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Big Bend National Park 2014


We departed Austin, TX around 9am, Monday, May 26th.  We made several stops in near Johnson City and Fredericksburg, looking for last minute gear.  We passed through a storm front that was pretty strong and had dropped the temperature from the 80’s down to what felt like the mid 50’s.  We eventually passed through the storm by the time we reached I-10.  I’ve made the drive through west Texas once before and there wasn’t much new to see.  A lot of rolling hills with the occasional wind farm out in the distance.  From I-10 you head south on 385 near Fort Stockton.  A few miles south of the town of Marathon you’ll encounter a Border Patrol checkpoint.  We didn’t see any activity on the way into the park.

We had been watching the time, wondering if we would make it to the park by 5pm.  We read that the ranger stations close at that time.  Our goal was to grab a backcountry camping permit for the night.  I had set my phone navigation to the first station, what I believe is Persimmon Gap Ranger station.  We made it there by 4:45pm.  Unfortunately, the park does not issue backcountry permits at that station.  We’d need to go to Panther Junction, about an hour away.  The ranger told us we could stay at the Chisos Basin campgrounds, which costs $14 a night.  We made the drive and set up at campsite 49, right across from the bathroom with running water.  There were trees there, which meant I could set up my hammock.

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While Scott worked on dinner, Russ and I took a short hike down Window Trail.  We didn’t go far, as we noticed it was a constant descent, which meant a hike up on the way back.  Two things I noticed that I didn’t come across in my research of the park; the high winds at night and the large population of house flies.  The winds would get crazy at night.  You could hear the wind coming over the surrounding mountains, then time it before it hit the campsite.  The flies were abundant, but you get used to them after a while.  Quite a few other larger bugs come out at night if you have a lamp or other light source at night.

The next day we headed to the Chisos Visitor’s Center to speak with the ranger there.  Guy named Brian.  We got to talking for a bit, turned out he spent some time at Tulane in New Orleans a number of years ago.  He gave us suggestions on where to go and what to check out.  His computer was down, so he was unable to get us a backcountry permit.  We would need to go to Panther Junction for the permit.  A portion of the South Rim was closed off this time of year due to nesting falcons.  We wanted something along the south rim, so we figured we’d check on availability there before we planned anything else.  We checked out the convenience store next to the visitor’s center while we were there.  They have close to everything you’d need during your stay.  Beer, wine, Camelbak hydration systems, a full selection of camping supplies, etc.  None of it seemed overpriced either.  Definitely commend the park on that.

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We headed over to the visitor’s center at Panther Junction next.  The ranger there suggested we grab campsite SW4.  It was a few minutes walk from the South Rim.  Availability was open, so we chose the next night.  The ranger suggested that we reserve a second night on the mountain, for no other reason than it didn’t cost any extra.  We chose a site in Boot Canyon.

From Panther Junction, we proceeded to hike Lost Mine Trail.  We packed small backpacks with Camelbak bladders for water, along with walking sticks.  This trail is just under 5 miles round trip.  We stopped a few times on the way up for breaks and to take photos.  A guide is available at the trailhead which describes 25? marked points of interest along the trail.  There are many nice views from this trail and the end of the trail is spectacular.  There’s a view of the Lost Mine as well.

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The next day we broke camp from the Chisos Basin and headed over to the Chisos Lodge area, which is the beginning of the trail to the South Rim.  We packed for two days, which seemed pretty heavy.  I had a full 100oz Camelbak, as well as a MSR Dromedary hydration bag (DromLite; I believe it was 4 liters?).  Now that I’m doing the math, that comes out to 1.8 gallons.  A bit shy of the recommended “1 gallon of water a day” out there.  For food, each of us took one MRE (circa 2008) and a few canned goods.  We also took a number of energy gels and chews, as well as some trail mix.  We started around 10am.  The hike up was pretty strenuous.  At one point, we encountered a Mexican Blue Jay.  He was very talkative.  We stopped for a bit, then moved on.  The Jay continued to follow us, so at one point I stopped again.  I dug out some trail mix and offered him some.  He grabbed a raisin, then became very excited.  He flew off, chirping very loudly.  Apparently, he was calling the family.  Three more Jays appeared and landed all around us.  I was able to coax one of them to land on my arm and eat from my hand.  Likely frowned upon by the park rangers, but it was apparent this wasn’t the Jay’s first time.  We moved on and the trail became steeper.  I believe we reached our campsite, SW4, around 4pm.  We ate a small meal, then set up camp.  After that, we ventured off to see the South Rim.  Approximately 5 minutes walk from our site, the view is amazing.  We walked up and down the Rim, taking photos and video.  We probably stayed over two hours before deciding to head back to camp for dinner.  We wanted to be back at the Rim for sunset (around 8:15ish), but wanted to have dinner and camp stuff taken care of before dark.  There’s a compost toilet a few minutes walk from our camp as well.  We watched the sunset, took more photos, then crashed for the night.  Again, the wind was very strong.  I believe the temperature dipped down into the low 50’s that night.
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We woke up around 6:30am and had breakfast.  For me, that consisted of a can of steak and potatoes, and a pop tart that was in my MRE from the night before.  We made our way over to the Rim again to catch the sunrise around 8:15 or so.  Again, the views are amazing.  There wasn’t a view of the horizon where the sun rose, but the light and shadows over the hills and mountains in the distance made for a spectacular view.  We stayed maybe an hour or so, then returned to camp to pack up.  I had completely drained my 100oz Camelbak the night before, so I was already into my 4 liter water source.  The views along the Boot Spring Trail heading north were equally amazing.  There was some confusion as to the trail route when we approached the Boot Spring, but we eventually figured out the way to go.  Most of the portion of this hike was in the shade due to the time of day.  We made our way to the trailhead for Emory Peak.  There we stored our large packs in the bear lockers and took only water and small packs.  This trail was also pretty strenuous.  A lot of sections with steep inclines.  We eventually arrived at the base of the summit.  There are two summits.  I didn’t see a clear way to reach the top of the summit on the right, so I went left.  The climb was sketchy and had lots of areas where if you slipped, you were going to have a very bad day.  After reaching the top of the summit, I could see that the other summit was slightly taller.  They both have an antenna array and solar panels, but the one I climbed did not appear to have a survey marker.  Oh well.  The view was still impressive. I saw quite a few ladybugs huddled up in large masses in various corners of rock on the summit.  A number of butterflies along the trail as well.  Not much room for more than 3 people up there.  There was another set of hikers right behind us, and then two more showed up before we came down.  The hike down was certainly easier, but still rough.  I ran out of water about half way down.  That left me with approximately 6 miles to go without water.  From there, the hike was mainly just trying to get back to the Chisos Lodge area without dehydrating.  There are a number of Texas Madrone trees along the trail down; very pretty.  They look as if they were painted bright red.

Takeaway points: Bring more energy gels/chews, and definitely bring more water.

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That evening we had decided to leave a day early, which would cut out some of the activities we had planned.  No one was really up for more hiking, so we decided on some back roads we could drive on.  We broke camp Friday morning for the last time, then headed to Panther Junction to fill up the gas tanks and check in with the ranger station.  From there we headed down Glen Spring Road on our way to the Mariscal Mine.  It’s an off road trail that’s fairly easy to navigate.  There are a few spots that were a bit tricky, but doable if taken slowly.  We stopped for more photos along the way, then arrived at the mine.  We didn’t venture too far from the trucks.  I noticed a large collection of old tin cans that had been discarded many years ago in a nearby dry stream bed.  I believe the time was around noon by this point, so we decided to head back north.

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About Jason Hughes

Jason Hughes has written 4 post(s) for Slices of America.

I was born in June 1974. I grew up in Berwick, Louisiana, where my dad was raised. After high school, I went to LSU, then Nicholls State University, then dropped out, then struggled to get back in. I eventually graduated from LSU in 2000 with an Electrical Engineering degree (which I am currently not using). In between, I've held all sorts of jobs; cashier, grocery stocker, deckhand on an offshore supply vessel, assembly worker, I drove trucks for Wal-Mart, cooked chicken at Raising Cane's, did assembly for high orbit scientific balloons, and so on. After graduating from college, I moved to Dallas, TX to work for a semiconductor company. It was interesting, but after 4 years I decided I would try something else. The wife and I packed up and moved to Austin. I’m now into software testing, working on secret stuff for the military and other various government agencies. My first camera was an old 110 film format camera. It really took a beating and continued to work. Many years later I eventually bought an APS camera, and now use a Casio Exilim digital camera. I’d like to pick up a digital SLR camera some day, but that’s low priority as far as the budget goes. Aside from taking pictures, my interests involve various martial arts, electronics, technology in general, my wife and my cats.