Wanting a bit more than the classic Outer Mountain Loop in Big Bend, I solicited some route advise from BPLer Alex H and the folks over at Big Bend Chat. We ended up with a 70+ mile route that combines most of the classic OML with some more trail miles and a nice big chunk of off-trail travel. Autumn and I read Ed Abbey's account of a visit to Big Bend from One Life at a Time, Please as we rolled into the park on Saturday afternoon after an enjoyable drive from our home in Fruita, CO. We picked up backcountry permits (with minimal battle with the ranger) and cached some water at Homer Wilson before heading to the Chisos Basin campground for the evening. We enjoyed a great sunset and decided to go for a little drive after dusk as we'd heard there had been lots of recent mountain lion sightings in the basin. No luck, unfortunately.
Day 1: Pinnacles Trail, Emory Peak, South Rim
We had reserved SW3 for the night, so we knew we could take our time for the day and enjoy the fine views and take in the wonderful geology and vegetation.
Views from on top of Emory Peak were particularly great
We stocked up with enough water in boot canyon to get us to our cache at Homer Wilson Ranch the following day. The pools in Boot Canyon had the most water that we would see for the entire trip.
Next up was a walk around the South Rim. The views were unreal...
...and the forest on top was super interesting
We enjoyed a fine evening and probably the coolest night of the trip, below freezing but not by much. TOTAL MILES: 11.3
Day 2: Blue Creek to Homer Wilson Ranch to Dodson to Smokey Creek to Mule Ears
We woke up blanketed in fog but the sunrise was spectacular as we descended the Blue Creek trail.
We arrived at our cache late morning and enjoyed a nice break and lunch before heading down Dodson.
The forecast had looked good enough to leave our shelter behind but Monday afternoon had us hoping we hadn't made the wrong choice. We escaped with just a few drops.
About a quarter mile from Mule Ears Spring we found a good campsite and decided to take advantage since it was starting to get dark and we didn't know if there would be any good spots closer to the spring. It was another wonderful sunset...
TOTAL MILES 20.7
Day 3: Mule Ears Spring to Smokey Spring to Dominguez Spring
After filling up at Mule Ears Spring we headed cross country to Smokey Spring. The spring was running but we had enough to get to Dominguez Spring so we headed up the canyon behind Smokey Spring.
We saw tons of mountain lion prints and a snake skeleton in the canyon
Travel in the canyon was pretty easy but Autumn had tweaked her knee a little and it was really starting to bother her by the time we started to head over Jack's Pass (horrible timing). The pass was slow and tedious, especially the downhill on the other side.
We made it down eventually and filled up our water at Dominguez Spring. We decided to try to make it to the mouth of the canyon between Dominguez Mtn. and Backbone Ridge that evening. We headed south on the Dominguez Spring trail until we could cross over to the mouth of the canyon. We headed east a little sooner than we should have and had to do a little extra wash-crossing to finish the day. We didn't make it to the mouth that night but we were almost to the wash and decided to call it a day. This was definitely the most difficult day and we were a bit worried about how Autumn's knee was going to be for the rest of the trip. We enjoyed some quinoa and sundried tomatoes for dinner and tea and chocolate before we fell asleep.
TOTAL MILES: 11.7
Day 4: Dominguez Mtn/Backbone Ridge drainage to Elephant Tusk Trail to Dodson to Juniper Canyon Trailhead
We were quickly in the large wash in front of Dominguez Mtn and Backbone ridge, but navigation was surprisingly tricky in a couple spots where the wash split. There were some splits that weren't deep enough to show up on the topos but deep enough to be a PITA to cross if you had to. We wanted to make sure we didn't end up in one of the drainages draining off of the mountain south of Dominguez that didn't go into the canyon. It was pretty quickly apparent that we had chosen right and we headed into the canyon. We took the eastern fork (not the fork with the two springs), which was a nice canyon...
...with great views of Backbone Ridge and eventually Elephant Tusk. We continued to see lots of signs of bear and mountain lion.
Routefinding to the Elephant Tusk trail was pretty easy and we headed up towards Dodson. The first spring on the ET trail was dry but the second one had water and we enjoyed some lunch and I refilled our water while Autumn did a little knee-elevation.
We considered trying to shortcut up to Dodson in the wash just west of Tortuga Mtn. but decided we were enjoying the views from the higher sections of the ET trail and weren't sure if it might be too brush choked or have any unpassable pouroffs. We saw our first people since day 1 right at the intersection of ET with Dodson. We continued on and made it to the Juniper Canyon trailhead right at dark. There were some guys at the parking lot about to walk in a ways to camp so we chatted with them for a while and they let us top off our water for the night. They mentioned a couple good campsites just up the Juniper Canyon trail so we went and snagged one and enjoyed the evening.
TOTAL MILES 16.9
Juniper Canyon to Laguna Meadows to Chisos Basin
After an excellent sunrise the morning was pretty cloudy and we were disappointed to not have the first sunlight on the cliffs like we had the previous days.
Juniper Canyon was definitely a highlight of the trip. Beautiful canyon and more great views.
Lots of beautifully-barked trees like these handsome Arizona Cypress
...and down the Laguna Meadows trail to the basin.
TOTAL MILES 12.0
We arrived back at the trailhead early afternoon and headed to Terlingua for some much needed showers at the RV park and beers and dinner at La Kiva. Overall a fantastic trip and route.
TOTAL TRIP MILES 72.6 TOTAL ELEVATION GAINED/LOST 20,677'