indian Lodge we took a nice hike. That night the javelinís visited our campsite grunting and snorting. Theyíre kind of cool but they can spook you at times because they give this screeching sound that sounds like a female screaming, when you hear it you have to say Ďwhat the heck was thatí?
The next day we headed towards Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Culberson County. (Fort Davis to Guadalupe is 2 hours 120 miles, Rt. 10 to 54). Guadalupe became a National Park on September 30, 1972. The park has over 80 miles of trails in its 86,000-acre boundary (135 square miles)Formed about 250 million years ago from a 400-mile-long Permian limestone reef. This is where you hike the highest peak in Texas, Mount Guadalupe at 8,749 feet. The hike is a 8.5 miles round trip from our campground at Pine Springs which is at an elevation of 5,822 ft., so you only have to climb up 3,000 ft. which makes it fairly easy. The whole hike takes around 5 hours depending on your speed and how much time you spend on the summit. The winds can be pretty strong here at times with 30 mph winds on the average with gusts exceeding 70 mph. Wind is due to differences in air pressure. Areas of high pressure cause winds that blow toward areas of low pressure. So itís a good idea to have a tent that can withstand high winds. Whatís also great about Guadalupe Mountains National Park is that itís near some of the biggest caves in North America at Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico
(The land of Enchantment). Itís only 45 minutes from the park so you can still camp at Guadalupe even though thereís camping near Carlsbad Caverns. (Day 11) The caves are spectacular and fun for the whole family. After the caves we took a short hike around Frijole Ranch.
Now itís on to our next stop, White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. (Guadalupe to Mayhill is 160 miles) First we stopped in Artesia (60 Miles from Guadalupe) to get a bite to eat at a Mexican restaurant and then we headed to the Lincoln National Forest Preserve (285,000 acres) to camp for the night. The next day (Day13), we drove 40 miles through Cloud Country before descending out of the Sacramento Mountains down to White Sands National Monument (Quick Facts). I love this place, and by the look of all the smiles on the kidís faces that were sledding down the sand dunes, itís safe to say that they love this place as well. After hiking around the dunes we went back to the town of Alamogordo (population 36,000 and dubbed the friendliest place on earth)We stopped at the Sunset Run Barbeque Restaurant to get a bite to eat. With full bellies we went back to White Sands. Driving back we could see a huge sand storm over White Sands. So what did we do, we decided to get a backcountry campsite and spend the night in side the park during a sand storm. This was amazing (Video) the wind blew hard all night as we slept out in the open in our sleeping bags. Even though I hardly slept it was still an awesome experience. The wind stopped blowing just as the sun raised the next mourning. The sands were like new. It was time again for breakfast in Alamogordo. Today we drove 30 miles north to 3 rivers Petroglyphs Site. More than 21,000 petroglyphs scattered over 50 acres of New Mexico's northern Chihuahuan Desert that date back to between about 900 and 1400 AD, pretty cool. After that we drove another 30 miles north past the town of Carrizozo, in the Tularosa Valley, to visit the Valley of Fires Recreational Area that was created by a huge lava flow that erupted from a vent 1500 years ago for 30 years (127 square Miles). We took a short hike on the Lava trail called the Malpais Nature Trail. There are two types of olivine basalt lava here, Pahoehoe and aa lava that flowed for 44 miles and varies in width from 2 to 5 miles. The depth average is 45 feet with the thickest point being 165 ft. Not to far from here the first atomic bomb in history was detonated at the Alamogordo Test Range on July 16, 1945. The site of the explosion, called Trinity Site, is located on property owned by the present-day White Sands Missile Range. After our short hike we then took showers at Valley of Fires beautiful facilities. Now that we were clean we were able to go to a public restaurant. We got a bite to eat at the Outpost Bar & Grill in Carrizozo and watched the UNCONN Huskies win a game playing in the NCAA basketball tournament. This town had that old western town look. We were told that some of the restoration was from a movie being shot here just months before. The movie is named The Book of Eli starring Denzel Washington, Gary Oldham, and Mila Kunis. The town of Carrizozoís name is derived from the Spanish word ďcarrizoĒ meaning a reed-like grass. The town is 5,425 feet above sea level and has around 1,029 residents. After that we headed back to Alamogordo. We were going to camp at a recreational area near a lake, just north east of whites sands on route 70, but it was late and windy and a good time to spend a night in a Hotel.
The next day we headed south to El Paso, which is 90 miles from White Sands. We visited the Franklin Mountains State Park and took a couple of short hikes. The park was created in 1979 and the Franklin Mountains are the largest sustained mountain range in Texas, with the summit of North Franklin Peak being 7,192 ft, some 3000' above the city below. The park is the largest urban park in the nation at 24,247 acres, covering some 37 square miles, all within the city limits of El Paso. The park will ultimately feature 118 miles of multi-use trails. After the park we headed south down route 10 to the town of Fabens to get a bite to eat at the Cattleman's Steakhouse. They have great food and itís also a great place to visit for the entire family. The inside is like a museum and the grounds around the steakhouse are filled with animals like a zoo. On the drive back to El Paso we could see the city lights of El Pasoís neighboring city of Juarez in Mexico with an estimated population of 1.5 million people and one of the fastest growing cities in the world. It was sad to here of the violence that is plaguing this town in and we just hope it gets better. Ciudad JuŠrez, Mexico and El Paso, Texas comprise one of the largest binational metropolitan areas in the world with a combined population of 2.6 million people. Both cities are connected by four bridges, which are used by an average of 60,000 people a day. That night we stayed in a hotel next to the airport in El Paso. At the airport the next day a saw a couple who sat next to us at the Cattleman's Steakhouse, small world. This trip was great and could be done in many different ways with many other activities to be enjoyed so I encourage everyone to explore this part of America because it has a lot to offer. You could visit this area more then once because you will never see it all or do it all in one visit, so each time you visit will be a unique experience.
Good luck and have fun on all your adventures, Howie
Food on the road consisted of Trail mixes with nuts, seeds and dried fruit, chocolate thatís heavy in coca, Dry Cereal, Protein bars, Bagels with cream cheese, lots of water and multi-vitamins. Campground dinners were spaghetti, ribs, chicken, steak, chili and fried eggs though hardboiled eggs would have been better and easier on the clean up. We also ate a few times at restaurants.
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