Big Bend Revisited II

The varying shades of Big Bend National Park along Old Maverick Road

Day 3

On Day 3 of our brief visit, we decided to do a short hike into Tuff Canyon and then head into the town of Study Butte for fuel and groceries.

Tuff Canyon Trail is a short walk down into the canyon formed by the Blue Creek as it fought its way down to the Rio Grande River from the Chisos Mountains. Once you complete the short descent into the canyon, it’s a nice walk along the gravelly river bed floor up towards the “beginning” of the canyon. Formed through volcanic action many years ago, the canyon’s rock dates back to 29 million years ago. Tuff is volcanic ash that has hardened into rock and is light in color – hence the almost “white” hue to some layers of the canyon walls. It’s interesting to note the texture of the “tuff.” Embedded in the tuff are harder rocks that gives it a “concrete-like” appearance with pebbles and small rock mixed into it. We noticed holes in the surface of the canyon walls and wondered how they were formed. I read that the tuff erodes easily and allows the small rocks to fall out of the wall leaving a hole in the wall!

Tuff Canyon
Gravelly creek bed
Found a pool of water in a bowl-shaped depression of the canyon!
Creosote bush blooming in the canyon micro-climate
Loved the way this mesquite tree was growing and reaching out toward the light!
Great canyon stroll!

After leaving Tuff Canyon, we drove to the west entrance of the park and on towards Study Butte. While this is a very small community, it does have an awesome little grocery store! We discovered this on our last visit to the area. The Cottonwood General Store sells a little bit of everything – from food to garden supplies. Their food selection is incredible for such a small town with lots of organic choices and prices that are very reasonable for its size. For a few items, it sure beats the 80-mile trip to Alpine!

After taking care of our chores in Study Butte and on our way back to the campsite, we decided to drive the Old Maverick Road. This is a 14-mile stretch of dirt road running from the western gate of Big Bend to Santa Elena Canyon through the “Terlingua Creek badlands.” Designated as an “improved” road, it is said to be passable by most vehicles except in rainy weather and can be very washboarded. We talked with someone prior to embarking on the drive who indicated it took them about an hour. We must have driven much slower due to the conditions than this person as it took us close to two hours!! While I’m glad we included this on our to-do list, never again!! It was more heavily trafficked than I anticipated and very dusty!! We even passed by an unfortunate soul who was changing a flat tire after picking up a sharp rock in one of the creek beds where the road passes through at times. We kept our fingers crossed that we did not succumb to this undesirable fate!

Terlingua Creek Badlands
Dust from other vehicles picking up the late afternoon sun glow

We arrived back at our campsite just as the sun was setting – thankful that our bumpy ride on the Old Maverick Road did not vibrate loose anything important to the operation of the truck!

Day 4

Our last full day in the park I scheduled a hike on the Dodson Trail. One access point for this trail is at the Homer Wilson Ranch on the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive in the western part of the park. We have visited the historic ranch site on previous trips but had not hiked any of the trail leaving from this point.

The Dodson Trail is part of the rigorous Outer Mountain Loop trail network – a popular route for backpackers. The trail itself is 10-miles long. We did an out and back hike that ended up being approximately 5 miles. There are parts of the trail where rock cairns are used to mark the trail through a wash which can be difficult to follow – just be aware!

Homer Wilson Ranch house
From another view

The Dodson Trail starts near the ranch house which is accessed via a short hiking trail from the small parking lot on the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. This ranch house was part of a large ranching operation owned by Homer Wilson and was significant in bringing development to the area back in the day. It was operating until the early 1940’s when the land was deeded to the State of Texas when the land was acquired for establishing a park. The house above was occupied by a foreman who worked for the ranch. It is one of the few ranch structures remaining after the park was established and is on the National Register for Historic Places.

Heading out…..
Start of the Dodson Trail
Sotol – Dasylirion wheeleri

This area of the park is abundant with the Common Sotol plant – also referred to as Desert Spoon and Desert Candle. The leaves of this plant have traditionally been used to make baskets, mats, ropes and paper. The native population also prepared an alcoholic beverage from the flower heads.

Found this nest in one of the sotol plants. I think perhaps it is a cactus wren nest given how it seems to match the description of their nest type and shape.

Bird’s nest in a creosote bush
Another adorable rainbow cactus!

The colors of the topography along the trail were amazing! A geologist’s paradise!

Jim admiring the scenery
Abundance of rock colors in the washes along the trail
The clouds were extremely impressive on this day
Just look at those clouds – ever changing!
Seedpods on a Creosote Bush – they look so soft!!
Strawberry Hedgehog Cactus

After we returned to the campground, I walked down to an access trail leading to the Rio Grande River. It runs alongside the campground but is not very visible due to plant growth. I was so surprised by how “small” the river is right here. The opposite bank is Mexico – you can literally throw a stone across to the other side.

Rio Grande River near Cottonwood Campground – downriver view
Rio Grande River – upriver view

That night, our last in Big Bend, we were rewarded with an incredibly colorful sunset!! The sky was on fire!

It was sad to leave Big Bend but I was excitedly looking forward to our next big stop – a place that has been on my bucket list for a few years – Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Southern Arizona. But, I’m getting ahead of myself! We made a quick stop at Davis Mountain State Park before heading west……

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