We spent four days camping and hiking in the interior of Big Bend Ranch State Park. This park encompasses 300,000 acres of rugged and beautiful mountains, canyons and high desert. The park land was formerly a cattle ranching operation but when repeated droughts brought about the demise of the ranching operation the state of Texas acquired the land for recreational purposes and created BBRSP.
This park is very primitive. There are no paved roads – many of the roads are single track roads that require 4WD and high clearance. There are no water, elctricity or toilet facilities within the park except at the Sauceda Ranger Station.
We were able to camp on a vista at an elevation of 3600 feet above sea level with a 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains including Mexico to the southeast. The night sky is a Class 1 Dark Sky – the darkest rating – spectacular.
The hiking opportunities are numerous with a range of hikes from desert floor hikes to canyon rim views. We had complete solitude on most of our hikes as the many of the trail heads require a 4WD vehicle for access.
This park is probably not for everyone because of the primnitive and rugged conditions. Having said that this park is a treasure – a place where you can get off the grid and enjoy beauty, silence, incredible sunrises, sunsets and night sky.
Big Bend National Park is our next stop.
Be seeing you!
P.S. We have included two photos of the Green Strawberry Hedgehog Cactus. This a variety of cactus that we had never seen before. The flowering leaves are edible and are supposed to taste like strawberries. This cactus is found predominately in this part of Texas and a small area of southern New Mexico. We think it will be a beautiful specimen when it fully blooms.
During our time at Big Bend NP we used the town of Terlingua (pop. 58) as our home base. Terlingua is only about twelve miles north of the Study Butte (stew-dee) entrance into the park and has a well stocked general store (Cottonwood GS) for provisions and a half dozen restaurants and shops in addition to motel, camping and RV accommodations. Terlingua has two paved roads – FM 170 which runs east to west terminating at Route 118 which runs north to south from Alpine to the park entrance.
Terlingua came into existence around 1900 after the discovery of cinnabar. The commercial value of cinnabar derives from the extraction of quicksilver, aka mercury. Shortly thereafter about a half dozen mining companies staked claims and set up operations. Over time the companies were consolidated as the Chisos Mining Company but still became bankrupt in 1937 due to falling market prices. During WW2 several mines were re-opened as heightened demand caused prices to rise but by 1947 the mines were again closed.
Many of the miners that worked these mines were Mexicans who came north for the work. Many of the descendants of the Mexican miners still live in Terlingua and the surrounding area. We visited the Terlingua cemetery where a number of the miners who died working the mines are buried and which also is the final resting place for many victims of the 1918 flu epidemic. The cemetery is still in use today.
The town itself is pretty ramshackle which frankly is part of the charm. The local residents are very laid back and friendly. The Terlingua Ghost Town is where most of the restaurants and shops are located – scattered amongst the ruins of the mining company buildings and housing. Many of the current businesses occupy the abandoned mining company structures.
We found Terlingua to be an excellent spot for visiting BBNP if you decide to stay outside the park and had a lot of fun after our hikes unwinding and meeting people in the restaurants and bars in the ghost town area.
Be seeing you!
P.S. Terlingua has the most stunning sunrises which you can watch from most anywhere in town as the sun rises over the Chisos Mountains, Class 1 dark skies for awe inspiring star gazing and the loudest packs of coyotes we have ever heard.
After our terrific stay in BBRSP we journeyed east on FM 170 (farm to market) alternatively known as Farm Road 170. The local folks just call it the River Road. It is also a segment of the Texas Mountain Trail. Regardless of what name you reference it by it is an absolutely stunning drive. The road is an undulating strip of asphalt winding its way between the mountains of BBRSP on one side and the Rio Grande and Sierra Madre Oriental Mountains on the other.
Big Bend National Park is an expansive park with remarkable diversity in regard to the terrain and species of wildlife and flora. While it is wild and rugged it is far more accessible than Big Bend Ranch State Park. There are visitor centers, a gas station, drinking water, paved scenic drives and more people. The one thing that both parks have in common is the spectacular scenery.
We would rate this park as a “must visit” national park. A couple things to keep in mind – this is not a summer park due to the South Texas location and it is a spring break destination for many Texas families (making mid-March the busiest time).
Re-assessing our itinerary based on developments with Covid-19.
We spent a day at CCNP exploring the Big Room which is one of the 119 caverns that have been discovered so far. The Big Room is the 5th largest limestone cavern in North America. It is 4000 feet long, 255 feet high and over 600 feet wide! The Big Room presents a fantastical display of columns, stalactites, stalagmites, draperies, soda straws and popcorn. You can actually see the formations happening as water draining downward leaves deposits of calcium carbonate – quite fascinating to see this happening real time.
You can reach the Big Room by elevator or hike in via the natural entrance to the cavern. We hiked down the series of switchbacks which eventually take you down 800 feet to the cavern floor. We thought the most breathtaking views we experienced were on the hike down – so we were glad we hiked down. We did however opt to take the elevator back up to the surface.
While this national park is largely about the massive cavern system below the surface there are a number of good hikes in the canyons within the park and a terrific 9.5 mile loop drive (unpaved) through Walnut Canyon.
We recommend a visit to this park in conjunction with other attractions in the area but not as a single destination. Carlsbad is adjacent to Guadalupe Mountains National Park and can easily be combined into a single destination trip.
One thing to remember is there is no lodging or camping within CCNP. It really is a day use facility. We camped on public lands in the Chihuahuan Desert about five miles south of the park – primitive camping.
Be seeing you!
P.S. If you travel from the north avoid Texas Route 652 if at all possible. Route 652 begins at the New Mexico – Texas border and connects to Route 285. Route 652 runs right through the heart of the Mid-Continent Oil Field which is in the middle of a major boom. The roads are a mess and the two lane road is congested with heavy trucks driven by crazed people!
Video Clip – Camp Site Chihuahuan Desert, Mile Marker 10
After our stay in ABQ we began our journey to southern New Mexico to visit White Sands National Park and Carlsbad Caverns National Park. We travel the backways as much as we can in order to take in as much natural beauty as possible. Fortunately, New Mexico offers many opportunities to travel overland on dirt roads and trails through public lands managed by the BLM and NFS.
From ABQ we journeyed overland via the Quebradas Backway which took us through rolling hills and canyons. Beautifully striated ridgelines are in view to the west throughout the length of the backway.
After completing the backway we continued further south stopping in Truth or Consequences before camping north of Las Cruces. Truth or Consequences was originally named named Hot Springs for the 40 different hot springs located in the town. The town changed its name to Truth or Consequences in 1950 to in order to have the radio show of the same name aired in town for the shows tenth anniversary. Our only recommendation if you find yourself in T or C is to stop into Ingo’s Art Cafe, have a cup of coffee and meet Ingo.
White Sands National Park is the largest gypsum dunefield in the world. It is truely unique with its ever changing landscape of wind sculpted dunes that cover 275 square miles of the Tularosa Basin. The other unique feature is that the national park sits inside the White Sands Missile Range. When missiles are being fired the park closes for obvious safety reasons – check before you go so you are not disappointed.
We think the park can be experienced in one day by driving the loop road and taking a couple of hikes into the dunes. You will also see kids sledding on the dunes.
After leaving White Sands we traveled up into the Sacramento Mountains of the Lincoln National Forest. The Sacramento Mountains rise right up out of the basin floor to an elevation of over 8000 feet above sea level. There are a number of vista points that provide surreal views of the White Sands dunefield below.
Lincoln NF has hundreds of hiking trails through out the forest. The town of Cloudcroft sits at the top of the range, a cute mountain town that is a good base camp for hiking in the forest and offers several good restaurants and coffee shops. High Altitude outfitters is an excellent shop for anything you need for your outdoor activities and Black Bear Coffee will get you caffeinated. A number of the trails utilize the railbed from the former Almagordo & Sacramento Mountain Railroad which hauled timber down through the Fresnel Canyon. The railroad shutdown in 1947 but a number of the impressive trestles are still standing and can be seen while hiking. We also came upon several abandoned homesteads while hiking in the forest.
From Mesa Verde National Park we traveled south into New Mexico spending our first night in Farmington (fika @ Studio Bake Shoppe). From Farmington we journeyed due south on NM371 through the Navajo Nation to access the Bisti Badlands. As wilderness areas by defintion allow no motorized traffic the only access from the parking area is by foot. There are no trails or markers of any sort. So bring your compass and utilize your gps. Line of sight navigation is impossible as once you enter into the outcroppings you are in a maze of strange sandstone, shale, coal, mudstone and silt formations. There are a plethora of hoodoos and just strange looking features that evolve based on the ongoing wind and water erosion that takes place with these soft materials.
The closest lodging is in Farmington which is apx. 40 miles north. There is no developed camping within the vicinty of the access area. However, exploring here is an easy day trip from Farmington. We boondocked in the wilderness area.
Our next segment will be at the Chaco NHP to visit more ancesteral sites assuming the road is passable in the aftermath of the major storm the occurred overnight.
After departing Yosemite we traveled through northern Nevada to return to Oregon and spend the last week of OTR 3.0 in the high desert of eastern Oregon. We had originally planned to spend time here after leaving Boise but the temperatures in the Alvord Desert persuaded us to defer visiting until later in the trip.
The area around the Steens is known as the Oregon “Outback” with good reason. Steens sits within Harney Countywhich is the ninth largest county in the United States, spanning more than 10,000 square miles. The population is a mere 7600 people of which4400 live in two adjacent towns. Because the population is so sparse Harney County operates a public boarding high school in Crane, Oregon. It is one of a handful of public boarding high schools remaining in the United States.
Economically this area is predominately supported by cattle ranching and farming. There are 14 head of cattle for every person living in the county. The cattle and farming economy has been in conflict with the federal government on a number of occasions. Federal agencies (BLM, USFWS, USDA) manage about 75% of the land in the county. Some of the ranchers believe that they should have access to the public land without having to pay for grazing rights.
The conflict came to a head in 2016 the Malheur Wildlife Refuge headquarters was occupied by Amon Bundy and a group of armed anti-government activists. The occupation lasted for 40 days and culminated with the death of one protestor and the arrest of many of the activists.
Geologically the Steens formed as a result of glacial and volcanicactivity which has created a fascinating landscape of impressive glacial gorges and volcanic cones and craters. The BLM has created a number of auto tour routes through the craters and up onto Steens Mountain. The road to the summit is the highest road in Oregon at just over 9700 feet. We drove both the Diamond Craters and Steens Mountain loops.
There are also numerous hikes throughout the area which provide views of the gorges from the rims and access into the gorges.
From the Steens we drove north and then circled back south to spend time on the eastern slope of the Steens and the Alvord Desert. The Alvord is a small (84 sq. miles) desert that is suitable for driving during the dry season. It is not uncommon to see small planes land on the playa. The area shows up as Princeton, Oregon on a map but there is no town or station – just cattle ranches and BLM administered land including the desert playa. Opportunities for solitude abound. An evening by the campfire brings a miraculous night sky and the howls and yips of coyotes in the distance.
During the day the view of the already snow covered Steens rising from the desert floor from the eastern side was quite impressive. There are several excellent hikes from the desert side up through creeks into the Steens.The Alvord Desert sits in a rain shadow created by the north-south running Steens Mountain. We watched rain and snow fall on the mountain and dissipate before reaching the playa.
We definitely recommend driving out on to the playa. You can access the playa at Alvord Hot Springs for a five dollar fee or if you have a high clearance vehicle for free about two miles south of the hot springs. Driving on the playa is exhilarating – you can drive as fast as you like or as fast as your vehicle will go or as fast as you are comfortable going – your call – there are no rules!!! By the way, the hot springs are terrific! Sort of a ramshackle affair but the 130 degree water is very enjoyable and therapeutic. Nude bathing is allowed if you are so inclined – thankfully we did not encounter any nudists during our soak!
It takes some time to get to the Orgeon Outback of Harney County but we found the experience more than worth the effort it takes to get there. One thing to keep in mind is that many of the roads are not paved in this area – the roads are very rutted and rough on the Steen and Diamond Craters Loops – and you and your vehicle will be absolutely covered withdust!
Heading across northern Nevada to Salt Lake City and our flight home.
We continued down the coast to the town of Arcata after leaving the Redwoods National and State Parks. Arcata is home to Humbolt State University and very much has the look and feel of a small college town, albeit sitting on the Pacific coast. The weather favored us with a couple more delightful beach days of which we took full advantage.
From Arcata we stopped in Eureka to visit Bandit Savory and Sweet for coffee and tea before setting out for the town of Ferndale. Ferndale is a picturesque town with a quaint main street and beautiful Victorian homes. The town has been used in many television shows and movies. Lots of boutique stores for those so inclined.
After a walk through town we decided to tackle the “Wildcat”. The “Wildcat” is a narrow, twisty, sometimes paved road that starts in Ferndale and winds up and over the northern King Mountain Range and then drops down to the ocean at Cape Mendocino. This area is the only coastal wilderness in all of California. There are no major roads and literally no development. Many automobile commercials are filmed on this road in order to take advantage of the spectacular scenery.
We followed the road to Mattole Beach where we were able to camp on the beach. It is incredibly beautiful but completely primitive – no facilities. The combination of the sound of the surf and the night sky is mesmerizing!
From the beach we followed Mattole Road to Humbolt Redwoods State Park. We were awed by our experience at Redwoods National and State Park. The Redwood Sequoias at Humbolt are even more impressive than what we had seen previously. The trees in Humbolt are protected from the wind by the King Mountain Range and receive far more sun than the coastal redwoods further north. As a result they are even taller than the coastal trees. If you only have time to visit one park we recommend Humbolt.
This area is all part of Humbolt County. While the area is wild and scenic it is economically depressed. We observed many “travelers” in the small towns. There is an edginess with so many travelers about in such small towns (many are transient pickers).
Humbolt County has been home to a significant number of small marijuana farmers since the 1970s. As this industry was vital to the local economy the police in the county did not generally enforce laws regarding the growing and selling of marijuana.
The legalization of marijuana has changed all of that dramatically. Officials are now obligated to regulate the industry. The long time illegal growers that operated on a completely cash basis must now get licensed, follow environmental regulations, pay taxes and put their transient pickers on the payroll.
While a number of farmers have quit the business we still saw many marijuana operations as we drove through the remote Lost Coast area.
We highly recommend touring the Lost Coast. It is some of the most beautiful and undeveloped coastline that remains anywhere in the states.
‘Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow’ …or we departed Ashland, home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, for the Northern California coast and the majesty of the Redwood forests in Redwood National and State Parks.
The Southern Oregon and Northern California coast is home to the vast majority of coastal Redwood trees in existence today. These trees are as tall as 360 feet, with a trunk diameter of 30 feet and may live up to 2000 years.
Just a fraction of the old growth Redwoods remain standing today as logging of these magnificent trees continued as late as the 1960s. Today the majority of Coastal Redwoods reside within state and federal lands and are protected by law. Additionally, state and federal agencies are working to ensure the survival of new growth Redwoods through careful management of the environment surrounding the current generation of trees.
Hiking and camping within a Redwood forest was an experience that reminded us of how small we are as human beings and how temporary our stay here is in regard to the natural order of all things. These silent giants dwarf everything around them and demand reverence and silence as you walk among them – we cannot articulate why – they just do.
There are many camping opportunities within the forest and along the coast from which to visit and enjoy the Redwoods, so come and enjoy the beauty.
We will spend a few more days on the coast before moving inland to go to Fresno for repairs to the Beast. After that, weather permitting we will visit Yosemite National Park.
After leaving Hat Point and the breathtaking views of Hells Canyon and the Snake River we followed the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway to Joseph, Oregon. Joseph is a small town (pop. 1081) named after Chief Joseph, the leader of the Nez Pearce. The town was historically highly dependent on agriculture and timber as the major drivers of its economy. Tourism and three local bronze foundaries have replaced agriculture and timber.
Joseph is a gem. Despite its small size it has a number of fine restaurants, coffee shops and interesting retail stores. The town is the classic main street with no traffic lights and diagonal parking (no chain stores here!).
We stayed at a brand new hotel called the Jennings located in a turn of the century brick building that was formerly…you guessed it…the Jennings Hotel. A local artist by the name of Greg Hennes brought the hotel back to life through a Kickstarter funding campaign. Each room is unique – designed by a different artist or designer.
The Jennings also has an artist in-residency program and a cooking and crafts school. A very cool and fun place to stay. The second floor has a covered porch where you can sit and watch everything happening on Main Street or take in the Wallowa Mountains that lie just outside the town.
The Wallowa-Whitman NF offers an abundance of hiking, fishing, equestrian and camping opportunities. After leaving the Jennings we ventured into the Wallowa by journeying south some 20 miles into the Lostine Canyon. We camped along the banks of the Wild and Scenic Lostine River from where we could access a number of challenging hikes that provided us with the opportunity to climb high into the Wallowas for views of the Hurrincane Divide and wading in glacially formed lakes surrounded by granite cirques.
We left Lostine Canyon exhausted but happy!
We completed the Hells Canyon Scenic Byway with stops in Enterprise, Wallowa and La Grande before departing further north for the city of Pendleton. Pendleton is the home of Pendleton Woolen Mills and very much the classic cowboy town.
Our visit to Pendleton coincided with the 109th Pendleton Round-Up. The Round-Up takes place over a full week with many activities – parades, rodeo events, pageants, dances and concerts. Rodeo contestants come from all over to participate and the round-up includes a Professional Bull Riders (PBR) competition.
We extended our stay to watch the womens barrel racing event. These riders and their horses have no fear. The speed and power of the horses is amazing – particularly to the unitiated like us.
We are working our way west from Pendleton with the expectation (at least for now) that we make the Oregon coast about a week from now.