I had no idea what to expect. The signs warned of death around every corner. Hiking in West Texas can be described like this: if it doesn't bite, scratch, sting or cut you, it's a rock...in which case you'll either stub your toe or break your ankle on it.
So I thought what a great idea to invite some hiking friends down from Chicago to join me on an alternative Outer Mountain Loop hike!
We set out from the western edge of the Dodson trail and headed up the Blue Canyon trail to meet up with the South Rim. I had hiked with some folks at Big Bend Ranch a few weeks previously and they insisted I modify the OML to include the South Rim...saying it was worth it. So instead of the standard start from the basin, hike to the Dodson and back into the basin, we spent the first day hiking to the rim.
I'm pretty good at topo maps, so it came as a bit of a shock that I seemed to miss the southern-facing 3000' climb right on day one, with four days of food and fuel and 7L of water in my pack; it seems like something I should have noticed when planning the route...
But stopping to rest my shaky legs and attempt to catch my breath as we approached 7500' allowed me to take a lot of pictures....yeah, that's why I kept stopping...photography......
My companions were all 10-15 years my junior...including one who is a professional triathlete. Needless to say, I was bringing up the rear, making myself feel better with the HikeYourOwnHike refrain.....
But honestly, the scenery was so stunning, the sunset on the rim was simply devine, and I was treated to two peregrine falcons enjoying the view from a large branch just off the trail. Of course, they tolerated my taking off my pack, crunching through the dense underbrush and cacti...but the instant my camera turned on...they looked directly at me, I'm sure they chuckled, then they flew away.
We camped on the Rim that evening, had a lovely but rather cold night (my inaugural Enigma voyage!) and had a lovely sunrise view when we headed out in the morning...
Then we headed down a bit into a surprising canyon full of water frozen solid; not at all what we expected after a sweltering day yesterday atop the rim. It was pretty cool to see all these pools of solid green ice, all the dense trees, even yellow leaves on the ground! Wow was this not what I expected from Big Bend!
We stopped to top off water (our first water source) from a trickling stream and enjoyed some of my new favorite snack: candy corn and peanuts, thanks to my Chicago peeps. Eventually we headed back out of the canyon and up to the rim of Juniper Canyon, where we would lose all that altitude gained yesterday.
Since we were doing a modified version of the loop, we needed some way to get water at this point. My brother likes to ride dual sport motorcycles in Big Bend, and the junction of Juniper Canyon and the Dodson Trails also meets up with a jeep trail. So he hauled in 7 gallons of water for us...which was apparently a funny story in itself - seems as tho he was not expecting the weight of 7 gallons in his panniers to be as unbalanced as it was, and he took a spill in the gas station parking lot. He gave me his rear blinker light to prove it.
Anyway, he was able to stop by, drink a rum and coke in front of us, then head back to his motel for a beer and a shower.
We woke early to one of the coolest sunrises I've seen, watching the colors change over the mountains in Mexico.
After a crazy slow start (I'll call it leisurely), we started the 11.5 mile hike along the Dodson, up and down the whole way. We did find a running spring in one of the drainages, and actually saw TWO other backpackers!! The only backpackers we saw the whole trip. The weather was simply perfect - so very nice for my friends who escaped the Polar Vortex of Chicago!!!! But even in January I was sweltering...I cannot imagine being here any later than say, March.
We kept looking for a good place to camp, but ended up about 10 minutes from the car, camped in a dry riverbed. There were a few decent spots for 1-2 tents, but nothing for 3. Since we were so close to the trailhead, and it was Saturday night, we actually did have a nighttime hiking visitor who also thought the riverbed looked like a good spot for the night.
We ended the trip with another breathtaking Big Bend sunset, amazing moonrise, and crisp night of tarantula-free sleeping........