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.
After deciding to shorten our trip due to the Covid-19 pandemic we are still keeping to more scenic routes, backways and small towns whenever possible as we return to Connecticut.
From Texas we passed into Louisiana and toured the low country along the Gulf before heading north and making stops in Lafayette and Baton Rouge.After Baton Rouge we continued north into Mississippi and spent a night in the beautiful town of Natchez which sits high above the Mississippi River on a bluff. From Natchez we traveled north on the Natchez Trace Parkway. The NTP is a 440 mile road that follows the path that Native Americans and later Euro-Americans used to travel by foot back to Tennessee and Kentucky after floating down the Mississippi on rafts to trading posts. The entire route from Natchez to Nashville is a national park. There are many historic sites as well as hikes and walks that can be accessed on this beautiful trip. We followed the road as far as the Tennessee/Alabama border before departing to travel east across Northern Alabama.
We will pick up the Blue Ridge Parkway in Asheville, North Carolina and plan on driving the full route which terminates in Front Royal, VA.
We have included a collection of some of our favorites sights as we drove through Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.
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.
During our stay in Santa Fe we traveled south through the Cochiti Pueblo to hike at the KKTRNM. This monument is jointly managed by the Cochiti Pueblo and the Bureau of Land Management as the monument is only accessible by travel through the pueblo. The monument is a geologist’s delight as the Jemez volcanic eruptions left a thousand feet of tuff which has eroded into formations of caprock topped hoodos and tent rocks.
The hiking here features a short loop trail that provides fine views of a number of caprocks and several clusters of tent rocks. The real treat is the out and back slot canyon trail which winds its way up to a small table top at 6,760 feet elevation. The 360 view from the top is expansive and also provides a great birds eye view of several large formations of hoodos.
The Cochiti people are descendants of the Ancestral Puebloans (Anasazi). There are apx. 528 Cochiti remaining on the pueblo today. The total territory of the pueblo is just 1.2 square miles while the reservation manages about 54,000 acres of land.
The Cochiti were permanently displaced from their original lands by Spanish conquistadors in 1598. Subsequently, the Catholic Church followed the conquistadors and began to force the Cochiti to practice Catholicism. You know the rest of the story………
We definitely recommend spending time here if you are in either Santa Fe or Albuquerque. Our only caveat is that this monument is very crowded in the summer months due to very limnited parking at the trail heads. Also, this is a day area with no camping.
As we mentioned in closing our last post we were planning on traveling south to spend two days exploring and camping at Chaco Culture National Historical Park near Nageezi, NM. Chaco Canyon was occupied as early as 900 B.C. and as an archaeological site is on par with the fantastic Mesa Verde cliff dwellings. Unfortunately, the storm that passed through northern New Mexico rendered the 25 mile dirt road into the park impassable.
Not to worry! Northern New Mexico is rich with significant archaelogical sites. In fact, there are 19 ancestral locations which can be accessed in the Four Corners Region. So after a brief stopover in the badlands surrounding Angel Peak we set our sights on Bandelier National Monument.
The Angel Peak Recreation Area is managed by the BLM. It is a beautiful area of desolate badlands, occasionally marred by oil or fracking sites scattered through out the 10,000 acres. Angel Peak is still worth a visit.
We joined Route 96 to make the drive to Bandelier NP. Route 96 runs north then east skirting the northern boundary of the Santa Fe National Forest and parallels the Old Spanish National Historic Trail. This area is sparsely settled with only five settlements along the 60 miles -between Cuba and Abiquiu. The total population of all of the settlements is apx. 500 people.
Abiquiu is where artist Georgia O’Keefe did much of her painting while in New Mexico. We plan on visiting the Georgia O’Keefe Museum when we visit Santa Fe.
Bandelier National Monument is a relatively small (33,000 acres) monument but protects an area of mesas and canyons where humans lived as long as 11,000 years ago. This area features both cliff dwellings and multi-room dwellings on the canyon floor. Much of the material here is tuff (compacted volcanic ash) which allowed the Puebloans to carve into the cliffs.
There are a number of dwellings where you can climb up into cliff dwellings using ladders modeled after the ladders the Puebloans used. The Alcove House pictured below provides the opportunity to climb up a series of ladders and provide the view of the canyon that the Ancesteral Puebloans had so long ago. Additionally, there are many petroglyphs on the cliff walls.
BNP was closed to the public during World War 2 as the buildings and lodging were appropriated for the Manhattan Project which was based in nearby Los Alamos. The Bradbury Science Museum in Los Alamos depicts the history of the Manhattan Project which produced the first atomic bombs which were dropped on Japan in an attempt to hasten the end of the war with Japan. Replicas of the “Fat Man” and “Little Boy” atomic bombs pictured below.
BNP is within easy driving distance of Santa Fe. The park offers primitive camping and there are hotels in nearby White Rock. We would recommend visiting in the off season as parking is limited and the crowds make for lines if you want to climb up into the dwellings (according to the park rangers). We recommend one to two days here in order to hike the Frey Trail, visit the Long House, the Alcove House and the Falls Trail.
Be seeing you!
P.S. The Revolt Coffee truck is parked on Route 4 in White Rock so you can grab a great coffee to go on your way into or out of the monument.
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.
This trip will take us through New Mexico and deep into (the heart of) Texas before turning east along the Gulf Coast and eventually driving back to Connecticut. As usual we began our trip in Salt Lake City where we have been storing the Beast between trips.
After a day of travel to SLC and a day of preparing the Beast for this journey we departed for Moab, UT. We spent an overnight in Moab, UT (Moab Coffee Roasters) before traveling to southwestern Colorado to view some of the finest examples of Peubloan cliff and mesa communities in existence today.
Mesa Verde National Park was created by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 for the explicit purpose of preserving the remarkable Ancesteral Peublo architecture. Mesa Verde was occupied by the Pueblo people for about 750 years beginning in 550 A.D.
MVNP is definitely a bit off the beaten path but we think more than worth the drive. The park is laid out with a loop drive that allows you to see many of the cliff villages from excellent view points. There are a number of kivas that have been excavated which are easily accessible by foot.
In the summer months you can also tour several of the cliff dwellings on ranger guided tours. The Far View Lodge offers acommodations with outstanding views of the mesa and canyons below. There is also a small musueum located in the park about twenty miles from the entrance.
There are a number of indigenous sites in the Four Corners area which could easily be combined with a visit to MVNP for an extended tour; Canyons of the Ancients and Chaco Culture National Historic Park are two major sites.
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.