In March of 2020 OTR made our first visit toBBNP. Unfortunately, our timing was bad — the Covid Pandemic had finally made its way to Texas and the park closed the gates. We needed to leave the park after just two days.
BBNP was created in 1944 by Congressional Act and signed by then President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The deed for the park covered 700,000 acres of Chihuahuan Desert along the Rio Grande. Today, the park encompasses a little over 800,000 acres.
The park is one of the least visited National Parks, although it had its highest visitation in 2021. We can only surmise why this would be when this park offers so much stunning beauty – the Chiso Massive, desert, canyons and dark sky. There are probably several reasons – its remote location in Far West Texas abutting the Mexican border, the heat for much of the year and a lot of terrain accessible only by very rough roads.
Because we were entering the park from the north we decided to immediately drive the backcountry loop out to see the Dagger Yuca Forest. Fortunately, our timing was perfect— the Yucca were blooming.
From Dagger Flats we needed to secure our permits for camping in the backcountry. Backcountry camping in BBNP requires traversing rough 4WD drive roads and means that you will be on your own and in some cases in a very remote area of the park.
For our first night of camping we selected an area deep in the southeastern area of the park which is the desert floor (1700 feet above sea level). We followed the River Road East to its terminus a few miles north of the Rio Grande; the 25 mile journey took about 2.5 hours (slow going but exciting).
Our journey took us past an abandoned (but still toxic) mercury mine and provided phenomenal views of the Chisos Mouontains. Additionally, we encountered a herd of horses that we thought were feral but later learned are horses from Mexico that wandered across the border.
Our camping perch was a short distance from the Mariscal Mountains so we were able to get an early start hiking in the Mariscal Canyon and avoid the afternoon heat where the temperatures reach 95F this time of year.
We also learned that in addition to horses plenty of cattle from Mexico have found there way across the Rio Grande. When we later asked a ranger about the cattle he indicated that there are over 1000 head of cattle from Mexico in the park.
After our hike we retraced our route back east on the River Road until were back on asphalt and then motored north to drive up through the Chisos and into the Chisos Basin.
After taking in the views of the Chisos from the basin we headed back south to our camping spot for night two. We had another great camping spot in the shadow of the Chillicotal Mountain. From our camping area we had a 360 degree view – the views to the south were of mountains across the Rio Grande in Mexico.
Our campsite at Chilicotal was only about four miles from the Pine Canyon trailhead so we again got an early start to be off the trail before the worst of the heat.
After finishing our hike up into the spectacular Spring Canyon we circled up across the northern section of the park to connect with the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. The scenic drive connected us to southwestern area of the parkalong the Rio Grande.
The four photos directly above are the of the Rio Grande. The far shore is Mexico. The canyon in the final photo bottom right is Saint Elena. The left canyon wall is Mexico while the right canyon wall is the United States.
After cooling off in the Rio Grande we connected with the MaverickRoad to head north for our final night of camping at a site nearTerlingua Abaya. Terlingua Abayo is an abandoned town on the banks of Terlingua Creek. The town was at one time a thriving agricultural community supplying produce for local ranchers and miners employed by the Quicksilver mines in the area.The town existed from 1900 until around 1930 when the mines ceased operations.
On day four we traveled north on the Maverick Road to exit the park and make our way north for a two day stay in Alpine. Before heading to Alpine we spent part of the day in Terlingua Ghost Town — home to Espresso Y Poco Mas — our coffee hangout from our previous visit to BBNP.
The TAT is a 4200 mile transcontinental route comprised largely of dirt and gravel roads. The trail is the creation of Sam Carrero, an avid off-road motorcyclist with a passion for exploring and tackling challenging terrain.
Sam began the process of mapping out this coast to coast off-pavement adventure in 1984. It took him 12 years to put the route together. The route utilzes only publicly accessible roads and trails, however, it is not intended for standard vehicles or standard motorcycles. Many portions of the route require 4WD and high clearance and significant portions are single lane only at best.
We had a blast driving the Mississippi portion of the TAT. Several nights of rain made some portions of the trail muddy but still passable. The notorious County Road 555 was partially washed out (see video below) and after a driver/navigator consultation we retreated to find a road in better condition and then rejoin the TAT!
The Mississippi portion of the TAT is relatively short at about 300 miles but it provided us with a fun overlanding experience and the opportunity to travel through some very rural areas of Mississippi. The majority of the trail takes the traveler through large swaths of pine forest, some farm land and the occasional cluster of homes and a small church.
This part of Mississippi is known as the Pine Belt. When we think of the timber industry we tend to think about the massive timberlands of the West and forget that Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia are still major producers of timber. Timber is the second largest agricultural commodity in Mississippi (poultry is number one).
Another observation from our trip across the state on the trail is that there is significant poverty in rural Mississippi (Mississippi has the highest poverty rate of the fifty states and DC). While we only passed through a small number of rural communities, we saw that people are living in very impoverished circumstances. A number of these small communities appear to be segregated and that the most impoverished of these communities are inhabited by Black residents.
The photos below are from a small town that we crossed through while traversing the state. The town has a population of approximately 448 people and is predominately Black (85%). The poverty rate for Blacks is 52% and for males 60%.
The balance of this post will provide a brief recap of our experiences in the towns we visited that are not along the TAT.
Corinth —- home of the slugburger
Corinth is a handsome town (pop. 14,000) in the northeastern corner of Mississippi and was our jumping off point for the TAT. We had planned on visiting Corinth even before our decision to tackle the TAT. The town is steeped in Civil War history (First Battle of Corinth and Second Battle of Corinth) and has 18 structures or locations listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
But alas, the charm and history of Corinth had not driven our desire to visit the town — we must confess it was our (well, honestly, for just one of us) obsession with eating a Northeast Mississippi specialty – the Slugburger. Additionally, we needed to try the Slugburger at Borroum’s Drug Store and Fountain because Borroum’s has the best Slugburger in Corinth. Borroum’s is the oldest drug store in Mississippi and still operated by the same family (the business was started shortly after the end of the Civil War when Jack Borroum arrived after being released from a Union Army prison camp).
What is a Slugburger, you ask? Slugburgers are a mixture of ground pork, soy flour, and spices. The mixture is flattened into a patty and deep fried in vegetable oil. The patty is placed on a hamburger bun with a garnish of mustard, onion, and pickle. Developed during the Great Depression when money and meat were both scarce, slug burgers were made with a mixture of beef and pork, potato flour as an extender, and spices, then fried in animal fat. Mrs. Weeks, credited with creating one of the first, found the “burgers” were a way to make meat go a little farther at the family hamburger stand. Selling for a nickel, sometimes called a slug, the imitation hamburgers became known as Slugburgers.
New Albany-or-the crash
We popped off the TAT to visit New Albany and cycle the Tanglefoot Trail. The Tanglefoot is a 44 mile paved bicycle trail that was formerly a line of the Gulf and Ship Island Railroad (which still operates today as a subsidiary of the Rock Island Rail). As an historical aside, the railroad was founded by Colonel Willam Clark Faulkner, great-grandfather of author William Faulkner. The line was conceived as a way to move timber to the Gulf. The trail is named after the steam locomotive Tanglefoot which was used during the construction of the line.
The Tanglefoot is an award winning trail – noted for the scenery and small towns that can be visited directly from the trail. We set out from the trailhead in New Albany heading due south. The ride was delightful – forest, farm fields, numerous creek crossings and lots of wildlife.
Unfortunately, our delightful ride became less so when the smarter, wiser and better looking member of this partnership crashed after getting sideways in some loose gravel at the edge of the trail. Maria managed to finish the remaining 15 miles of the ride but was unable to walk on her own power once off the bike.
Fortunately, after a visit to the local urgent care and a consultation (and more xrays) with an orthopedist the next day in Oxford, it was determined that Maria did not have a fractured patella, just a severe contusion. So we purchased crutches, swallowed some pain meds and got back on the road two days later. Ten days later we were back on the bikes! Phew!
Oxford —- or everybody loves ole miss
We were fortunate in one sense that Oxford was a short drive from New Albany and is home to the University of Mississippi School of Medicine and Specialty Orthopedic Group. After Maria received the good news that there was no fracture, we decided to stay in Oxford for several days and let Maria begin her recuperation.
Oxford worked well for us as our time there allowed Maria to get rest and stay off her feet for several days. So, perhaps needless to say, we spent most of our time in Oxford drinking coffee and tea, drinking beverages other than coffee and tea, and dining. The good news – as home to Ole Miss – there are plenty of choices from a culinary perspective.
We would say that while the town is very attractive and has plenty of dining options, we found Oxford more touristy than we expected and we are of the opinion the hype about how cool the town is overstated. Perhaps, we just missed it with Maria being less than one hundred percent.
Taylor grocery — “eat or we both starve!”
While we were in Oxford, a number of folks we met recommended the quick trip to Taylor to dine at Taylor Grocery. Taylor Grocery is billed as the best catfish in the South, and we would not argue with that claim. The building was erected in 1889 and we are pretty certain that not many improvements have been made to the property (part of the charm – see photographs below). We also had the good fortune to meet the owners, Lynn, Debbie and Sarah Margaret Hewlett. Lynn joined us at our dinner table, making sure we sampled most of the menu items—we had a great evening! We have included our note to Sarah below. For more information on the storied history of Taylor Grocery click on the link: https://taylorgrocery.com/
Hello Sarah— We had the great pleasure of dining at Taylor Grocery this evening (3/31/22) and wanted to send our appreciation for the hospitality and outstanding meal. From the moment we met Lynn on the porch playing his dobro, we knew we were in a special place. We ordered an appetizer and catfish dinners from our friendly and helpful server; and we also received complimentary sides of gumbo, rice and beans, and fried okra. And we managed to eat chocolate cobbler, too! Everything was delicious. On our way into the restaurant, we were chatting with a local gentleman who inquired about our van. When we went to pay for our dinner, we were so surprised to hear that he had already taken care of it-Mississippi Hospitality! We are from Connecticut and have been traveling throughout the US in our van six months annually for the last four years, and Taylor, MS will always hold a special place in our hearts. Hopefully, we will we back again. With our kindest regards to all at Taylor Grocery, Maria & Stephen
We hope you found this post from the first leg of our exploration of Mississippi interesting. Our next post regarding Mississippi will chronicle our time in the Mississippi Delta.
After camping in Chama, New Mexico, we followed Route 17 along the Colorado/New Mexico border to access the Carson NF for our trip south. Unfortunately, the heavy snow in the Colorado mountains had reached into northern New Mexico. After testing the road we decided that prudent risk taking required that we delay our start. As a result we traveled to Taos and spent several days exploring there (see posts Taos, The High Road to Taos and Taos is Art) while waiting for the roads to dry out and harden.
The above photo is from the KML file we overlaid on Google Earth to assist with navigation as we traveled through the forest and mountainous terrain.
Overlanding is currently defined as “self-reliant overland travel by vehicle where the journey is more important than the destination.” Overlanding has gained popularity in the United States over the last several years and particularly since the pandemic interrupted standard modes of travel.
Our trips over the last three plus years have been a mix of overland adventures and standard touring. Overlanding is not for everyone due to the risks and the need for specialized gear (high clearance, 4wd, skid plates, winch, extended range, etc.) Overlanding also requires patience – it is often very slow going on rough, narrow, rutted roads and trails.
Case in point – the photo above is Forest Road 45B – after driving a number of miles down this rough and narrow route the trail became impassable. We we forced to back up the hill until we could turn the vehicle while causing the least damage possible.
EL RITO (pop. 808)
After two days on the trail we came out of the forest at El Rito on a crisp Sunday morning. We were hoping to have breakfast burritos at El Farito Restaurant but alas the restaurant was closed. We cannot vouch for the reported census – we met one person and one dog during our brief stop. We were surprised to learn that the Mars Polar Lander was designed and built here in town by a local scientist/artist!!!
Abiqui and south
We stopped in the town of Abiqui for diesel fuel and refreshments. Abiqui is the town where Georgia O’Keefe lived for many years on her ranch north of town. Many of her paintings include the surrounding mountains.
After refueling we headed back up into the forest to continue our overlanding trip south for another day – leaving the route near Los Alamos and then traveling to Santa Fe for much needed high quality coffee and tea.
The snow of the prior week caused us to shorten our time overlanding through the Carson National Forest, but it was a good trade off as the weather and conditions were much improved by the time we started on our overlanding adventure.
We spent three delightful days boondocking and hiking in the Carrizo Plain NM. CPNM is managed by the BLM and covers apx. 250,000 acres in San Luis Obispo County. The plain is an internal drainage basin which doesn’t sound all that appealing but it carries significant water into the 50 mile long plain which at this time of the year translates into a verdant landscape covered with colorful wildflowers. The plain runs north – south and is bounded by the Caliente Mountains on the west and the Temblor Mountains on the east. The Temblor Mountains derive its name from the spanish word terremoto which means earthquake. Uncoincidentally, the San Andres Fault runs parallel to the base of this range down the length of the plain.
The water all drains into Soda Lake. Since this is an internal drainage with no outlet the water evaporates during the spring and summer as temperatures reach into the 100F range. What is left after the water evaporates is a salt-covered dry lake bed as you can see in the photo below.
We also spent some time walking on the Wallace Trail where you can see evidence – in the form of offset creeks and channels – of how the earth has shifted along the San Andreas Fault – which is pretty cool – as long as the earth does not shift while you are there!
We had the good fortune to find a camping spot on the Caliente Ridge at 3700 feet which gave us a spectacular view of the plain and Soda Lake.
We should be at Death Valley NP later this week after a stop at Red Rock Canyon.
After a two day pit stop in Yuma (warning – no legit coffee!) we drove north for our final Arizona segment. We camped in the Kofa NWR in the shadow of Castle Dome Peak and then journeyed overland via McPherson Pass. As we came across the pass and began our descent into the King Valley we were treated to a panoramic view of the Kofa Mountain Range. The Kofa Mountains are named after the King of Arizona gold mine (K of A) which operated in the King Valley during the very late 1800’s.
A storm moved through during the night bringing cold temperature, high winds and rain. However, we consider that a small price to pay for the solitude and beauty that we experienced while in the refuge, and of course the exhilaration of a 4WD overland adventure.
After three days in the Dragoon Mountains we ventured east to hike and camp in the Chirachua Mountains. The Chirachua are about twice the size of the Dragoon Mountains, 35 miles long and 21 miles wide. Chirachua Peak, at 9800 feet, is the tallest peak in the range. The Chirachua Mountain range is an officially designated Sky Island.
Chirachua National Monument, which is managed by the NPS, sits at the northern end of the range. It contains numerous rugged canyons with a spectacular array of pinnacles, hoodoos, capstones and balance rocks. The hiking is strenuous but the payoff of dramatic scenery and vistas is well worth the effort.
The majority of the mountain range lies within the Coronado National Forest giving us access to dispersed camping close to the trails in the national monument.
We left from our campsite via Forest Road 42, traversing through the range exiting in Portal, Arizona. We were treated to stunning vistas as we wound our way up through the range and down the western slope toward New Mexico.