worth the effort

Spread out along the southern border of far west Texas is a State Park that has only one paved road that skirts the southern edge along the Rio Grande. If you enter the park near Presidio Texas and the Fort Leaton visitor center, you’ll turn north onto a washboard gravel road where the sign tells you that it’s about 25 miles to the visitor center. Plan on at least an hour to get there. A few Border Patrol officers and Park officials might make it in less time but they travel the road every day. Trust me, you’ll want to take in the sights. I’ve driven first timers into the park, even people who live in the region, who have to stop and take photos, it’s hard not to. It’s different every time I go.

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Pictured above is the Sauceda Big House next to the Park Headquarters of Big Bend Ranch State Park. That’s my 4wd truck and our mountain bikes. The park literature recommends “high-clearance 4wd and 2 spares.” My own additional advice is, unless you’ve rolled your vehicle or otherwise sufficiently gotten well past the showroom new look, don’t drive down any of the back roads. It’s faster and less dangerous on a good mountain bicycle, or as in our case, mediocre mountain bike, and more fun. You can get a room in the Big House, and I’ve enjoyed that on a cold night because the rooms have fire places, or you can get a bunk in the bunkhouse across the way, but most of the time, camping is the way to go. This is such a great place to camp. Visitation is so low that it usually feels like you have the park to yourself.

Get a good map at the visitor center if you plan to do any long hiking, mountain biking or running away from your campsite. People easily get lost and you do not want anything to ruin your time in the Park. Take lots of water, follow the Park advise and regulations regardless of how experienced you are at backcountry adventures.

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The Park was designed so that no two campsites would be within sight of each other so isolation and solitude is easy to come by. You feel as removed from modern world as you can get.

One of the truly great things you can do at the Park is spend a day with a Park Interpreter. Several years ago Beth gave me a birthday gift that consisted of a day long guided tour of a part of the Park of my choosing with the Park Geologist. I have a deep interest in geology so this turned out to be one of my favorite birthdays ever. The first time we rented the geologist for the day he took us to a remote and geologically unique part of the Park called The Solitario. It’s was our first choice. I had read as much as I could find about it and was eager to hike there. Google it or look at it on Google Earth just west and north of Terlingua TX. Aerial photography is the best way to get a sense of how unusual this place is.

the solitario

It looks like a crater but it’s actually a laccolith about ten miles across. The “roads” going into The Solitario are so rough and overgrown with brush that I was grateful to be driving in a Park vehicle equipped with a satellite phone. In geologic terms there is much to see and talk about. I picked up and examined a piece of rock, part of a large distribution of pieces of an exposed layer of the earth’s surface that was 500,000,000 years old. We ate our lunches near a place known as “the bar”.

On my next birthday he took us to another remote area called Guale (sounds a little like “Wally” if your Spanish is lacking) Mesa. Again, a rugged and very slow drive down an eroded narrow jeep track. We stopped frequently to talk and take pictures. Blaine kept saying “it get’s better.” I enjoy his sense of humor.

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Near the end of the “road” to the south you will find this spot. Look closely at the ground and you will see that this was an old travel route between Mexico and the ranches in this part of Texas. You can still see ruts from the wagons that were driven over this edge and down into the valley below. In the photo at the top  there is a line of rock on the right side that formed one shoulder of the road as it dropped down toward the Rio Grande.

You can pick your level of adventure and difficulty. As always in the desert, be careful, be smart, pack lots of water, leave no trace, and leave your RV at home.

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