Thru hiking & Backpacking adventures: photos, videos, gear reviews, trail maps, GPX files, and more!

Posts tagged “desert hiking

Grants to Cuba – CDT Thru Hike 2018

Continental Divide Trail – Grants to Cuba Hike Overview

This next section of the CDT is a bit of a rollercoaster ride. After leaving Grants, the trail climbs to the highest point in New Mexico along the CDT at 11,300ft on the summit of Mt. Taylor. This is an alternate route, but almost everyone does it. Then the trail heads back down into the lowlands and is rather uninteresting for quite a stretch. Just when you’re thinking the best is over, bam! You find yourself on the edge of a high mesa with an awesome view. It’s then a 2 day hike through some of the most interesting desert landscapes I’ve  ever hiked through. The section of trail south of Cuba might be my favorite desert hike of all time!

Friday May 18th – CDT Day 28

I was up to 12:30am last night updating my blog(an 8 hour endeavour), so I slept in this morning and got later start than I wanted. I stopped by the post office to mail my bounce box and a post card, and started hiking out of town around 10:30am. A truck recognized me as a CDT hiker and offered a ride to the Mt Taylor trailhead, which would have saved about 5 miles of toad walking, but I said no thanks.

South of the trailhead, I passed a prison. Some prisoners were working outside of the walls, under the watchful eye of a guard. They waved, I waved back.

At the trailhead, I had a 1000ft climb ahead of me. I knocked it out without too much trouble and soon found myself on top of a mesa. Great view of Grants below, and Mt Taylor in the distance. I hiked over to a shade tree and took first lunch.

While under the tree, Nugget passed. Hadn’t seen him since like day 4. Then two more hikers passed… Cardboard and Sandy Cheeks, first time we’d met.

I had noticed that there was a spot in the same location on all my pictures, so I decided it was time to check it out. Nothing on the filter or the lens. I removed the lens and examined the sensor and found a speck of dust… I blew it off and viola! Good to go. Nothing like a speck of dust ruining every single picture.

The hike across the mesa was cool. Flat, easy and views of Mt Taylor. Eventually the trail enters woodlands and the view disappears. This began a long stretch of relatively boring hiking. Time to put on some music. This continued for a couple hours.

I took second lunch around 4:30pm, only about 1.5 miles from the Mt Taylor alternate junction. You could hike right past Mt Taylor, as the official CDT route does, but why? Isn’t that why we’re out here? I laughed at the thought of the purist hiker I encountered in El Malpais, knowing he’s going to skip it for the sake of hiking the official route.

At gooseberry spring, I saw flower man, cardboard and sandy cheeks. The water was in a trough, and was the clearest trough water yet. Nice. I filtered 3L and moved on.

I headed up hill towards the summit of Mt Taylor, with about 3 miles and 2500ft Elevation Gain remaining. I wasn’t sure whether or not I’d actually summit it tonight, since it was 6:15pm now. I hiked on and left my plans open to the moment.


After passing through some aspens, the trees thin out and the trail followed an exposed ridge. Looking back the way I came was some of the most beautiful scenery I had seen so far on the CDT. The sun was setting and a magical haze engulfed the lowlands. This motivated me to move on towards the summit. However, I was getting pretty tired. If I climb the summit, it will be like 25 miles and about 6000ft elevating gain today. This with a fully loaded pack that is resting on my shoulders more than it should, due to weight loss. As mentioned before, my hipbelt cannot be closed any tighter now.

I decided the remedy is to stop for third lunch and water. Good call. Plus, I got to soak in the awesome Vista just a little longer.

The rest of the hike to the summit was just as tiring, but there were amazing views around every corner. I felt a bit rushed due to the setting sun, but this also provided superior views that would not have been available any other time of the day. Breathtaking!

After a bunch of switchbacks and false summits, I finally reached the real summit. Woo-hoo, 11,301ft… highest on trail yet. This is the highest point the CDT gets in New Mexico. I had it to myself, but the sun was setting fast. It was really cold now, and I was forced to drop my pack and put on my fleece hood. I snapped some pictures and video, then headed downhill.

The trail wanders through thick forest along a series of switchbacks before reaching the saddle I saw on the map. Sandy cheeks and Cardboard were here, and I asked if I could join. It’s a nice large flat area with some pretection from the wind, perfect.

This is the coldest evening yet. I shivered profusely while doing camp chores and eating, hurrying up so I could get in my sleeping bag asap. This was the first night I closed the vestibule on my tent for extra warmth, and the first night I had to add clothes to the inside of my sleeping bag to keep my feet warm. And I’m a warm sleeper!

Looong day, I’m out.

Miles – 23.8
Total Miles – 489 (start at 475.5 end 499.3)
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – horny toads

Saturday May 19th – CDT Day 29

Very cold night. No surprise since I camped at 11,000ft. Thankfully it was calm with no wind whatsoever. I slept much better with my new thermarest neoair inflatable sleeping pad. The sun hit my tent around 7am so that’s when I got moving. On the trail around 8:30am.

Awesome views this morning. The trail skirts the mountainside as it traverses downhill towards a saddle below La Mosca lookout.

From the saddle, it’s an good climb up to the lookout tower. Unlike Mangas mountain Lookout, this tower was not manned and the top level was locked. Still, great view. I had 4g lte here(AT&T), which I assumed was due to the large cell phone towers next to the lookout. Cardboard and sandy cheeks were here too, but left long before I. Nobody on the CDT lingers long at cool places, always consumed with covering miles.

More good views coming down from the lookout, but they quickly fade. Just like my cell signal. Those towers weren’t AT&T at all… Not surprising. Now it’s more dirt roads again, with an occasional field or meadow thrown in.

This morning dragged on. Miles were slow and my motivation to walk mundane dirt roads was low. My pack is still really heavy and the weight sitting on my shoulders was annoying. I took a few snack breaks, further slowing my pace.

I took first lunch at American Spring. Good clear cold water. While I was sitting down here, a man and his family came over the hill and saw me. “Are we on your land”? I told him it’s public land. He was out here to do some target shooting. I moved on, back to more dirt roads.

If you can’t tell, I’m getting tired of road walking. I’ve been thinking back on my walk through New Mexico and trying to put a percentage to road VS trail. So far, it’s easily been 50% road walking when you count a dirt road of any kind. It’s probably more like 60% or even higher. There’s been some nice parts of the state but myself and many other hikers are ready for Colorado.

Eventually I hit a trail to follow. However, it passes through a non-descript forest with little to see. I was really dragging still, when I came across Sequoia sitting under a tree. I sat down next to her and we caught up on the last week or so. I hadn’t seen her or camel since Pie Town. Good to see a familiar face out here.

Camel was farther up trail and waiting for her at the next Water source, so it was time to move. I was in much better spirits now. Roads, trails, it didn’t matter.

After hiking a short while, we saw someone on an ATV and some campers in a clearing. The woman in the ATV asked if sequoia was sequoia, as camel was back at the campers waiting for her. We followed her back and saw a few other hikers leaving, as well as pony whisperer sitting with camel. What we have here is some trail angels set up to sort CDT hikers this weekend. Unexpected and well timed!

A woman named Glenda ran up to me, greeted me by name and gave me a big hug. There were chairs for us, and she promptly got us some iced tea and made us sandwiches. Her husband Eddie was also here, letting us know we can refill our water and they’d take our trash. Eddie had even heard my story already about the poor experience I’d had at the sands motel.

I spent a while catching up with camel and sequoia while simultaneously sharing stores with Glenda and Eddie. Their whole reason for being out here was really touching. While camping out here last year a CDT hiker passed by, and camped nearby. They kept seeing him and thought, what the heck is this guy doing out here? So they asked, and discovered the CDT. They were so inspired by our stories and the magnitude of the challenge that they decided they wanted to help out as many CDT hikers as they could. So they came back out here this year to camp for the weekend with that intention.

I often forget how doing something like the CDT provides inspiration to others, but it does. And knowing that motivates me to keep going on days like today where I really wasn’t feeling super motivated. It wad hard to leave and go back on trail, but this show of generosity and kindness lifted my spirits more than food and water ever could have.

Not far up tail, camel and sequoia were sitting under a tree. Camel had shin splints and asked if I knew how to wrap tape for that. I gave him the KT tape strips I had, but had no instructions on how to wrap for anything other than knee or ankle. Sequoia walked back to the campers to ask if the had Ace tape. Looks like they’re stopping here for the night. I was only at about 15 miles for the day, so I pressed on with my goal of 20. It was already 6pm now.

The rest of the evening was a nice walk though large open fields and spotty patches of trees. I saw many jackrabbits, and of course, cows. I ate dinner in one of the fields so I didn’t have to eat in the dark at camp later.

I hiked until 8:30pm, just barely light left when I found a suitable spot along the dirt road I was walking. Nothing else to do now except rest.

Miles – 26.8
Total Miles – 515.8
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – none

Sunday May 20th – CDT Day 29

I feel asleep fast night while writing in my journal (on my phone) which I use to update my log when I get into town. I didn’t wake up for a few hours, when the wind picked up. I got out of the tent and laid rocks over the stakes for piece of mind. Even with the wind, I slept much better on the inflatable air mattress than the foam one.

It was still pretty windy when I broke camp. This always makes putting the tent away a pain. It was cooler than normal too. Weather changing? It’s been so consistent in New Mexico.

More road walking this morning. It’s the same field over and over again for the most part. There are occasionally some rocky chasms or canyons, not sure about the correct terminology. Didn’t bother to explore further. I want to cover miles today. However, I wasn’t doing a vet good job at it. I took several breaks to eat, etc.

Today’s water source is Los Indios spring. I arrived around noon, surprised that it was located in such a beautiful canyon. It’s a ways off trail, but worth it. And necessary! Not many other options. The trail hugs some cliff walls down into a canyon, where a little oasis exists. Lightfoot and pony whisperer here, so we caught up on trail gossip for a bit.

I stayed way too long at the spring, about an hour and 45 minutes. I ate lunch, hydrated, and cleaned my socks. Camel and sequoia showed up as well. When I left, I passed a hiker I’d never met, an Asian guy named sematape. Not sure on the spelling, or if that’s his real name or trail name. I didn’t see anyone else all day, until I made camp.

The rest of the day was almost all trail, not roads, and well maintained at that. Trees and branches recently trimmed and well marked. Am I actually on the CDT? It’s not usually like this in New Mexico.

About 2 hours after leaving Los Indios spring, the trail reaches the edge of the Mesa I’ve been walking on. You’d never know you’re up on the mesa until this point. Pretty nice view, especially after the last day and a half coming down from Mt Taylor. I ate again here and soaked in the scenery.

Next it’s a 4.2 mile hike along the same flat top mesa before reaching the point at which the trail heads down. Same ‘ol scenery in this section.


The top of the mesa is roughly 2000ft above the wash I camped in late this evening, so the views here were excellent. It’s steep at the top heading down, but really not too bad after the first section. It was slow going because the scenery was so damn spectacular! I began the decent at 6pm, so the setting sun created great lighting. Lots of good photos.

The landscape below consisted of buttes, mesas, canyons, and just about everything you can imagine in a high desert setting. Some of the best scenery yet. The kind you don’t want to rush through, but then you remember your a thru hiker. Damn.

Down off the mesa, the sun was setting fast. I wanted to camp early but was having a tough time finding a flat spot out of the wind. Lots of cool canyons and great scenery in every direction.


Around 8:30pm I came across a large wash, marked “Canada de Las lomitas” on my map, in arroyo Chico. Carpenter and creeper were camped here, so I headed down a ways out of sight. It was less windy here but still occasional wind gusts even down in the wash. I decided to cowboy camp tonight, the first time I’ve ever done so. Way to celebrate day 30 on the CDT.

Miles – 24.8
Total Miles – 540.6
Rain – no
Sleep – Backcountry, cowboy camping
Animals – rabbits, large green lizard /iguana

Monday May 21st – CDT Day 31

It was a little windy last night, and a bunch of sand got all over me and my stuff while cowboy camping in the wash. Otherwise, it was a good night.

Now that it was daylight, I could get a good look at the terrain. Spectacular! Beautiful high desert landscape with lots of interesting features.

The first few miles were in a lowland with impressive mesas and sandstone cliffs. Then the trail climbs a little into an area that looked like a mixture of the bandlands and Utah. Weird formations, interesting rocks and geology.

Next the trail climbs in elevation and runs along the edge of a cliff. Great views of the desert below. Lots of prominent landscape features for the skyline. Dare I say New Mexico’s monument Valley? Sure had my attention.

The trail then drops down off the high point for a while and enters an area with hoodoos, badlands and colorful rocks. I made terrible time through this stretch, just too much to see. I veered off trail often to check out anything that caught my eye. And there was a lot!

I ate first lunch under an enormous wall of hoodoos and pillars. I noticed a lot of clouds building in the distance, but this was day 31 and still only a few sprinkles of rain. Not too worried.

After lunch, lots more distractios to slow my pace. But hey, this is why I’m out here hiking the CDT. Most hikers just fly by anything interesting, but I like to explore, take pictures and video. The clouds continued to build, and looked like rain in the distance. Probably nothing to be worried about.

The trail today generally stayed high on a ridge or mesa, so big views were common today. Finally! Over every hill or pass was another great photo op.

The skies were very dark now and continued to overtake any remaining blue. Rain looked inevitable at some point. It was very windy too, which was getting old.

After a few hours of threatening rain, it finally reached me. I took shelter under a rock overhang, which seemed to be a popular hang out spot for cows. They even managed to shit right along the very edge of the overhang, where it meets the wall. There really wasn’t any good place to set down my things. Just then, the rain picked up and turned into hail. I got fairly wet as the wind was blowing right into the overhang.

When the rain let up, I moved on. The Trujillo family water cache was at the next road, a short walk away. Pony Whisperer was here too, only person I’d see all day. Before I could refill my water, the rain returned. Nowhere to take shelter around here except a few scrawny juniper trees. That’s what I did for a few minutes until it passed. Then I ate second lunch and stocked up of h20.

After the water cache, the landscape continued to impress. Pony Whisperer kept hiking as my pace once again slowed to a crawl. Today’s hike has been one of the best desert hikes I’ve done anywhere.

After climbing up to another Ridgeline, the trail follows a dirt road for a while. The fine dirt turned to mud, which stuck to my shoes and made waking a pain. I heard some coyotes bowling pretty close by, but never saw them.

Then the trail goes over deadmans pass. This too was a cool area. High up above the desert below, colorful rocks and cliffs. The tail skirts the edge for quite a while.

More interesting canyons and cliffs this evening. The sky was still very dark and I was certain another round of rain was coming. I wanted to make a few more miles though, so I stopped quickly for dinner.

Shortly after, I saw pony whisperer who had just made camp. About 2 more miles for me. However, I made it barely 1 mile before it started raining. It didn’t look like it was going to let up soon either.

I sheltered under a juniper for a while, debating on what to do. I saw a flat spot nearby, so I decided to set up the tent there. I got the tent up, put my pork in the vestibule and sat in the tent, pretty soaked myself. I set up my air mattress, sleeping bag and took off my wet clothes.

After only a few minutes of being out of the rain, a wild gust ripped one of my tent stakes out of the sandy ground. Then another. Crap! I had my camera gear, dry clothes and sleeping bag in here and certainly didn’t want to see them get wet.

I had no choice but to get out asap and fix the tent. This meant going barefoot, no time for shoes. The ground was wet, muddy and surprisingly cold. I grabbed some heavy rocks to weigh down the stairs so they didn’t pull out of the soft sand again. The rain died down but the wind remained. I hope the tent makes it through the night.

Miles – 23.8
Total Miles – 564.4
Rain – yes, and hail
Sleep – Backcountry, tent
Animals – rabbits, prairie dogs

Tuesday May 22nd – CDT Day 32

Winds died Down and the tent held through the night. My hiking clothes were still wet, so I hung them up at dry in the tree right after waking up. It was funny seeing my footsteps in the mud this morning. Last night was not so funny though.

Blues skies, sunshine and less windy… For now. New Mexico is a windy state. At least, my experience on the CDT has been that way.

After leaving camp, I finished hiking up to the Ridgeline I intended to camp along last night, before the rain. It’s called La Ventana mesa. Great views, but nowhere to camp. It would have likely been even windier last night up here anyways.

Ups and downs along La Ventana mesa. To the east, the terrain drops sharply and offers big views. To the west, a gentler slope with often interesting sandstone formations.

The clouds were building by early – mid morning and the threat of rain returned. I stopped to prepare, emptying my backpack to line it with a compactor bag. I had a pack cover as well, which I apparently left on the ground here. More on that later.

I hiked some more and took first lunch. The skies were improving, Rain not looking imminent. Mountains across the valley reminded me that I’ll be wet for a while in Colorado soon enough.

This afternoons water source was jones spring I believe. Its located at located at the end of a narrow and lush canyon, with an over hanging ledge for shade. However, the local rancher didn’t want hikers hanging out here, spooking his livestock. I took my water and moved on.

The trail then passes through a long stretch of lowlands and a cow pasture before approaching mesa Portales.

Very cool hike along the base of the mesa. Colorful and strange rock formations kept me busy. Every corner turned was something new. Then the trail climbs up to the top of mesa Portales. This was a bit of a scramble at times but fun and awesome views the whole way up.

On top of mesa Portales, just incredible views. What else can I say! Great hiking up here.

I took second lunch under a juniper tree. The wind was picking up though as it does daily… Maybe 40+ mph wind gusts now. I also found my first piece of obsidian up here.

I tried to hurry down the mesa, with Cuba only a few miles away now. The trail down had some cool little canyons and views near the top, which dwindled with the drop in elevation.

Down on the valley floor, it was back into cow fields. Nothing left to do but knock out miles. I found another piece of obsidian on the road leading out to hwy 197.

It was a 4 mile road walk down 197 before reaching the main strip, hwy 550. I used this time to call my dad since I had cell service, but no lte.

I ate dinner at Mel’s drive thru chicken and BBQ. Mmm town food! Then the final walk over to rebels roost.

Rebels roost had a few hikers sitting on the porch when I arrived. I paid for 2 nights in advance, knowing tomorrow will be a full zero day. Time to shower! This must be the most anticipated part of reaching town for most hikers.

It was a good night sitting around on the porch swapping stories with the other hikers.

Miles – 25.2
Total Miles – 589.6
Rain – no
Sleep – hostel
Animals – rabbits, prairie dogs

Wednesday May 23rd – CDT Day 33 (zero day)

A bed always feels good after a few days in the wilderness, but somehow I always manage poor sleep my first night back in civilization. I was hot, sore and did a lot of tossing and turning.

Went out to breakfast with five star, pony whisperer, camel and sequoia. Priscillianos had big portions, perfect for us human garbage disposals.

Back at rebels roost, I was feeling super tired and was getting a headache. I laid down for an hour and a half or so, and that helped. My lower back was really sore though. I hurt it in December doing deadlifts, and i was just getting some recurring stiffness. I never feel this stuff while hiking, only on zero days. Weird.

Called my dad and got my resupply situated for Chama. This is where most hikers are sending snow gear. Recent reports of snow levels convinced me to pass on sending the ice axe, but I am getting my micro spikes. Also, a 20°sleeping bag (I use quilts these days actually), puffy jacket and warm hat.

Later, Vince (owner of rebels roost) was kind enough to give me a ride into town to hit up the grocery store, and get more food from Mel’s drive through.

Back at the roost, hikers were heading out to get in a few miles before dark. I spent the rest of the evening getting my gear ready for the morning. Awesome sunset tonight.

Miles – 0
Total Miles – 589.6
Rain – no
Sleep – hostel
Animals – none

Like what you see?

Big Bend National Park 7 Day Hike – Jan 2016

big bend national park south rim sunset from se2

View All Big Bend National Park Photos |  Big Bend Hike HD Video on Youtube

  • Location – Big Bend National Park, Texas
  • Fees and Permits: $12 for backcountry permits. $25 to enter the park. $14/night in the developed campgrounds.
  • Length Of Time Hiked – 7 days, 6 nights (plus 2 days in the park before the hike)
  • Miles Hiked – 85
  • Trail Type – Point-to-point
  • Starting Trailhead – Sotol Overlook (parking near Homer Wilson Ranch Overlook)
  • Ending Trailhead – Chisos Mountain Lodge
  • Route Difficulty – 7.5/10
  • Fires Allowed – No
  • Solitude – 9.5 everywhere but near the Chisos Mountains, where solitude is a 2
  • Scenic Beauty – 8.5

Maps For Big Bend National Park

My main navigation tool is my Garmin Oregon 450 GPS. I am using the Garmin 24k National Parks Central map set. I also carried a printed 24k topo map for each individual day of hiking from my maps on, which are shown below. From those caltopo maps, if you follow the link to the full map in the upper right corner, you can print out the maps for yourself.

official map of big bend national park in texas

Map of Big Bend National Park with hiking trails, roads, campgrounds, etc

Below is a caltopo map showing my completed hike with my waypoints(click the link in the upper right corner to go to the full map):

Below is a caltopo map I created to plan this hike(click the link in the upper right corner to go to the full map):

About Big bend National Park

Big Bend National Park covers over 800,000 acres, making it the largest protected area of the Chihuahuan Desert in the US. It contains more than 1,200 species of plants, more than 450 species of birds, 56 species of reptiles, and 75 species of mammals. The park, particularly the Chisos Mountains region, is home to a small but very active population of mountain lions and black bears. It is estimated that there are only around two dozen mountain lions and 25-30 black bears in the park, but sightings are somewhat common.

Before 1535, there was evidence of several Indian groups inhabiting the region. The Chisos Indians and the Jumana Indians were two of the prominent tribes in the area, and records indicate they may have been enemies. Early in the 18th century, the Mescalero Apaches had overtaken the area and displaced the Chisos. One of the last Native American tribes to use the region was the Comanches, as part of their periodic raids into the interior of Mexico until the mid 19th century.

In 1933, the Texas Legislature passed legislation to establish Texas Canyons State Park. Later that year, the park was redesignated Big Bend State Park. In 1935, the United States Congress passed legislation that would enable the acquisition of the land for a national park. The State of Texas deeded the land that it had acquired to the federal government, and on June 12, 1944, Big Bend National Park became a reality. The park opened to visitors on July 1, 1944.

The geology of Big Bend National Park is really interesting. Here, you have mountains next to desert, next to a river. Much of the landscape as we know it today was formed only recently in geological terms due to volcanic activity, erosion and a variety of fault lines. However, at one point the entire region was the bottom of an ancient sea. The NPS site says it best… “The abundance, diversity and complexity of visible rock outcrops is staggering, especially to first-time observers”. How true. It seems around almost any corner you turn in Big Bend, things look completely different.

Travel Day/Pre Hike Day 1 – Saturday January 9th, 2016

My buddy Ryan and I flew into Midland/Odessa airport on Saturday January 9th. From there, we rented a car and hit up a local grocery store for food and supplies for the next day and a half before we start the hike, as well as some last minute food items for the hike itself. We then stopped at a sporting goods store to get fuel for Ran’s stove, and then we were off towards Big Bend National Park, roughly a 3 hour drive to the park’s entrance.

As we left Midland, we saw a sign for a Meteor Crater impact site. Wow, that’ sounds cool, we thought. I remember seeing the sign now from the last time I went to Big Bend, but we didn’t have time to stop. Well, this time we went for it. And it was only a 5 minute drive off the main highway! But our excitement quickly faded when we arrived. There was a small building that acted like a museum for the meteor beside the impact area, which was rather small and unimpressive. Neither Ryan or myself took a picture. We walked into the little building and immediately the guy behind the counter literally shouted “Please sign in!”, then went back to whatever he was doing. The actual meteor was sitting there in a case, which was sort of neat. I believe it was something like 195 pounds, and the size of maybe 2 basketballs. We got out of there pretty quick and made some jokes about how we should just skip the Big Bend trip and stay here at the meteor crater site the whole time.

We made the drive through Ft Stockton and then continued down hwy 385 to Marathon. Last gas station til we hit the park. A few miles south of the city of Marathon is the border patrol checkpoint. But they only stop you going north, so we just drove right through. We had our first javalina sighting after passing the checkpoint but before reaching the park as it ran across the road.

Once you hit the park entrance, it’s still a really long drive to get anywhere in Big Bend. Your GPS might tell you it’s a 3+ hour drive, and with the 75 and 80 mph speed limits most of the way, that’s really feasible. But After entering the park, it’s 26 miles just to Panther Junction. From Panther Junction to Rio Grande Village, where we’ll be staying for the night, it’s another 20 miles. At the posted speed limit of 45 throughout the park, that would take quite a while. However, most people seem to drive a bit faster which just makes sense given the open land here.

We arrived in Rio Grande Village with just enough time to set up our tents before the sun started setting. We walked around the campground for a bit before finding the Nature Trail. We followed this out to a bend in the river with a good sized hill in the middle for a view of the surrounding area. During sunset, the Sierra del Carmen mountains behind the town of Boquillas, Mexico are illuminated quite nicely.

Sunset illuminating the Sierra Del Carmen mountains just behind the village of Boquillas, Mexico as seen from an overlook in Rio Grande Village, Big Bend National Park, Texas.

Sunset illuminating the Sierra Del Carmen mountains

View of the Rio Grande River from and overlook in Rio Grande Village

The Rio Grande

We came back to camp and settled in for a cold night. Lows were in the 20s this evening. We did cook a couple of steaks over the charcoal grill though, so there was at least some warmth there.

Pre-hike Day 2 – Sunday January 10th, 2016


It was a cold night, and we both had some frost to contend with inside our tents this morning. As soon as I awoke I hurried over to the spot we watched the sunset from last night to catch the sunrise. There was a low mist over the Rio Grande which made for some nice photos. There were a few javalinas rooting around near the banks of the river as well.

mist over the rio grande river during sunrise with the chisos mountains in the background

Chisos Mountains in the distance

the rio grande river in big bend national park with the village of boquillas mexico in the backgorund

Boquillas, Mexico in the distance on the other side of the Rio

looking into mexico from an overlook in rio grande village

The view of Mexico looks desolate and beautiful

crane in the rio grande village area

After we packed up our camp and had some breakfast, we headed down to the border crossing at Boquillas. The town of Boquillas lies on the other side of the Rio Grande across from the Rio Grande Village area. The crossing was closed after 9/11 and just now reopen a few years ago. Here, you can cross the Rio by row boat into Mexico for $5, or you can literally walk across. When we visited though, the water was chest high and 40°F so the row boat sounded like the more sane option. Under the right conditions it would have been cool to just walk across back into the US. To secure the row boat ride, you just flag down one of the guys on the other wide of the river and they’ll row across and pick you up. Once in Mexico, you can rent a donkey or get a truck ride into town, hire a guide, or just go it alone on foot as we did. It’s only about a 10 minute walk to town.

waiting for the ferry at the boquillas border crossing

boquillas border crossing ferry ride is a row boat

This is the official “ferry ride” across the Rio Grande at the Boquillas border crossing

view of a donkey next to a row boat upon entering boquillas, mexico

Welcome to Mexico.

Once in town, we stopped at the immigration office (a white trailer) to get our passports stamped and fill out a form. When leaving to go back to the US, we must remember to come back here and return the stub that came with the form we just filled out. After leaving the immigration office we saw a couple of soldiers (who just looked like young kids) walking down the street with automatic weapons in camouflage. They were talking with the towns people and seemed friendly, but we didn’t get too clsoe. We popped into Falcon’s restaurant for a bit and inquired about getting to Boquillas Canyon, and returning for lunch later. The lady there spoke good english and gave us good information on how best to get to the canyon and what we can do with a half day here.

In the town of Boquillas, Mexico

In the town of Boquillas, Mexico

falcons restaurant overlook in boquillas mexico

At the overlook at Falcon’s Restaurant

After leaving Boquillas and headed towards the canyon, we saw a couple of dogs eating a mule(?) carcass along side the road. Mmm, that’s all you buddy.

hiking towards boquillas canyon in mexico

Walking the road out of town towards Boquillas Canyon

dog defending it's mule carcass outside of boquillas, mexico

This dog did not want to share it’s meal with us

We pretty much just followed the river there. The walk was nice but a bit longer than we were expecting. Once we got to Boquillas Canyon, there were a couple of older guys sitting around by the bank, probably waiting for tourists like us. He asked if we wanted to see the crystal cave, which the lady at Falcon’s told us about. We said sure and let him take us to it. It’s a good thing too because we probably wouldn’t have found it on our own. It was cool to see but we were both expecting something a bit larger, like something you can walk inside. This was more like a big crystal pocket exposed on the outside of a huge boulder.

rio grande river bend

Large bend in the Rio

walking along the rio grande river in mexico towards boquillas canyon

Walk along the Rio towards Boquillas Canyon

the mouth of Boquillas Canyon in mexico

Entering Boquillas Canyon

boquillas canyon crystal cave

This is the crystal cave located near the mouth of Boquillas Canyon

standing along the rio grande river in boquillas canyon, mexico

Me in Boquillas Canyon

We got a few pictures down by the river in the canyon before heading back to town. We were told there is a road to follow that is quicker than taking the river back and we did locate that road. After a while though, the road started veering off and looking like it was going out of the way. At this point we just needed to cross some open desert and a sand dunes area to get back to the main road out of town, which we did.

hiking back to boquillas across open desert terrain

Crossing open desert back to Boquillas

Back in town, we stopped at Falcon’s for lunch. After that we headed down to the immigration office to return our stubs and then back down to the Rio. We got our row boat ride back onto American soil and then it’s back through the US border crossing facility. The process for reentry was basically this: go to this booth, scan your passport, pick up the phone (there is a camera on you recording), talk to the immigration officer on the phone and answer questions. For me, they asked “Are you an American citizen”? Yes. “Are you declaring anything”? No. “Have a good day sir.” And we were on our way.

road back into boquillas

Back to Boquillas

crossing the rio grande river legally in a row boat

Crossing back into the US

Now mid afternoon, we headed to Panther Junction visitor center to get our backcountry permits for the hike. After some printing errors we were issued a permit and now had a couple of hours to kill before sundown. Tonight we’ll be camping in the Chisos Basin, but for now we decided to hit the road and drive around the park a bit. From Panther Junction, we headed towards Study Butte. We drove about 13 miles before turning onto the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. Lots to see through here and a great way to spend some time.

road to the chisos mountains in big bend national park

The Chisos Mountains

views from the scenic drive in big bend national park

views along the ross maxwell scenic drive in big bend

Views along the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive

walking along a ridge of volcanic ash in big bend national park

Once the sun started to dip we headed back to the Chisos Basin. By the time we got to camp it was dark, and we still had to set up our tents and get some gear together for the hike tomorrow. After getting the tents up we decided to just get dinner at the Chisos Mountain Lodge restaurant. Neither one of us wanted to sit around forever cooking food in the dark over the charcoal like we did last night, and this was probably the best decision we made today. After coming back from dinner we started topping off our camera batteries before heading too bed. Tomorrow, we hike!

Day 1 – Monday January 11th, 2016

Miles Hiked – 9.37
Route – Sotol Overlook to Smoky Spring

I always have great intentions for the first day but somehow it always seems impossible to stay on schedule. We got up around 7am and proceeded to cook breakfast while getting a jump on the rest of our food preparation and gear packing. I still had to make my dinners and lunches for the hike; since I’ll be eating salami and pepperoni wraps for dinners, I figured I’d wait until this morning to make them.

The plan for today is to drop down into the Blue Creek wash from our starting point and hike off trail through a canyon east of Goat Mountain towards Mule Ears, over to Mule Ears Spring and then over to Smoky Spring to camp for the evening.

We finally got to our starting point at Sotol Overlook and started hiking at 10:30am. We had planned on starting from the Homer Wilson ranch, but it just has parking along side the road here. Only a few hundred yards down the road (south) of Homer Wilson is the Sotol Overlook which has a better parking area and a bathroom. We chose to park here and just head down the hillside here to get into the wash below. After all, today’s hike will all be off trail for the most part anyways, might as well just start now instead of walking down to Homer Wilson.

view of the road near sotol overlook in big bend national park

Looking back towards the Sotol Overlook where we parked

view of blue creek wash and homer wildso ranch

The Homer Wilson ranch down in Blue Creek Canyon

After descending the first hill from the road, we found ourselves in a wash. We followed this wash to another hill, over that and down into another wash. Already it was a bit difficult to tell which hill we needed to be on which side of as we searched for the right drainage to follow. And to make matters worse, there were a lot of thorn bushes to contend with here. I slipped and fell fairly early on into the hike and cut a small cut on the knee. Ryan also had a fall early on but without any major damage done.

big bend naiton park off trail hiking near homer wilson ranch

It wasn’t long before we were certain we had found the right wash to follow. Eventually our route led us to a point at which our path narrows and we enter a canyon. Our route today has us walking through the wash running between Goat Mountain and point 4358, which seems to  have no official name or trails on any of the maps. Then we hit our first pour off, and had to drop our packs for an 8ft down climb.

hiking through a canyon with red rocks in big bend

In the right canyon now

putting the backpack on again after climbing down a pour off in a canyon in big bend

Putting my pack on after climbing down a small pouroff

Sometimes the wash we be really easy to follow, with nice fine pebbles to walk on, and other times we found ourselves fighting with thick thorn bushes and climbing down small pouroffs. For now, the going was not bad overall. The geology of this area is really interesting and gave us much to look at as we passed through this canyon. The one thing we noticed pretty quickly is that there is a lot more signs of animals here than human. There were piles of bear crap every 50ft or so along much of this wash.

We took a break around noon. That’s one thing I know I don’t do enough of is stop, take my pack off, and have some food and re-hydrate. For me, I am always wanting to get to the destination as soon as possible for some reason. So, it’s nice to have someone with me to make me stop more. I know it’ll be best for me at the end of the day.

The walls of the canyon were becoming more varied now. Sometimes they were red, white or a dark blue/purple color with a quartz veins running through them. Really cool Stuff.

quartz veins running through rock in big bend national park

interesting rocks in big bend

There was another pouroff not too much farther up but this one we were able to find a walking route down without dropping our packs. Soon after we hit our first spring. Honestly, I don’t know the name of it, but there was some water here. There was even an old pipe running from the spring downstream, although the pipe was broken in half several feet away. I didn’t see any large pools for filtering though, and since we were pretty well stocked on water at the moment I didn’t look very hard either. This spring is located directly west of point 4358 and just southeast of Goat Mountain. There was an old dam here at one point.

red rock canyon pouroff in big bend

Ryan working his way down another pouroff

pouroff in a wash in big bend

Look back at another pouroff

a desert spring in big bend east of goat mountain

First spring, unknown name

Not much farther downstream from the spring we hit our first major obstacle, a huge pouroff of about 100+ ft. There was no way to down climb this one. Instead, we worked our way around the top of the high ground to our west. From here it looked like our route down was going down a ridge, but as we got closer it appeared a bit too steep and crumbly. Next we thought we’d follow the gully alongside this ridge down. This too was steep and treacherous. Eventually we stopped about midway down while Ryan dropped his pack to recon the lower portions of this gully. Near the bottom, he encountered another drop off of about 30ft making this way a no-go. Meanwhile, I started climbing up the crumbly ridge. Even though it was only a short ways up, it was precarious and gave up on the notion of using the ridge for a route down. Ryan then worked his way up the hillside from below. He spots a route out from the top, and he comes down to pick up his pack.

first major obstacle, a large pouroff

Standing at the top of a large pouroff, looking towards Mule Ears

looking back at a large pouroff ina canyon in big bend

Looks easy to work around this drop but it was not easy by any means

view of mule ears with soem badlands in the foreground

Mule Ears in the distance

looking for a safe route down a precarious gully in big bend

Ryan descending the gully, looking for a safe route down

After what seemed like a good amount of time, we finally found our way down off this high ground and back into the more manageable wash below. Now, it’s like we’re in the Badlands. Big Bend actually has a lot of Badlands areas scattered throughout the park, but I hadn’t really planned on encountering them here. I find these areas really interesting and very good for photography. Too bad the sun was straight ahead much of the afternoon, washing out many of my photos.

large pouroff in a canyon near mule ears in big bend

Looking back at what we had to work our way around

near goat mountain in big bend

Working our way down to the wash below

multi colored rock formation in big bend national park near mule ears

This was cool looking

We passed one interesting rock formation we dubbed “Camel Rock”. Pretty clearly a Camel, and to me as distinct if not more so than Boot Rock.

a view of camel rock in big bend national park, texas

We called this Camel Rock

By mid/late afternoon, Ryan’s pace had slowed considerably. He had tore his planters tendon last year and the rough, rocky terrain of today’s off trail hike was beginning to aggravate his foot. As we made our way through this badlands area, we had a hard time telling which way to go to reach Mule Ears Spring. We didn’t see any real trails running through here, although I did see my one and only footprint for the day (the next 3 days actually) in this area. Since we were good on water at the moment and had Dominguez Spring coming up tomorrow, we decided not to go to Mule Ears Spring and just head straight to our campsite near Smoky Spring.

hiking in big bend national aprk nbear mule ears and smoky creek trail

hiking near mule ears in big bend through a rocky canyon

Getting closer to the Mule Ears area

interesting rocks line a canyon in big bend

There was a network of washes running through the flatlands here as we had made it to the general Mule Ears area. However, the two trails on the map running through these washes don’t really help us now in terms of reaching our campsite near Smoky Spring, so we must walk a direct line across the open desert here towards Smoky. In the distance was a rock formation we thought looked like a marmot, and we headed for that as it was pretty much in the direction we needed to travel. Soon we were approaching the trail on the map running towards Smoky Spring. When we reached the area where the trail should be, it was so faint it might as well not even be considered a trail at all.

cool purple colored rocks in a wash in big bend national park

Look at those rocks!

hiking through a wash between mule ears and smoky spring

Hiking through a wash between Mule Ears and Smoky Spring. This may have been the Smoky Creek “trail”, which we were only on for a short ways. You’d never even know you were on a trail at all, as there were no cairns or signs. I did see ONE footprint somewhere near here.

hiking towards smokey spring in big bend national park

Approaching Smoky Spring

hiking near smoky spring

Getting closer to Smoky Spring

We set up camp in the general vicinity of Smoky Spring. We could see some water down in the gully containing the spring, but there was no easy way down from where we were, and since we were in no need of water tonight, neither of us made it down there for a closer look. There were some ruins nearby as well, above Smoky Spring and nearing the point where the canyon really starts narrowing.

prickly pear cacti surround old ruins near smoky spring in big bend

Ruins near Smoky Spring, surrounded by prickly pear cactus

view of our campsite in big bend national park near smoky spring

Our campsite near Smoky Spring

Sun set quickly after we reached camp and soon the stars were out and shining brightly. We were only a couple days into a new moon now so the sky was extremely dark after the moon dipped below the horizon. We saw a couple of shooting stars as we sat outside chatting. Around 7:30pm, we heard a raspy growl a few hundred yards away near the base of the mountains. I’ve never heard anything like that before. We both agreed it was a cat of some sort… bobcat or mountain lion. Great! We tossed a few rocks in that direction and continued to have our conversation, a bit more loudly now.

We discussed the state of Ryan’s feet, and ultimately he decided that tomorrow morning he’ll hike back to the road near the Mule Ears Overlook and hitch back to our car. Our first day was really rough on his feet and he decided that he did not want to find himself many miles from a road if anything really bad were to happen, such as tearing the planters tendon again. At this point we estimated that it would be about a 5 mile hike back to the Mule Ears Overlook tomorrow, if he could find the trail that we missed earlier today. We then made some plans for the remainder of our trip. I would be continuing on solo, and Ryan is going to try to meet me up on the South Rim for our last night. The thinking is that he’ll be rested by then and we would be closer to help if need be as well as have a more well maintained(less rocky) trail up into the Chisos.

Well that’s a bummer that I will have to hike the rest of this alone, but I am prepared to do so. Still, I can’t help but think of the overwhelming feeling of deja vu… my Wind River Range hike in 2014 where my buddy backed out on the morning of day 2 and said he’d join me on our last night. Hopefully this works out and he is able to join as planned, that would be a great way to finish out this hike.

After going to bed around 9:30 we heard that raspy growl again. Later that night, I heard something moving around in camp and I started making some noise. Ryan heard it too, in fact he said he heard something brush up against his tent as he awoke from my shouting. More than likely it was that mountain lion coming into our camp to check us out. We talked and made some noise for a while before finally falling back to sleep.


Day 2 – Tuesday January 12th, 2016

Miles Hiked – 13.39
Route – Smoky Spring to badlands north of Y Spring

After we heard the animal in camp last night, the remainder of the night was calm. It was a clear day when the sun rose over Mule Ears this morning. We packed up camp and by 9:15am we had said our goodbyes and parted ways. This, of course, is a very odd feeling given all the planning and preparation that we had put into this trip, but being flexible is the key to salvaging a hike like this. Ryan will have plenty to do around the park with the car, and should have no problem entertaining himself.

view of the sunrise over mule ears peaks in big bend

Sunrise over Mule Ears peaks

The plan for today is to go up Jack’s Pass, down to Dominguez Spring, and follow the Dominguez Spring Trail out into the open desert. At some point I will leave the trail and head southeast into the open desert towards a patch of badlands to camp for the evening.

After I left camp behind, the trail descended from the high ground into the wash below as the canyon narrowed further. At first, there were some patches of thorn bushes to work through, then the going was clear for a while. It started out sandy and not too rocky.

view of smoky spring in big bend national park

That’s Smoky Spring down there in the shadows

view looking east from smoky spring

Looking east from the high ground above Smoky Spring, where I’m headed

hiking the wash near smoky spring up jacks pass

The wash is easy going at first. This quickly changes

As I made my way through this new canyon I began to see more signs of bear once again, with more crap littering the trail. And when I say trail, really I just mean the wash. There is no clear trail through here, nor was there anywhere yesterday.

a pile of bear crap near smoky spring in big bend national park

Bear crap

view from the trail up jacks pass in big bend national park, tx

Looking back at the way I came, from Smoky Spring

the trail up to jacks pass in big bend np

The hike through here wasn’t terribly hard, but the ground was no longer small rocks and pebbles. Instead, I found larger rocks and thicker, thorny plants choking the walkway. It wasn’t a bad hike through here but at the same time it wasn’t as scenic as I was expecting. There were no cairns through this area, and so a couple of times I took the wrong wash before realizing my mistake and backtracking to the main wash.

sun illuminating one side of a canyon in big bend hiking up to jacks pass

Another view from the Jack’s Pass trail

prickly pear cactus in foreground with mountain peaks in background

Once I found myself at the base of the final push up Jack’s Pass, I could see an old fence line running up the mountainside. This fence line appeared to follow the best line up to the pass, and so I naturally followed said fence line. While not very technical, the climb up to Jack Pass from here was a little steep. Combined with all the cacti and thorn bushes, it was not a necessarily fun climb.

jack's pass trail base prickly pear cactus

Looking back the way I came from the base of the final push up to Jack’s Pass

looking up the final section of jacks pass trail

Final push up Jack’s Pass. Follow this fence line

I reached the top of Jack’s Pass around noon. First thing I did was stop and have a break. After getting my fill of food and water, I had to think about climbing up point 5168 or not. From the pass, everything but the first section is hidden from view. All I can see is a really steep path up the next hill.

view from jack's pass in big bend national park looking to the west

Looking west from Jack’s Pass

looking east/southeast from jack's pass in big bend national park

Looking east/southeast from Jack’s Pass. Dominguez Mountain on the left

After some debate I headed up to the top of that first steep hill to check things out. I decided not to go any further for a few reasons. Mainly, I wasn’t sure how much time I was going to have to get to camp later before sunset if I do this. I had to get water from Dominguez Spring below which was going to take some time, as well as just finding the spring. That, and the climb down Jack’s Pass looked really steep. I got some pictures from this point while I was here and decided to skip the summit of point 5168.

jacks pass high point looking west

Looking west, from the high point above Jack’s Pass

view of mule ears peaks with santa elena canyon in the disatnce

Mule Ears peaks, and Santa Elena Canyon in the distance

dominguez mountain viewed from jacks pass area

Looking east towards Dominguez Mountain

After returning to Jack’s Pass and retrieving my backpack, I headed down towards Dominguez Spring. This is one of those passes where you really can’t see the route down yet from the top because it’s just so damn steep. As I approach the edge, the landscape below slowly comes into view. Although there is a path to follow near the top, it quickly fades away leaving me to climb down any which way I see fit. This took quite a while getting down due to the steepness of the terrain and the cacti everywhere.

hiking down jacks pass

Coming down from Jack’s Pass

descending jacks pass to dominguez

That’s Jack’s Pass up there, where I came from

Once I was finally down off Jack’s Pass, I found myself in another wash. This is much easier to manage and heading in the direction of the spring. Although I was expecting to have to search a little harder for it, after a bit of walking I reached Dominguez Spring. Here there were several areas of water running over rocks and a couple of pools here and there. Lots and lots of bees buzzing around too.

dominguez fence line

near dominguez spring in big bend

Down in a wash now and looking for Dominguez Spring

a picture of water flowing over rocks from dominguez spring in big bend national park

Dominguez Spring

water flowing from dominguez spring in big bend

Water at Dominguez Spring

I have no idea about the flow rate of the spring, but I was able to filter 5L from here without any impact in the size of the pool. I left the spring around 3:15 or 3:30 after getting what I need. My map shows that the Dominguez Spring trail starts here (if you’re heading south like me), and it basically follows the wash out of the Dominguez Spring area and into the open desert. There were several washes flowing through here so it was hard to stay in the main one where the trail actually is, but they all run in the same basic direction.

hiking the dominguez spring trail

On the Dominguez Spring trail

looking south on the dominguez spring trail

Looking south from the Dominguez Spring trail

I was making great time now through these washes as I head south into the flatlands. I could see more bear crap again and even saw a nice distinct bear print.

bear prints near dominguez spring in big bend national park

Bear track

dried up washes in big bend national park

Still hiking the washes

big bend national park view along the dominguez spring trail

view from the dominguez spring trail

The sun was going to set soon and I needed to cover some miles while the moving is easy. There were less cacti here and the plant life was spread apart much more, making cross country travel a lot easier. As I walked through desert, I scared up several jack rabbits. Most of the time they take off long before you get near, other times you practically step on them before they decide it’s time to flee.

looking back at the Dominguez area big bend np

Looking back at the Dominguez area

open desert in big bend national aprk

Crossing open desert towards tonight’s camp

I had picked a spot on the map before heading out here to camp for the night, and now I could see that spot in the distance. Although it looked like a fine spot to camp, another area sparked my interest just south of that. It was another patch of Badlands, and it appeared to be a good spot to camp on the edge of. So, that’s where I’m heading. I reached that spot at around 5:30, just enough time to settle in before sundown.

looking for a campsite in big bend national park

Nearing camp for the night

I really like the area I chose to camp. While there’s not much time to explore now, tomorrow morning is shaping up to be quite interesting as I make my way through this unique and colorful area. The ground here was pretty flat and mostly free of large rocks. I did notice some rodent holes in the area but less animal tracks overall. With no wind, it was also ridiculously quiet here.

big bend badlands camp

Entering the badlands. Camping close to that thing tonight

campsite in big bend national park desert

camping in big bend national park desert

See the tent on the left? The coyote was in the wash on the right later this evening…

Right before I was going to get into my tent and go to sleep, I scanned the nearby area with my headlamp. At about 100yds, down in the nearest wash, I saw 2 eyes staring at me. I chucked a rock in that direction and the animal moved a little bit. I figure it was a coyote by the way it walked. Whatever it is, I didn’t want it hanging around camp tonight. I yelled at it and threw a few more rocks, and eventually chased it away from sight. With all the rodent holes in the area though, this is probably prime hunting ground for them.

Looking back at the day, and the hike as a whole for that matter, I wish I had chosen to hike through Fisk Canyon instead of going up over Jack’s Pass. I had debated about this for a while while planning this hike, and chose Jack’s Pass in favor of the high ground. Oh well, Fisk Canyon will have to be on another adventure.

Day 3 – Wednesday January 13th, 2016

Miles Hiked – 13.42
Route – Badlands north of Y Spring to Mariscal Canyon overlook

I did hear some coyotes howling last night but they were pretty far off in the distance. Otherwise I slept alright. It was 39° in my tent this morning, but each night has been getting a few degrees warmer since I’ve been here.

The plan for today is to head for the Rio Grande to the southeast, refill my water there, then head up the Mariscal Canyon Rim Trail to the Mariscal Canyon Overlook where I’ll camp for the night.

I broke camp around 8:15 this morning, heading off into the badlands. As the sun rose, the beautiful colors here began to show themselves. What an awesome and amazing place to find myself, and alone at that. This area is truly desolate looking and yet so intriguing. How could people not want to hike through here?

hiking through some badlands in big bend np

desert scenery in big bend national park

I quickly became keen to the idea of walking the spine of one of these ridges, and so I climbed up one. I walked along the ridge for a while, taking my time as I played with my camera and GoPro. I wish I had more time to spend here, but I also wanted to make sure I reach the Mariscal Canyon Overlook early enough so that there’s enough sunlight for some decent pictures there. And so, the need to move compels me to get a move on. I worked my way down the side of the ridge and down into the lowlands below.

colorful badlands in big bend national park

Hiking up a ridge

Big bend badlands

hiking along the badlands ridge in big bend

view of badlands inside big bend national park

badlands in big bend

More interesting landscapes in the lowlands below the ridge I was just walking along for a while. Eventually though, these formations end and the land transitions into open desert. Some of this is sandy, and other times it’s small rocks. Either way, very easy to move through compared to the mountains and canyons of the first day and a half.

badlands in big bend

big bend badlands photos

leaving the badlands behind in big bend national aprk

Looking back at the badlands, moving on…

looking back at the mountains

Now that mandatory contact with cacti and thorn bushes is a thing of the past, for now, I decided to zip my pants off into shorts. This felt great as it was getting rather warm today. Soon I was overlooking Y Spring, and as I was expecting there was no water in sight. There was a lot more green vegetation here though.

y spring in big bend national aprk

Overlooking Y Spring, which appeared to be dry

Later in the morning, I was walking along some ground which suddenly dropped away, leaving me standing at the top of a small plateau overlooking the wash in the lowlands below. Down in this wash I saw a coyote, right out in the open. He clearly saw and heard me. As quickly as I could, I swapped on my zoom lens. unfortunately, by the time I got it on and looked up, he was gone. I took a quick food break while I had my pack off and continued on my southeasterly path.

Big Bend Desert

i saw a coyote in this wash

Near where I saw the coyote

Not much of interest between the coyote and the Rio Grande along my route. I saw a bunch of horse tracks through this stretch, and a bunch more jack rabbits. After a couple miles of that I reached the dirt road that runs down to the Rio Grande at Talley around noon. I followed that road the rest of the way there and reached the Rio by around 1pm.

big bend chihuahuan desertview

Desert Terrain in Big bend

road to talley at the rio grande

The Road I was following to Talley for the last 3 miles to the Rio

There was nobody in sight at the Rio Grande. I kinda thought I’d see someone here. The banks are pretty high up above the river, and at Talley there is really only one spot where you can step down the bank and get to the water’s edge. I filtered 8L of water, and I had a liter already so I have 9L to get me though today, tomorrow, and late morning day 5. After filtering the water, I rinsed off in the river. I know it’s January, but for some reason I expected the water to be a little warmer. It was cold! But, it felt great to get clean. No chance of doing this again for the rest of the hike so I better take advantage of this now.

at talley in big bend national park, looking at the rio grande

View of the Rio Grande from Talley

filtering water from the rio grande

Just finished filtering some water

By 2:30 I was leaving the Rio and heading back up the dirt road 1/3 mile to the trailhead for the Mariscal Canyon Rim Trail. The trail starts off refreshingly well marked and very easy to follow. Something I hadn’t seen so far this trip.

sign at the mariscal canyon rim trail head

mariscal canyon rim trail beginning

The beginning of the Mariscal Canyon Rim trail

The landscape was very interesting through here, but unfortunately the sun washed out many of the good photo ops. The trail was relatively easy much of the way up, not too steep, until the last 700ft.

big bend mariscal canyon rim trail lowlands

mariscal canon trail

The trail up to the Mariscal Canyon overlook

view from the mariscal canyon rim trail going up

View From The Mariscal Canyon Rim Trail

Closer to the final push up the last 700ft, looking back the way I came

Closer to the final push up the last 700ft, looking back the way I came

The last push was the hardest, but then I found myself on the “top” of the canyon over looking the Rio. Wows, this was truly incredible! I was looking forward to this campsite tonight and the views did not disappoint.

First view of Mariscal Canyon

First view of Mariscal Canyon

Near Mariscal Canyon Rim

mariscal canyon overlook in big bend national park

View from the Mariscal Canyon overlook

After setting up my tent, I gathered my camera gear and headed off to the edges of the canyon to soak in the hard earned views. As soon as I reached the edge I noticed some Aoudads, or also known as Barbary sheep. These guys were introduced to the US(parts of Texas, New Mexico, California) sometime after WWII from Africa. And I’m actually looking at several of them now, moving along the steep cliff side below. This time, I was able to get my zoom lens on in time to snap a couple of photos before they scampered off out of sight.

aoudad sighting in big bend

Aoudad on the steep cliff side below the Mariscal Canyon overlook

aoudad, aka barbary sheep, sighting in big bend national park in mariscal cannyon

Cropped shot of one of the Aoudads

After the Aoudads left, I put the wide angle lens back on and tried my luck at photography here. Really though, this is one of those areas that’s just hard to accurately depict with a camera. You see what’s there, you can tell it’s pretty impressive, but you just can’t grasp the immensity of the landscape without being there. Plus, lighting is really tough here at this time of day.

view of the rio grande from the mariscal canyon overlook

You can see the Rio Grande below

I watched the sun set over Mexico and illuminate the Rio Grande. The entire landscape looks golden just as the sun sets. The rest of the evening was uneventful. It was very calm up here with no wind, thankfully, as it’s very exposed.

sun setting in mexico, view from the mariscal canyon rim

Watching the sunset behind the Rio Grande out into Mexico

mariscal canyon overlook campsite big bend national park

My campsite near the Mariscal Canyon overlook

orange sky behind tent mariscal canyon overlook big bend

Day 4- Thursday January 14th, 2016

Miles Hiked – 17.07
Route – Mariscal Canyon Overlook to campsite southeast of Elephant Tusk

I woke up at 7 this morning. I got some pretty crappy sleep last night for some reason, even though it wasn’t too cold or windy or anything. I just didn’t sleep well.

The plan for today is to hike the Mariscal Canyon Rim trail to the point where it meets the Cross Canyon trail. From here, I’ll continue north along the spine of the Mariscal Mountain range to the Mariscal Mine, and then head northwest towards the Elephant Tusk trail. I will follow the Elephant Tusk trail about 1.5 miles and make camp for the night.

I left camp around 8:15 this morning. As I continued along the Mariscal Canyon Rim trail I quickly realized there were no more views of the canyon. Before the trail leaves any hint of a view behind, I jumped off trail and over to the canyon’s edge for one last view. I’m glad I did because this picture might be my favorite from this area.

mariscal canyon rim best view

Much better view! I only wish I had more time to enjoy this beautiful vista

Back on the trail now, it was easy to follow and well marked with cairns. The trail continues to climb in elevation steadily for a while. Finally, I get to the top of the ridge and the rest of the ridgeline is coming into view.

mariscal canyon rim trail example

Easy going through here

mariscal mountain spine trail

Up on the ridgeline now, before the trail drops down via the Cross Canyon trail

After a couple of ups and downs I’m at the point where the Cross Canyon Trail wants to take me down off the Mariscal Mountains. From here, I’m on my own picking a route up this steep hillside to continue the walk along the spine of this range.

view of cross canyon trail from amriscal canyon rim trail in big bend

You can see the Cross Canyon trail running down the mountain side on the right. That’s where I’ll climb up that mountain to continue my route along the spine

After the initial climb up from the Cross Canyon trail, I was more or less on the spine now. The first section, before reaching the high point of Mariscal Mountain (3932′), was probably the most technical, but also probably the coolest part of the hike today. There’s a few areas that involved a little bit of scrambling, but nothing difficult at all and nothing that risky besides one or two steps along a knife edge section. There were a lot of false summits though on the way up to Mariscal Mountain, since it’s barely higher than the other points along this area of the ridge line. There is a USGS marker up here marking the summit. Fun fact… Mariscal Mountain is the southernmost peak in the Rockies.

View from mariscal mountain range spine

looking north along mariscal mountains in big bend

Looking north along the Mariscal Mountains

view of the rio grande from mariscal mountains

The Rio Grande down there, winding through the Chihuahuan Desert

walking the spine of big bend's mariscal mountain rrange

The spine of the Mariscal Mountains

Up on the spine of the Mariscal Mountains, the rocks were often extremely sharp. I did not want to fall on these rocks for fear of getting sliced up. On the flipside, they were great for gripping with my shoes. There were also a lot of interesting rocks along the way up here. Often times the ground just sparkled like crazy, and there’s piles of white/clearish crystals. Some had a tint of blue or green. Ah if I could only remember more from Geology class, I could put a name on them.

looking back behind me on the amriscal mountains

Looking back the way I came

interesting way rocks have eroded on the mariscal mountains in big bend

North of the Mariscal Mountain “summit”, it’s fairly easy going for a while while the elevation remains fairly flat, yet sloping downhill now. Around this time I got my first and only cactus thorn in the foot during my entire weeklong hike. I was wearing my Merrill Moab Ventilators for footwear, and had even considered wearing my Inov8 Roclite 315s. In the end, I chose the Moab Ventilators due to the extra beefiness of the shoe and figured that would be preferable in this rocky and stabby terrain. So far they have been pretty good for this hike. I removed my shoe to pull out the thorn and kept going.

on the amriscal mountains, north end, looking west

Looking northwest or so

west of the amriscals

Probably about 2/3 of the way through the Mariscal Mountains. The trail drops off this high ridge and transitions into a series of rolling hills and drainages

Probably about 2/3 of the way through the Mariscal Mountains. The trail drops off this high ridge and transitions into a series of rolling hills and drainages

After a while the terrain started to become less of a knife ridge and there were more side canyons running down the sides of the mountain. This makes for slightly harder route finding. Occasionally I’d find myself following the wrong gully and needed to either backtrack or just head up the nearest hill in order to maintain my bearing. I was also getting a little tired now as the direct sunlight was taking it’s toll. Not getting sunburnt, just a little tiring. There was no more than a few patches of shade all day today.

Pouroff In The Mariscal Mountains

pools of water in the mariscal mountains

Right before reaching the first views of the Mariscal Mine, there was one good sized hill I needed to traverse. I ran out of water in my bladder around this time. I had another 2L left but this needed to last me this evening and tomorrow morning until I reached the spring near Elephant Tusk. So basically, no more water until I reach camp tonight, unless I really need it.

After getting to the top of this hill, I dropped my pack in the shade. Finally, shade! After a few minutes I was on my way again. However, right after I started moving I slipped and fell on the loose rock, and cut my finger. Not terribly bad but I dropped my pack again to clean and bandage the wound.

Now I made my way through the Mariscal Mine area. All of the mine shafts have been closed off with grates to prevent entry. There were several buildings still standing, but I was running short on time and so I only snapped a few quick pictures and kept moving. Looks like an interesting area to explore more thoroughly.

nearing mariscal mine in big bend

Getting close to Mariscal mine

mariscal mine shaft entrance

First view of a mine shaft as I enter the Mariscal mine area

mariscal mine ruins

Ruins at the Mariscal Mine site

sierra del cermen mountains behind the mariscal mine ruins

The old road up to the mine petered out as I walked my last few steps on the Mariscal Mountain Range. Now on the desert floor again, I followed a road (I believe it was the River Road) for a very short ways while it was heading west. Once it turned south, I jumped off and headed north through the Fresno Creek wash. Once I get through the gap in the mountains ahead, I can start heading northwest towards Elephant Tusk.

Big Bend Desert Panaorma

cactus and yellow followws in the desert with mountains in background in big bend

Between Mariscal mine and the Elephant Tusk trailhead

cacti line a dried river bed in big bend

This next section was a huge network of washes. At first the going was easy. The terrain was open and vegetation was fairly sparse. Eventually, moving anywhere outside of the washes became a chore due to the thorn bushes, and yet, the washes themselves where lined with thick shrubbery as well. At one point I had a thorn bush blocking my path. I used my trekking pole to break one of the branches, and continued to whack at a second branch based on my initial success. However, this proved to be a mistake as my trekking pole simply snapped in half. I’m using Gossamer Gear LT4 poles, which are super light but this is now the second time I have broken one. Clearly, I was using the poles for another purpose they weren’t meant for, but I wasn’t hitting those branches that hard. Ah well, I can buy another replacement section for this pole but really, I am beginning to question the ability to use these poles on longer hikes due to their frailty.

Eventually I made my way through the wash and I could see a white truck parked in the distance. That’s the trailhead for Elephant Tusk I was looking for alongside Black Gap Road. At first I didn’t see anyone alongside the truck and figured they were out in the desert camping somewhere. But as I got closer, 3 guys stood up from behind the truck, startled by my presence. By this time it was 5:15, and they were probably not expecting to see anyone out here. “Hi, don’t mind me, random guy popping out of the desert” I said. They laughed, and we chatted for a few minutes. One guy seemed pretty knowledgeable about the park as he recognized just about everything along my route, and had possibly hiked through the same canyon west of Goat Mountain as I had on my first day. Before leaving, I asked if they had a liter of water they could spare, which they gladly supplied. That really helped and lifted my spirits a bit.

After leaving the ET trailhead behind, it was time to cover some distance before dark. There was a a defined trail to follow here, although faint in many spots. The landscape was pretty flat with small rocks and scrub, so walking was the easiest it had been all day. I covered another 1.5 miles before calling it quits for the day. I had about 15 minutes of daylight left to work with, and quickly got my tent up and situated around camp.

black gap rd elephant tusk trail area

About 1 mile from Black Gap Rd now along Elephant Tusk trail.

big bend campsite along elephant tusk trail in the desert

Night 4 campsite

I was pretty whooped by the end of today. Not much to do out here without a fire or anyone to talk to, so I was off to bed around 8:30.


Day 5 – Friday January 15th, 2016

Miles Hiked – 14.99
Route – Campsite southeast of Elephant Tusk to Juniper Canyon

I slept pretty good last night, which was a relief after the subpar sleep the night before. I probably heard more coyotes throughout the night here than anywhere else on this hike. Some were pretty far and others were closer, but none really close. It was a little warmer last night, around 45° when I woke up this morning at 7.

Morning Day 5

elephant tusk and backbone ridge in big bend national park illuminated by the sunrise

Elephant Tusk and Backbone Ridge

Today’s plan is to hike to the spring just east of Elephant Tusk and get water, then continue north on Elephant Tusk trail towards the Dodson trail. I will take the canyon northwest of Tortuga Mountain to the Dodson trail from the Elephant Tusk trail to shave off a little distance, and check out Adler Spring. Take the Dodson trail east to Juniper Canyon trail and head north, where I’ll camp in Juniper Canyon for the night.

After leaving camp, I found the trail to the base of Elephant Tusk to be pretty good. Easy to walk on, easy to follow.

lookest along elephant tusk trail at sunrise

Elephant Tusk trail, looking east

big bend national aprk backbone ridge and elephant tusk

As I near Elephant Tusk, the trail stays high up above the wash below. The spring isn’t that far away now but the trail is still high, and left me wondering if/when it will ever dip down into the canyon to meet this spring. The trail goes up and over a hill or two before crossing a side canyon that pours into the main wash below. I thought this side canyon was the trail now, since I saw no cairns or obvious route on the other side. So, I followed it down to the wash.

hiking along the elpehant tusk trail near the base of elephant tusk

The trail stays high along the slope along left side of this picture

view of elephant tusk spring from trail above

Elephant Spring and pools of water downstream

Took this little drainage down to Elephant Tusk Spring

Took this little drainage down to Elephant Tusk Spring

There was some really dense shrubbery through here and of course, it was pretty thorny. Once down in the main wash I was pretty sure this was not the correct route, but at the same time there was some water here and I knew the spring was in this area so it must be right. I kept walking upstream and saw some Cottonwood trees growing in the middle of the wash and knew this was Elephant Tusk spring.

Despite all the flourishing trees and greenery here, there were very little pools to actually filter from. In fact, the one I used was the only one I saw that was barely deep enough to dip a bottle into. It had a rocky bottom and so you couldn’t trench it deeper either. Downstream there were some larger pools but they looked more stagnant, and so I opted to draw my water from a spot nearest to the source. I chugged a liter and filtered 6 more. As I filtered my water, a small plane flew overhead. It was pretty low and seemed to come closer when it saw me, but didn’t make a second pass. I wonder if they were searching for a lost hiker or if it was an aerial tour or something. I tried to filter my water as quickly as possible as it was really cold in the shade.

in big bend national park, filtering water from elephant tusk spring

Filtering water at Elephant Tusk spring

Once I was ready to go, I headed north in the wash and just past the spring I saw some cairns heading uphill. I figured that must be the way out of here, and followed this trail. It went up a short ways before heading back south again, where I came from. I thought, maybe it’s taking me around an obstacle, let’s just see where it goes. Well, it went back to that side canyon I took down to the main wash. I had simply missed the cairn in the side canyon that marked the trail through here, and around all that terrible vegetation below in the wash. It’s all making sense now.

Now I’m back on the Elephant Tusk trail again, which is in the wash now. The trail winds through several canyons as it makes it way north. Sometimes the trail has you down in the wash, and other times it’s going up over a small hill to avoid obstacles. There are some cairns through here, but they aren’t huge and obvious sometimes, and so you really need to keep an eye out for them. I missed them a few times and had to go through some thick vegetation or climb up/down something to keep going forward.

hiking north of elephant tusk spring

North of Elephant Tusk spring

The most interesting feature of the Elephant Tusk trail for me was the some of the red rock in the washes and canyons. While not huge or anything, they were really colorful and just plain cool looking.

elephant tusk trail water flowing through red rock wash

narrow red rock canyon along elephant tusk trail in big bend national park

colorful rocks along the elephant tusk trail in big bend

Father north along the ET trail, the route has you out of the wash now and going up and over some larger hills. Here, I saw a couple of deer, my first on the hike. When I got up to the top of this first hill it was hard to find the trail again. It was on and off for a while, and rather annoying. I was expecting this trail to be pretty good since it was so well marked on the maps.

In the hills now along the elephant tusk trail

Farther north along the Elephant Tusk trail

view of south rim in big bend nation park from the elephant tusk trail

Looking north at the South Rim from the Elephant Tusk trail

South of the dodson trail on the elephant tusk trail

When it was time to leave the Elephant Tusk “trail” for the canyon with Adler spring, I wasn’t sure this was going to save me any time. It looked like it too had a lot of thick, thorny plants and I wondered if this was the right choice. I made the decision to go for it, trying to stick to my original plan where possible.

On the way to adler spring in big bend national park

water flwoing near adler spring in big bend national park

Near Adler spring

At first, this wash was not hard to walk though. After a little ways I began to see water. Lots of water, more than any other location I saw in the desert on this hike. I followed the water for a ways before reaching the spring itself.

Upstream of the spring, the vegetation became really thick and once again, a nightmare to walk through. Fortunately for me I was pretty close to the Dodson now, and only had to go another half mile or so. I fought with the thorn bushes for a while before just going up over some small hills to get me out of the wash.

Finally, I reached the Dodson at a rather nondescript junction around 3:15. This basically means that the rest of my hike will be on a legitimate trail system and will make covering ground that much easier.

a view of the junction of the dodson trail and adler spring trail in big bend national park

Standing on the Dodson trail, looking south at the wash I just came up from Adler Spring

view of the south rim while standing on the dodson trail in big bend national park

Looking up at the South Rim from the Dodson trail

This section of the Dodson trail, heading east towards Juniper Canyon, goes up and down a bunch of hills and doesn’t offer much for a view at first. No matter, I need to get some miles in today and this highway of a trail I had here was working great. After making it past a couple of hills, the peaks of Hayes Ridge and Crown Mountain begin to show themselves, marking the entrance to Juniper Canyon. That’s still a ways off in the distance though. I continued to haul ass.

dodson view of the south rim big bend

Another view of the South Rim from the Dodson trail

hiking east along the dodson trail near juniper canyon

Hiking the Dodson trail east

juniper canyon entrance big bend national park

The Dodson heading into Juniper Canyon

When I reached the end of the Dodson trail, where the Juniper Canyon trail starts and Juniper Road ends, there was one guy there camping. He was facing the other way, sitting in a chair reading a book. I said a quick “Hi” and kept going. A few minutes later, I saw another lone hiker coming down Juniper Canyon and out towards the Dodson trail. We exchanged a few words and moved on. Like me, he was probably more concerned with getting to and setting up camp tonight. Oh, and there’s more bear crap on the ground now, and it’s in much bigger piles. Bigger bears in the Chisos area due to the increased food supply.

hiking the juniper canyon trail towards crown mountain in big bend national park, tx

I made it to camp tonight around 5:15. Although there were a few sites right along the trail, I chose to go up over a small embankment alongside the trail and back a ways. The vegetation was pretty thick here but I found a spot that someone else had clearly used in the past, as there were some grasses matted down just big enough for a tent. Nice view too!

view of crown mountain beind a campsite in juniper canyon of big bend national park, texas

Camping in Juniper Canyon below Crown Mountain

campsite in juniper canyon

While setting up my tent I saw a deer about 100yds away, and scared him off pretty quickly. The sunset was nice tonight with a lot of reds in the sky.

red sky behind crown mountain in big bend national park

The wind started picking up a little after dark but I didn’t think too much of it. After midnight though, it could no longer be ignored. The tent shook wildly with every gust. Not ridiculous speeds, but probably 30+ mph. The sound of the wind howling as it approached was really loud and intimidating. For a couple of hours, the winds were much heavier and consistent. After about 5am, they died down a little and I was able to get some rest.


Day 6 – Saturday January 16th, 2016

Miles Hiked – 8+
Route – Juniper Canyon to South Sim, campsite SE2

I was really glad to get out of the tent this morning after a long night. It was still really windy this morning and very cold. The wind added some difficulty to packing up the tent and gear this morning.

My plan for today is to continue the hike up Juniper Canyon, over the pass and down into Boot Canyon. Here I will find and filter water, and then continue on up to the South Rim via the Northeast Rim trail. From here I will make my way around the rim to my reserved campsite at SE2. Hopefully, Ryan will make it out here today as we agreed to do back on the morning of day 2. However, the one thing we didn’t discuss is what the plan is if he does not show up at SE2. Tomorrow, would I hike back into the Chisos Basin as we planned to do if we did meet up today, or do I finish the hike as planned at the Homer Wilson Ranch/Sotol Overlook? Hopefully, he shows up and we don’t even have to cross that bridge.

It was really nice to start moving this morning. Mainly because I wanted to get out of the wind, and that I was cold from said wind. There were a few more campsites, and some pretty nice ones, along the way up in Juniper Canyon. Here, the trail is well groomed and really nice compared to what I had to work with the last few days. Down in the wash to the west, there’s tons of green trees now, and the trail is lined with tall grasses. Along with cacti, those never go away. But the point is, the landscape was changing.

view from the juniper canyon trail in big bend national park

hiking through juniper canyon

Juniper Canyon

I made good time going up Juniper Canyon. I stopped for one break along he way up for some food and water, although I was running a little short now. Just over a liter left, but that’ll get me to the pools in Boot Canyon no problem. After passing Upper Juniper Spring, I entered the switchbacks. Not as hard as I was expecting today to be but still quite a climb. I made it to the top of the little “pass” down into Boot Canyon at around 11:15, and was disappointed with the lack of view. Oh well, many awesome views to be had from the South Rim later today and tomorrow.

Juniper Canyon From Juniper Canyon Trail

View From Juniper Canyon Trail

Heading down into Boot Canyon was an abrupt change from windy, exposed side of the mountains in Juniper Canyon. Here, the trees were heartier and the grasses flourished. And yes, tons of cacti. It certainly had a different feel to it, and it was nice.

trail in boot canyon in big bend national park

Heading down into Boot Canyon

It’s a half mile hike down to the bottom of Boot Canyon where the hunt for water can begin. At the bottom, there’s a pool of some green water with a bunch of leaves in it. I’ll pass for now. I looked downstream a bit and didn’t see much, so I headed upstream. Here I saw my first person of the day, and person number 6 for the entire hike. But, that number was about to increase dramatically as my stay on the South Rim gets underway.

There was some pools of so-so looking water lower in the canyon, and some better looking water farther up. The problem is, the best looking water was frozen. I keep searching upstream and found some pools that got a little more sunlight then the others, and was able to get my water. I filtered 6L to last the remainder of the hike. Oh, and there was this rock with some moss growing in the shape of a heart. I can’t imagine that grew naturally like that, but maybe?

several pools of water in boot canyon, many are frozen

Pools of water in Boot Canyon

moss growing in the shape of a heart on a rock in the wilderness

where i filtered my drinking water from boot canyon

I filtered my water from this small pool in the shade

At this point I had traversed far enough up Boot Canyon where I should just continue this way up to the South Rim versus heading back down Boot Canyon and catching the Northeast Rim trail. Once you near the top of Boot Canyon and the South Rim appears, it’s an awesome feeling. For me, being up here last time on my Outer Mountain Loop hike in 2012, was the highlight of the trip. I walked up to the edge of the rim, and slowly the landscape below comes into view. So amazing.

upper boot canyon below the south rim

The very upper portions of Boot Canyon, just below the South Rim

view from the south rim in big bend national park chisos mountains

View form the South Rim, where the Boot Canyon trail ends

the south rim trail skirts the edge of the south rim in big bend national park

As much as I want to mess around by the rim’s edge, I hurried to camp. SE2 was empty and Ryan was not here. It’s 1pm now, so he’s still got some time. He ended up arriving at 1:30 and so the timing was pretty good. Of course, we had a lot to discuss as we got caught up with the happenings of each other’s week.

On the day we split up, Ryan ended up making it back to the road near Mule Ears Overlook without any foot issues, although he said the “trail” up and over Mule Ears to the spring was basically non existent. He thought he saw a faint trail but it was not worn enough to actually help him. He did not have the luxury of a GPS as I did, but I gave him the National Geographic Big Bend topo map so he had something, as well as the 24k topo map I printed that shows the Mule Ears and spring area from our first day. Once back at the road he hitched a ride back to our car at the Sotol Overlook.

Ryan camped at Cottonwood for a night or two while he explored the west side of the park. He visited Santa Elena Canyon, Tuff Canyon, Study Butte, and other areas. After this he moved over to the Chisos Basin campground where he explored the popular spots like The Window and the Lost Mine Trail. His feet were feeling better and so he was also able to climb Emory Peak one day as well.

After catching up a bit, we gathered our photography equipment and headed down to the edge of the rim to enjoy the rest of the afternoon. Having the time to simply mosey around the rim’s edge, climbing and exploring while taking pictures, was a real treat. The short days in the winter mean almost no time for anything else other than hiking unless you are willing to keep your miles down, which I typically have a hard time doing. So the fact that I had a couple of hours to kill up here in full day light and with the best view in the park meant I couldn’t be happier.


bird of prey big bend national park

The downside to being up here on the rim is all the people. We passed a boy scout troop of 30+ people, all in one group. That’s crazy to me that the park allows that. Good for those kids for getting out here but they had several adults with them and so I feel like they should be in groups no larger than 8. I’ve been other places where in terms of camping, group sizes were limited to the 8-10 range. Passing a group of 30+ kids makes me feel like I’m part of a school field trip and not a hike in the “wilderness”. I hope you are reading this, NPS. Besides the boy scout troop, there were tons and tons of people up here, but they were in normal groups of 1-3.

Not far from our campsite at SE2, we found a nice ledge near the edge of the rim to sit on and relax. We continued to talk about our experiences of the last few days as we photographed the vast landscape below. The rim drops off 200oft at the minimum compared to the high points below, and 3000ft relative to the desert floor. There’s nothing obstructing your view here and so the effect is quite dramatic.

sitting on the edge of a boulder on the south rim

After getting all the pictures possible from this spot, we moved east along the rim’s edge towards Juniper Canyon. There are many points along the edge of the rim that we stopped at for pictures. There were many rocky outcrops that were fun to climb along for photo ops as well. Another interesting feature of this area is all the bright green and orange lichen on the rocks.

big bend national park cliff with green lichen

Thumbs up for lichen

cave on the side of the south rim

big bend national park agave on south rim

We kept making our way east down the rim until we realized the sun is going to start dropping pretty quickly. We headed back to the SE2 general area. There were a couple of mule deer on the trail now and they did not seem to care at all that we were only feet away, talking softly and taking pictures of them. They all appeared to be bucks, and the largest was on the tail in front of us. He quickly left, probably to start flanking us, we laughed. The others continued to eat their grasses and roots , occasionally looking up at us as they did so. After getting a few pictures we moved on and let them be. However, around the corner was that boy scout troop again, and surely the deer will be scared away by the sound of all those people.

mule deer photography big bend national park

Photographing the mule deer


We watched a nice sunset from the rim’s edge and reflected upon the events of the past week. Our last night in Big Bend was finally upon us and thoughts of a hot meal, shower and real bed were starting to sound really good. After the last bit of sunlight faded away for the evening we headed back to camp.

sunset on the south rim in big bend national park, texas

big bend national park south rim sunset from se2

We returned to the edge of the rim later in the evening to eat, away from camp. For my last dinner of the trip, I had a tortilla with pre-cooked bacon and shredded cheddar cheese. That was delicious, and I wished I had another one. But when can one ever get enough bacon? We stayed here watching the stars for a while before the rocks below zapped away our body heat, and it was time to return back to camp for the night.

Day 7 – Sunday January 17th, 2106

Miles Hiked – 7+
Route – SE2 to Chisos Basin Lodge

Last night the wind was howling like crazy, just as it did the night before. I believe it was hitting the south face of the South Rim and getting pushed up over us. Because of that, the wind never actually hit my tent, but damn was it loud as it whizzed overhead. I was relieved to not have to face those winds again tonight. A guy I passed yesterday said he camped at SE3 the night before and the wind blew his rain fly off his tent a couple of times. Been there, don’t want to do that again. Also, it was interesting to note that we did not hear any animals or have any encounters at all last night. This is where I was expecting to have animal encounters, not in the desert below as I had all week.

The plan for today is was originally to hike up Emory Peak and then back down into the basin, but since Ryan had already climbed it a few days ago, and I had in 2012, for time purposed we decided to skip that. Therefore today’s itinerary is to hike the Northeast Rim trail down to Boot Canyon, follow that up to the base of Emory Peak where we’ll take the Pinnacles trail down to the Chisos Basin. This is where Ryan left the rental car yesterday before heading up to the South Rim to meet me.

After getting out of the tent, we headed down to the same spot along the rim from last night in order to catch the sunrise. I set up my GoPro on my Flow-Mow panning timer to get some time lapse shots while I did my stills from another location.

sunrise over big bend national park from the south rim

south rim at sunrise in big bend national park

big bend national park sunrise from the south rim

sunrise behind silhouette of person in big bend

It was another cold morning as we hit the trail at 9:20. Our motivating factors today were numerous, and we had no problem getting going after leaving camp. We worked our way east along the rim until we reached SE3, the campsite I stayed at in 2012. The campsite itself looks more exposed to the wind, but I think this site offers the best view from SE1 eastwards. On this hike I didn’t venture west of SE1, into the SW sites, so I can’t recall the view for those sites for comparison. Just as we were enjoying the view from the edge of the rim near SE3, the huge group of boy scouts were up and at ’em, and invaded our spot. That prompted us to keep moving and get some space in between us and them.

big bend national park view form campsite se3

View from the SE3 area

hikier standing on the edge of the south rim in big bend national park chisos mountains

Me soaking in the views

The trail continues to follow the edge of the rim as it curves northward. Here, there’s a few nice overlooks of Juniper Canyon below. After this though, the trail veers away from the rim’s edge and becomes less interesting as it approaches Boot Canyon.

crown mountain juniper canyon overlook on the south rim

That’s Juniper Canyon below. Crown Mountain behind me

After reaching Boot Canyon, we headed north along the Boot Canyon trail towards the Pinnacles trail. We saw a lot of people here in the canyon passing through, and many looked like day hikers. The Boot in Boot Canyon was pretty distinct now as we could see it poking up from the mountainside in the distance.

boot canyon from northeast rim trial in big bend

Descending into Boot Canyon from the Northeast Rim trail

water in boot canyon, big bend national park

boot rock in boot canyon, big bend national park

Boot Rock

boot canyon trail dramatic sky with orange rocky foreground

Boot Canyon trail, nearing the base of Emory Peak

Now at the base of Emory Peak, I climbed up some boulders to get a few pictures of the Chisos Basin below. I remember climbing these same rocks in 2012 when I camped here at the Toll Mountain campsite. Great views, but very windy up here at the moment.




Next we headed down the Pinnacles trail. We passed probably close to 100 people going up this trail on our way down, many of them were part of another over-sized boy scout troop of 30-40 people. Again, is that necessary? Why would anyone want to travel in a group that large anyways? It must take all day just to cover 5 miles with a group of that size. As it turns out, this page on the NPS site states that a group of backpackers cannot exceed 15 people. Well, someone dropped the ball there, or these boy scouts are just ignoring those rules. Not cool.

near the top of the pinnacles trail in big bend national park

Just below the top of the Pinnacles trail, and the base of Emory Peak

hiking down the switchbacks on the pinnacles trail in big bend

The Pinnacles trail down to the basin starts off with a lot of switchbacks. The trail itself is well groomed and easy to hike. Many of the best views are obstructed by trees but there are a couple spots with some great vistas.

hiking the pinnacles trial in the chisos mountains

view along the pinnacles trail in big bend

the pinnacles trail in the chisos mountains, big bend national park

After passing the steep section with switchbacks, the trail levels out some and you find yourself in the grasslands of the basin. Only a couple of miles now to the end. After passing the last few campsites, we began to see signs that the trail was coming to an end, such as the water tank for the basin. Our knees were aching a bit from the long descent as we finally set foot on pavement in the Chisos Basin Lodge parking lot somewhere after noon.

casa grande with golden grass in foreground in the chisos basin

end of the pinnacles trial in the chisos basin

The lodge is just around the corner!!

We ordered carry out from the Lodge while we changed clothes and cleaned ourselves up. For me, getting out of my hiking clothes and into my regular, clean clothes and washing up in the bathroom of the lodge felt amazing. However, I forgot to bring a pair of flip flops and so I had to put on my regular tennis shoes now. After a weeklong hike, my feet were swollen and did not fit very well in my regular shoes. But, no blisters!

After getting our food from the Lodge we got in the car and headed back to Midland. I can not emphasize enough how awesome it is to have a normal, comfortable seat to sit in. This is one of those little pleasures you take for granted after a hike of this length.

On our way through the border patrol checkpoint south of Marathon, they asked us to pull over and get out of the car. They said the dog alerted to our car. We got out of the car and almost immediately, without even checking inside, they said ok you guys are good to go, have a good day. But, I thought the dog alerted to the car? Probably them doing their typical “false alerts”. Ugh, whatever.

Back in Marathon, we saw about 20 border patrol vehicles. Actually, I don’t think I saw one vehicle driving down the road in Marathon that wasn’t border patrol. It’s pretty clear what this town’s economy is based off of. We fueled up and headed north towards Ft Stockton, where we stopped at Dairy Queen for a Blizzard. Back in Midland, we checked in at our hotel and got some food later at the Tilted Kilt next door. Back at the hotel, we made use of the hot tub and relaxed for the rest of the evening. Finally, well deserved rest and comfort. Tomorrow morning, we fly back home.


Final Thoughts

Another successful hike in the books. I was worried about my ankle on this trip since I had sprained it(moderately) 3 months ago, and it still felt a little funny. Lots of clicking and popping in the ankle before the hike but everything was fine, no problems at all this trip.

ankle sprain

Sprained my ankle in October 2015, and was worried about how well it would hold up on this hike

This is one of the trips that taught me a little lesson, although I’m sure I will have to be reminded of it often in the future. That lesson is that no matter what the terrain looks like from the satellite, and no matter what the topo maps look like, hiking off trail is never as easy as I think it’s going to be. I was not expecting the washes to be lined so heavily with thorn bushes, which proved to be more of an obstacle than cacti for the most part. I only got hit by a couple of cacti the whole trip, but avoiding those thorn bushes is not possible.

The animal life here was much more active than I remember from my hike last time. Having that mountain lion so close at night, and actually coming into camp, was a real shock. I had never heard of a mountain lion attacking anyone while in a tent, and so I figured we were more or less safe. But still! When I returned home, I google searched “mountain lion attacked man in tent” and did find a story about a guy who was attacked through his tent in the middle of the night by a lion in California in 2012. Apparently though, this was unheard of and in fact possibly the first recorded instance of such an attack. I’m glad we didn’t become the second. Also, the amount of coyotes here was much more than I was expecting.

I really wish I would have chosen the Fisk Canyon route instead of my route over Jack’s Pass for my first 2 days. That will be a route for next time. I chose the route over Jack’s Pass because of the high ground which i am typically drawn to, but hiking through some of the canyons was just as interesting.

The geology of this place is amazing. The variety in land formations, rock types and environments I passed through were pretty incredible. I really need to brush up on my rocks and minerals again, as it would have been really cool to be able to identify more of what I saw here.

The hike along the Mariscal Mountain range was cool, but it would have been much more enjoyable with another person I think. The topo map made some of my route look harder than it actually was. The steepest part was the climb up from the junction with the Cross Canyon trail. After that only a few knife edge sections were technical.

I was expecting the Elephant Tusk area to have a better trail than it did, more like the Dodson. The trail was faint where it was not in the wash, going up over hills, and the cairns were small and easy to miss. Give yourself a little more time in here. Also, I found Adler spring near the Dodson to have much more water than the spring east of Elephant Tusk.

I was really surprised by how few people I saw outside of the Chisos area. Having covered over 50 miles by the end of day 4 when I saw my first humans, that would be the longest stretch of both time and miles that I have gone without seeing anyone while backpacking. Day 5 I saw 2 people and didn’t see another person until I reached Boot Canyon midday of day 6. So, 5 people in 5.5 days, and all of those 5 within the last 36 hours… not bad!

Of course, I was really bummed that Ryan couldn’t join me for the entire hike. I have done several solo hikes of this length in the past and would not hesitate to do so again, but having someone to share the experience with is preferable. It’s nice to have someone to talk to and laugh with along the way, and to get a second opinion for interpreting what I see along the way. I’m glad Ryan’s feet healed up and he was able to not only enjoy his solo adventures throughout the week but also that he was able to join me on the South Rim for our last night.

I’ll be going back to Big Bend, along with the Superstition Wilderness in Arizona, for years to come in the winter. I just need a few more “go-to” hiking destinations to round out my selection of warm weather winter hikes.

As always, questions and comments are welcome!

If you found my trip report useful, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment! Alternatively, if you feel you have any information you’d like to share with others regarding this hike, please feel free to leave that below in a comment as well.



Like what you see?

Superstition Wilderness, AZ – March 2013 (Post Hike Trip Report)

Superstition Wilderness Hike Overview

Complete Superstition Wilderness Photo GallerySuperstition Wilderness HD Video

  • Location – Superstition Wilderness, Arizona
  • Park – Tonto National Forest
  • Trail Hiked – Custom Route
  • Miles Driven To Destination – 4200 miles Round trip
  • Length Of Time Hiked –4 days, 3 nights
  • Trail Type – Loop
  • Miles Hiked – 20+
  • Trail Difficulty – 7/10
  • Fires Allowed – Yes



Only 3 days before I left to drive 2,000+ miles across country, I thought I had everything covered. After all, I’d spent several weeks planning and preparing for this trip, an 88 mile 6 day, 5 night solo hike through the Superstition Wilderness of Arizona. Sometimes though, things don’t exactly as planned. Any number of factors can quickly turn a much anticipated hike into “can’t wait for it to be over” experience. For some, this may be something like being sick on your hike. Or, maybe a freak storm that pinned you down for an entire day. Freezing cold water infiltrating the tent at night, popped air mattress, etc. Well, for me it was all of those things, and more! What a disaster.

Alright, let me start from the beginning. After selecting the Superstition Wilderness as my backpacking destination, I invited my buddy Jesse to go with me. He could not make it due to his schedule, so I decided to go solo. No big deal, I don’t mind. In fact, this actually allows me the opportunity to try and cover more miles… my hiking partners are not usually up to pushing it too hard. So, what I had planned for this hike was 88 miles in 6 days, roughly twice as many miles as I’ve ever done in the same time period. Below is an overview of the route I intended to hike. Start/end point is at the Canyon Lake trailhead.

superstiion wilderness 80 mile loop hike route


I made several gear changes before this trip to save some weight. I shaved over 8lbs off my pack weight! More on that in another post.

It had been 5 months since my last hike in Linville Gorge, NC  so I was anxious to get out on the trail. I was really looking forward to this hike, but unfortunately I started feeling sick 2 days before I left. I had just finished doing some stair climbs with a weighted pack, and all of the sudden I got the chills and felt weak. Uh oh. The next day was more of the same, and a slight runny nose and cough developed. When it came time to leave, which was a 30 hour drive  for me(each way), I decided to chance it, gambling that I’d feel better by the time I started my hike. I was going to break the drive up into 3 days, so that would buy me some time. However, I got sicker as I drove. By this time, I started developing an upper respiratory infection. Armed with some OTC expectorant and cough syrup, I was determined to fight it off and continue with the trip.

I made my hotel reservations in advance this time instead of randomly procuring a room along the way. I noticed that when I do that, I generally get stuck with a smelly, dirty motel for an inflated price, upwards of $80/night. Planning ahead, I can spend less money on a much, much better hotel room. The downside, as I learned this time, was that the money paid upfront for the rooms makes it harder to abandon a trip if needed. Still, I am going to continue getting my hotel rooms upfront.

Like all drives through middle America, it was boring as hell. I was coughing up a rainbow of colors the whole drive. I could hear fluid gurgling in my lungs when I took a breath. The expectorant wasn’t doing as much as I hoped. Not much I can do about it now, I’m already committed to this.

Along interstate 40, the landscape starts to change in the panhandle of Texas. This is where the drive becomes more fun. This was my first time in Arizona, and the immediately upon crossing the New Mexico/Arizona border the landscape changes again. Large red rock formations are all around now. The drive on hwy 260 into Payson was really nice. There was still quite a bit of snow high up in the mountains, which I was not expecting. Come to think of it, I saw snow in every sate I drove through on the way here… pretty amazing for March! The area near Payson was cool… very rugged mountains with lots of huge pines trees… again, not what I was expecting in Arizona.

When I got to my hotel in Payson, I had a decision to make: start my hike tomorrow as planned, or stay here in Payson for another day. Option 2 will shorten my hike by one day, but hopefully buy more time to get better. I decided to make the call in the morning… maybe one more night of sleep will help? Nope, my lungs are still gurgling. I also skipped the next day, but I came up with a modified, shorter route to attempt the day after.  My hike was now 4 days instead of 6. With that plan in motion, I decided to drive there and camp at the Canyon Lake Marina campground tonight.

The drive from Payson to the Superstition Wilderness, along hwy 87 and 88, was incredible. It’s hard to describe this landscape, it was just so cool to see for the first time. I had never seen a Saguaro cactus before, and they were everywhere.

Hwy 88 Superstition Wilderness Arizona

Superstition Wilderness from Highway 88

After arriving at the Canyon Lake campground, I set off to explore the area a little. Heading east on hwy 88, I soon arrived at Tortilla Flat. This was almost like a little town… there was a restaurant, a few shops, and ton and tons of people walking around in the street. I was not expecting a huge crowd of people to be here. Continuing east, a small stream crossings the road that you have to drive through. This is probably common in this area of the country, but that’s unheard of where I live. There was no danger to it, just a trickle running across the road. I’m sure it would be a different story after a rainstorm though. I drove a few miles and stopped for pictures along the way. Eventually, the road turned into a dirt road, and that’s where I turned around.

I had a low key evening. I wet to bed early and tried to rest up for the hike ahead, hoping I might feel better in the morning.


Day 1 – Thursday March 7th, 2013

Miles Hiked – 10.2

Route – Canyon Lake TH to Black Top Mesa. Boulder Canyon Trail to Second Water Trail to Black Mesa Trail to Dutchman’s Trail to Bull Pass Trail  to Spanish Hieroglyphics Trail

When I woke up this morning, I wasn’t feeling any better. I felt 85% of normal physically, but I was still coughing a lot. I could still feel fluid in my lungs, gurgling as I take a deep breath. After driving all this way though, sitting around doing pretty much nothing was getting old. I figured I have 4 days left, so I might as well go out there and just take my time.  However, I have been coughing quite a bit without doing any physical activity, so who knows what will happen when I get winded. Only one way to find out!

I brought my bathroom scale as I normally do to weigh my backpack after it’s all loaded up with food and water, but the parking lot was all dirt/gravel and was too uneven. I was pretty bummed about that because I spent a lot of time and money trying to shave weight off my pack before this trip and I was really eager to see the total number. With 4 liters of water, my best guess is 35 pounds. Not bad for me, I usually carry 45+ pounds.

superstirion wilderness boulder canyon trailhead

Boulder Canyon trailhead

I hit the trail around 9:30am. Exiting the Canyon Lake Marina, the Boulder Canyon Trail begins on the other side of Hwy 88, about 50 feet to your right. A big brown sign marks the trail. Shortly after leaving Hwy 88 behind, there is a smaller side trail to your left that splits off and goes up a hill, which is steeper than the main route. I didn’t even see it until I took this route on my way back. You’d be better off leaving this trail for your return to the car due to the elevation gain.

before descending to labarge creek

Overlooking LaBarge Creek

Almost from the beginning of the Boulder Canyon Trail, you can see Battleship Mountain and Weaver’s Needle in the distance. The trail gains in elevation fairly steadily from here. After going over just a few hills, the view of Canyon Lake disappears. No more man made objects in sight anymore, just other people. I saw maybe 35-40 hikers out on the trail today, mostly old people day hiking to the Battleship Mountain area. I am pretty sure I was the only person out there without an AARP card! I think it’s cool that they are out there still doing this kind of stuff though. But I didn’t see many other backpackers. I always like that because I know that when I get away from the trailhead area, I’ll pretty much be alone.

One thing I learned rather quickly is that the Superstition Wilderness has many more poking, stabbing plants than anywhere else I’ve ever been. After being poked by the first cactus, I became more aware of my surroundings. Still, avoiding them completely is impossible out here. One cluster of thorns got me above the knee. They don’t always stay together when you pull them out and often end up staying below the skin. After a while, I just rubbed the needles until they broke off instead of attempting to extract them.

saguaro cactus in the superstition wilderness of arizona
where saguaro cacti grows

One unique thing about this area though is the Saguaro cactus. I had never seen these until the drive south from my Hotel in Payson yesterday, so they were a new and interesting thing to me. When I got home from the trip I found the above map that shows where the Saguaro cactus grows. Now out on the trail, I had a chance to see them up close. These things are massive! I estimate the highest ones to be about 25ft. Really cool to see these things up close. Everything out here seems so foreign to me compared to Michigan, but that’s why I like coming to places like this.

northern superstition wilderness labarge

labarge creek overlook north of battleship mountain

LaBarge Creek below, Battleship Mountain in the distance

The trail wasn’t too difficult so far, but everywhere around me sure looked gnarly. Jagged rock cliffs, canyons, and thorny plants everywhere. After about 3 miles, I came to a great overlook point, making for good pictures of Weaver’s Needle and Battleship Mountain. In fact, when researching a place to hike on this trip, I saw a picture taken from this spot that pretty much convinced me to come to the Superstition Wilderness. This is probably where most of the old people I saw on the trail stopped. The trail which drops a few hundred feet in elevation from here before intersecting the Second Water Trail about another mile from here.

labarge creek in march near battleship mountain

larbarge trail supes

Once I dropped down to the canyon floor, I could see running water in LaBarge Creek. I had been told that water wasn’t going to be a problem on this trip due to recent rains, and I was glad to see that be true. From higher up, the water looked much greener. There wasn’t much of a flow, but at least there was water. I was able to easily hop rocks across this and every other body of water I encountered today. I didn’t need to filter water yet, but was confident that there would be water at my intended spot at Little Boulder Canyon Creek.

superstition wilderness indian dwelling ruins

Shortly after crossing LaBarge Creek, alongside the Boulder Canyon Trail I saw what appeared to be part of some type of old Indian dwelling. There was a flat area that had been shored up with large stones on the sides, and a large area chiseled out of rock to shield a fire from the elements. There was a narrow passageway between the rocks that led elsewhere, but I was moving pretty slowly as it was, so I didn’t stop to explore this too much. Pretty cool though. Knowing I wasn’t going to make it to Roger’s Canyon to see the cliff dwellings there, I should have stopped to check this out. But, I didn’t.

second water trail superstition wilderness march

second water trail near garden valley supes

Garden Valley

The trail became pretty steep after leaving the ruins behind, but fortunately it was short lived. Once at the “top”, I was awarded with one of the easiest sections of trail I can ever remember hiking. This section was the Garden Valley area, where the Second Water Trail meets the Black Mesa Trail. It was extremely flat and the trail was wide enough for a semi truck. In fact, it even looked as if there were ruts created from vehicles driving down it, although I can’t imagine how they would have gotten up here, as well as being illegal in a wilderness area. But it sure did look like an old dirt road at times.

weaver's needle in distance from black mesa trail


view from the black mesa trail in the sonoran desert

I hauled ass all the way to Little Boulder Canyon Creek, making great time along the Black Mesa Trail. The creek ended up being a pool of green water with all sorts of algae and insects in it. There was a slight flow to it but it looked really disgusting. This was where I planned to filter water, so time to get to it. This would be my first field test with my new Steri-Pen Opti Adventurer UV water purifier.

Little Boulder Canyon Creek in the superstition wilderness

filtering water from little boulder canyon creek

Unlike my MSR Miniworks water filter, the Steri-Pen Opti does nothing for the taste of the water, but it does purify the water and renders it safe to drink. It was slow going at first due to my bandana not allowing much water into the mouth of the bottle. I was using it to filer out any larger things like clumps of algae or an entire bug. I figured water would flow a little more freely into the bottle through the bandana, but the fabric was woven too closely together. I also carry one of those red cloth mechanic’s rags, so I tried that. Same problem. What I found out is that you need to squeeze the bottle while holding the rag over the mouth, forcing water in a little at a time. It takes about 20-30 seconds to fill the bottle in this way, whereas it would have taken 30 minutes letting the water seep in on it’s own. And the taste? Actually, I didn’t notice anything funky about it. I was pleasantly surprised, but still not a believer of the Opti just yet.

After filling my 2L bladder, another 2L platypus collapsible jug, and and 1 liter bottle, I was on my way. The land flattened out and had several intersecting trails and washes running through it. I could see how this area could be confusing to some. I saw two people on horseback in the distance on another trail. These would be the last people I see for two and a half days.

view from black top mesa

Once on the Bull Pass Trail, the trail starts climbing. Shortly after, another trail splits off and heads up Black Top Mesa, that’s what I was looking for. It was starting to get late in the day, probably after 5pm at this point. This was the final push to reach camp for today, but I was running out of gas. I coughed my way up almost a mile of steep trail before it finally began to level out. It was great to be done with the hard work for the day, now to find that campsite!

campsite on black top mesa in the superstition wilderness, arizona

I followed a faint trail to the Southeast end of the mesa and stumbled upon the campsite around 5:45. Damn, it was definitely worth the hike up here! The view of Weaver’s Needle and the rest of the Sonoran Desert was awe-inspiring. I could not have imagined a better place to camp for the night. There was plenty of space for my one man tent on level ground about 30ft from the cliff’s edge of the mesa. There was a nice fire pit up here and even some wood. After getting my tent up I got a fire built and ready to light when it became dark.

The sun was going down quickly, so I didn’t manage to get very many photos tonight. No big deal, I thought. I’ll get some good sunrise pics in the morning. I could see some clouds accumulating in the distance, but they didn’t look too menacing. I knew there was an 80% chance of rain tomorrow, but that’s all I knew. Then I got the fire going and began to think about dinner. I wasn’t too hungry which is really strange for me. I know I need to eat, so I cooked a few hot dogs over the fire anyway. I was only able to eat a few bites. Not good. My appetite had been greatly diminished over the last few days traveling to get here, but nothing like this. Things I normally love to eat just didn’t taste good, nor did I feel hungry at all. As much as it hurt me to do it, I threw my dinner in the fire and went to bed shortly thereafter.

I was eager to get to sleep and rest up for tomorrow. I tried to set the alarm on my watch but the battery died. This seemed like the tuning point of the trip, looking back on it. From here on out, it seemed like nothing went right. After not being able to sleep for about 45 minutes, the wind started to kick up. It was pretty exposed up here on this mesa, so the wind rocked my tent. My Tarptent Moment has an optional pole that helps with wind stabilization that I left behind to save weight. This was the first time I’d ever gone without it, and also the first time where I actually needed it.

Not long after the wind started howling, the rains followed. After several hours of rain, the ground beneath the tent became saturated. I had to pound the tent stakes into the ground using a rock, but now the soil was so wet that they could no longer hold the tent up in these high winds. Whooosh!! There goes the tent. One end of the tent was still staked down, and I was holding on to the other end as it flapped in the wind. I had to get out of the tent to put it back up, and didn’t have time to put on my rain gear, which was really just the jacket, no pants. Didn’t think I’d need ’em this time. So, I went out in the rain in just my boxers. No sense of getting all my clothes wet and having no way to dry them. I don’t know how cold it was, but my guess is low 40s, with winds gusting to maybe 40 mph. I had to hunt for some large rocks to put over the stakes in order to prevent them from pulling out of the ground. After 5 or 10 minutes I had the tent back up and reinforced, ready for another bout with the storm.

Back in the tent, my sleeping bag was partially wet along with half of my stuff. Fortunately for me it was almost all in dry sacks. I was cold and wet in my bag, and just when it matters most, my new Klymit Inertia X-Frame sleeping pad got a rip in it on it’s very first use. I don’t know how it happened, I assume it was from tossing and turning in the night somehow. The ground below was not sharp. So that sucks, because now I have no insulation from the ground, which was very cold. I eventually warmed up enough to maintain an occasional shiver throughout the night.


Day 2 – Friday March 8th, 2013

Miles Hiked – 0

Well, I’d like to say I woke up this morning, but I didn’t really have sleep to wake up from. I got an hour or so throughout the night, but tossed and turned as daylight finally broke. It was still stormy, with dark cloudy skies all around. It was still raining here and there and the winds were still very strong. At some point early this morning I remember seeing a few snowflakes. At times, Weaver’s Needle was completely engulfed by dark clouds. Very cool thing to see. Then it rained some more. Winds were still strong, and they ended up blowing the same side of the tent over again. I went outside again in my boxers,and spent about 10 minutes in the freezing cold rain further reinforcing my tent stakes. Awesome.

dark clouds over weaver's needle

I was still sick, and still coughing. My chest was beginning to hurt a lot when I coughed, and sometimes when I took a deep breath. With the weather being so terrible, not having the proper rain gear, and the fact that I just didn’t have to get somewhere in order to stay on schedule meant that I was just going to call this a zero day.

I spent most of the day in the tent. Today sucked. It was better than last night, anything was better than that. Once I realized my tent was not going to blow over any more, and had it pulled taut enough to stop flapping around, I was able to get a little sleep. I just couldn’t get comfortable laying directly on the ground. One of my extremities was constantly falling asleep, forcing me to toss and turn every few minutes. But it was rest nonetheless.

superstition wilderness break in the storm

black top mesa campsite, weavers needle in background

It didn’t stop raining until about 6pm today. I got out of the tent around this time and saw the sun peak out of the clouds for about 15 minutes. I grabbed my camera and took a few pictures. It was nice to be able to leave the tent and walk around for a while. But eventually the sun went away and it was just dark and cloudy once again. Back to the tent.

I barely ate anything today, maybe 1000 calories. That’s crazy low for me, as I usually eat 3200+ calories a day at home. I simply had no appetite. Also, everything I ate tasted bland. The food I did eat, I couldn’t even enjoy. I was also pretty dehydrated, my pee was a very dark yellow, almost brown. I was trying to conserve my water as there were no sources up here. I would have tried to collect rain water had I known I was going to be staying an extra day, but had no idea the storm would last so long.

stormy sunsdown in the superstition wilderness

As the sun went down, the weather still looked like it had potential to be nasty. Winds and rains were much less in frequency and intensity, but still the threat lingered. I hunkered down for another night, hoping the storm was over.


Day 3 – Saturday March 9th, 2013

Miles Hiked – 5.5

Route – Black Top Mesa to Boulder Canyon Campsite. Spanish Hieroglyphics Trail to Bull Pass Trail to Dutchmans Trail to Boulder Canyon Trail

morning day 3 superstition wilderness backpacking trip

The weather was still completely overcast and raining on and off. The winds were much less at this point. Still feeling like crap, I went back in the tent to try and sleep some more. After the weather remained fairly calm all morning, I decided to start heading back towards the trailhead. It was about noon now. The plan is to spend one more night on the trail, wherever I make it today. Then hike the rest out to the trailheead tomorrow, should be about 5 miles. I looked at the map and realized I had two routes I could take to get back. The first route was the Black Mesa Trail, which I took to get here. I’ve already been through there so I wanted to take a trail that I haven’t hiked yet. This trail was not originally part of my plan, but I decided to take the Boulder Canyon Trail because it was shorter.

trail on blacktop mesa winding towards weaver's needle

heading down black top mesa

It was nice to be heading down off the mesa. I needed water pretty badly, my pee was very dark. I was worried about the water level in the creeks though. With all the rain I was expecting the worst. Now down in the canyon floor, I could see that the little streams I crossed a few days earlier were now raging torrents, just as I feared. I topped off my water supply and rehydrated at the first creek crossing as I scoped out the water levels. This first crossing I was able to do by hopping rocks, as with the next several crossings.

crossing a creek in the superstition wilderness after heavy rains

water flowing faster after the rain

little boulder canyon creek area

As I made my way downstream along the creek in Boulder Canyon, the hopping rocks at the crossings was no longer possible. From here on out, the water was a bit deeper and I had to use my water shoes. The deepest water I crossed today was knee deep, and fast flowing in spots. After another several water crossings, I just kept the water shoes on while I hiked instead of switching from boots to water shoes every time. The crossings were just too frequent. There were about 30-40 creek crossings throughout the day. Had I known there were going to be this many water crossings, I would have just taken the Black Mesa Trail back.

I made it most of the way through Boulder Canyon before calling it quits. The light was starting to fade in the canyon, and I found a decent campsite. There were few campsites anywhere along the trail today, so I figured I’d better not push my luck and go farther. I set up camp quickly and purified more water from the creek. There wasn’t much to see here in this canyon, and I didn’t feel like making a fire tonight. I tried to eat a little and went to bed

I was not physically tired, surprisingly, but just mentally exhausted. Mostly, I was frustrated and disappointed at how my trip turned out. I put a lot of time into planning this trip, and I was really looking forward it. I rarely get sick, so this was really hard for me to accept.


Day 4 – Sunday March 10th, 2013

Miles Hiked – 5

Route – Boulder Canyon Trail to Canyon Lake TH.

superstition wilderness backpacking night 3 boulder canyon camp

Last night was nice. It was very calm and the sky was clear. Finally, I saw a few stars. It was cold though. My tent was drenched with condensation, and it was raining down on me occasionally throughout the night. I have the optional condensation liner for my Tarptent Moment, but opted to leave that at home this time to save some weight. I did not expect to have to deal with condensation in the desert, as it’s (normally) so dry. The sun doesn’t reach down into the canyon until later, so it was still quite cold as I packed up camp. After eating a quick nibble of breakfast, I was on my way.

boulder canyon creek morning day 4

superstition wilderness boulder canyon

The skies were blue and sunny, and it looked like it was going to be a beautiful day. About 2 minutes down the trail, I encountered the first water crossing of the day. I put on my water shoes and kept them on for the rest of the water crossings. Only about a 12 mile north of my camp, I passed a few other hikers still in camp. These were the only other people I saw camping out here, and the first people I’d seen since day 1. We exchanged nods as I hiked past, on a mission to get to my car.

tree in labarge creek

superstition wilderness battleship mountain from labarge creek

view of canyon lake from he trail

There were about 8 creek crossings this morning before I was sure I had crossed the last one, at La Barge Creek. Finally, I was hiking up out of Boulder Canyon. Only a few miles left. I was expecting to see a bunch of day hikers now, but I didn’t see a soul until 3/4 mile from the trailhead. Looking at the peaks to the north, which I believe were Four Peaks, they were all snow capped. I am pretty certain that they did not have snow before the storm a few days ago. The elevation in the Four Peaks is a few thousand feet higher than where I was.

view of arizona's canyon lake from hywy 88

canyon lake in arizona's superstition wilderness

I made it back to my car around 11 or 12. After washing up in the bathroom at the marina, I changed into some fresh clothes and hit the road, beginning the long 30 hour drive back home. The drive on hwy 88 and 87 was awesome, certainly my favorite part of my entire drive across country. Highway 260 north of Payson is a cool drive as well.

snow capped Four Peaks mountains in march 2013

Throughout my drive home, I pulled cactus thorns out of my arm and side of my knee. In fact, I still had thorns in me a few weeks after the hike!


Final Thoughts

Well, I’m sure you can see where this is going. I was really looking forward to doing a monster hike in the ‘supes, but sickness and weather conspired against me. I should have stayed at home on the count of the sickness, but after all that time planning, what would you do? I really can’t believe how good I felt physically, despite barely eating or drinking anything. I was certainly not feeling 100%, but I normally don’t function well when I’m very hungry. My bag of food was about 3/4 full after I finished the hike. Normally, I eat every damn thing in the bag!

The vegetation here is very thorny. Almost every single plant here wants to stab you, so hiking off trail would be a nightmare. I’m glad I brought my water shoes, as I almost left them behind. I wasn’t counting on a huge rainstorm hitting the desert.

Being sick took all the fun out of this trip, but the weather was the icing on the cake. Gear failures also added to the misery. Nothing went right for me on this hike. Despite all the mishaps, I’d love to come back to the Superstition Wilderness someday. In fact, I can’t think of anything better than getting a second chance to complete this hike, exactly as I planned it: 88 miles in 6 days though the Superstition Wilderness, solo. I will do this again someday, but for now, this trip will serve as a reminder that things don’t always go as planned in the wilderness.

For more pictures of this hike, check out the complete Superstition Wilderness Photo Gallery.




Like what you see?