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  Topic Name: Big Bend Ranch Bikepacking, Dec 2010 Trip Report on: January 16, 2011, 08:29:47 AM
mattinaustin


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« on: January 16, 2011, 08:29:47 AM »

Big Bend Ranch Bikepacking 2010

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Big Bend Ranch
There aren’t too many places in Texas to do long rides away from civilization.  Fortunately we have a couple of options in Big Bend that are worth the trip.  One such place is Big Bend Ranch State Park.  This park is relatively young and is still being developed.  In fact, it is being developed with mountain biking in mind and recently received an IMBA Epic designation for one of its trails.  The park is massive, covering over 300,000 acres.  Elevations range from 2300 ft to 5000 ft.  Most of the trails are old jeep roads.  Some have been graded and are relatively smooth, some are occasionally graded and are pretty rough, and others are never graded and are lucky to see some effort to remove some of the more sinister thorn bearing plants.  There is some very nice single track in the park as well, primarily the Contrabando Dome trail…but there are other places and more that is being developed.

This trip covered much of the currently rideable trail in the park.  There are lots of other places to ride, but they are more overgrown or too much unrideable deep gravelly creek bed.  This should change in the coming years and I could easily see a 150+ mile route within the park as a possibility.  I think it could be done today even, but there would be a fair amount of unpleasant riding to do and water would be a big factor in the western parts of the park.

Day 1: Barton Warnock Center to Jackson Pens campsite
This was billed by two people who know the trails pretty well as a very difficult day.  We intended to stay in the Solitario at Tres Papolotes, but were talked into a shorter ride.  The concern was that the Fresno creek would be very slow to ride in spots due to the gravel in the creek bed.  True, it was very slow in spots, but you don’t spend a whole lot of time in the creek bed and are usually on trails that are above the creek.

We left about 9:30 in the morning and arrived at camp about 2:30 pm.  The elevation change is around 2000 feet for the day and there is not too much up and down in between.  We did not hammer to make it there at 2:30, but we didn’t screw around too much on the way either.  We did check out the Smith Crawford House ruins, one of the abandoned mining sights and enjoyed the view from the Pilla Montoya 3 campsite, but otherwise we were riding.  There was plenty of water from the spring at the Smith Crawford House as well as the pilla (water tank) at Pilla Montoya 3 on the main road.  Check with the rangers to verify all water sources beforehand.  Jackson Pens has a nice pilla at the top of a hill that has plenty of water as well.  You don’t have to refill from the livestock troughs which are close to the tanks and don’t look very appetizing.
 


About half way north on the trail, the route gets a little ambiguous.  The trail will seem to lead into Arroyo Mexicano (as named on the park topo map), but you want to keep north and to the right a bit and stay on the Fresno trail.  This is right before the Fresno Canyon Campsite.  There is a sign post with no sign and the creek is very wide at this point.  The trail will go up and out of the creek in this area.



The Jackson Pens campsite is close to water, but otherwise is not the most interesting place to stay.  You do have plenty of opportunity to see wildlife (and cows) since the water is so close.  This is also a bad thing at night with all the critters clamoring around.  We opted to pitch our tents inside the livestock pen since it was so flat, clean and kept the javelina and coyotes out.



Day 2: Jackson Pens, the Solitario Loop, to Los Ojitos campsite
Since we camped at the head of the Solitario and we would be coming back out the way we went in, we decided to leave our tents and sleeping bags off the bike for the trip.  This ended up working out nicely since there were some steep up and down climbs, especially on the Burnt Camp Trailhead which does not allow vehicle traffic.  There is some loose rocky steep climbing and descending, but it is beautiful to ride in.  There is no water in the Solitario, but we had the option to refill at Jackson Pens or Pilla Montoya once we got out.  The east portion of the Solitario is relatively easily compared to the west side.  Make sure you take a good look at an overhead view of the Solitario before you start the trip.  It is a very unique and amazing geological formation.  Knowing what it looks like from above will lend a better appreciation of the rocks viewed from within.



Once out of the Solitario the main park road is well graded and just has some washboard on it.  The trail head at the Papolote Encino campsite is a very nice detour to the north from the main road.  It’s pretty much downhill and almost single track trail.  Some of the ground looks like it would be loose rock, but it stays tight and traction was never a problem.



We stopped at the Sauceda ranger station on the way to our campsite to get a couple of candy bars (sold in the station) and cokes (vending machine outside) as well as take a hot shower.  The showers are available 24 hours.  You have the option of staying in a pretty nice bunkhouse at Sauceda if you book in advance, but we decided to move on to our campsite about 1.5 miles away at Los Ojitos.  This is a beautiful campsite with panoramic views of the surrounding hills and mountains.  Spectacular sunset and sunrise.  To our surprise the campsite had plenty of wood for a fire just as Jacksen Pens had. 

Day 3: Los Ojitos to Barton Warnock Center
This was the longest and hardest day of the trip.  Lots of climbing up and down on the Oso Loop trail and a significant amount of hike a bike in the Chorro Canyon creek bed (I think that’s the name of it).  We hear that conditions change a lot so it may be more rideable in the future, but its about a mile or 2 of pretty loose and deep gravel.  There is a nice spring after the Madrid House.  It’s hard to miss since everywhere there is a spring in the park Cotton Wood trees grow.  Just head left at the cotton woods and you will see the spring trickling down the rocks (assuming its running).





We decided to hit the Contrabando and Dome Loop single track on the way back in.  This is some great single track and not to be missed.  Some good sights on the way as well.  We took the west contrabando trail out of the park and onto the pavement of River Road.  Its one of the more beautiful highways in the country with the canyon walls on the Mexican side towering above for a good portion.  Views of the Rio Grande are nice as well.  7 miles of pavement and we returned to our starting point just before sunset.
 
Great ride!

Mike Long at Desert Sports is working closely with Dan Sholly and the Texas Parks and Wildlife staff to help make better trails in the park.  I think we are near the beginning in a long evolution of a more bike friendly park.  There are a lot of trails and jeep roads out there today that would not be very nice to ride due to overgrowth of devil bushes and excessive time in washes.  More of that will become rideable as trail is developed to be more MTB friendly.  In the meantime, there is plenty to keep you occupied for  two or three days at least.  You are also very close to the Lajitas Trails which are a blast to ride.  Very flowy and fast.

This park is great if you want big country, long vistas and solitude.  If you want long rides in an amazing setting you will be happy. 
Water is the primary issue out here.  However, there are quite a few options to get more of it if you have a filter.  There are working pumps and livestock tanks as well as active springs.  Check with park personnel before going out there to verify water sources as the Biking Guide was not completely accurate.

For our trip we had opportunity to get water at the Smith Crawford house, Fresno Cascades, Pilla Montoya 1, Jackson Pens, The Sauceda Ranger Station and the Madrid House spring. 

Main Park Web Page: http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/big_bend_ranch/
Desert Sports (they KNOW Big Bend!): http://www.desertsportstx.com/

This trip is largely based on the last ride described in the Big Bend Ranch Biking Guide, “The Other Side of Nowhere”. http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/publications/pwdpubs/media/pwd_bk_p4501_0152l.pdf  The only difference is that we added the Contrabondo/Dome Loop trail on the way back to Lajitas.

Terlingua Cemetery


Closed Canyon Hike


Starlight Theater in Terlingua


More pics: http://s769.photobucket.com/albums/xx331/GFisher_photos/BBRSP%20-%20Dec%202011/?albumview=slideshow&direction=reverse
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  Topic Name: Big Bend Ranch Bikepacking, Dec 2010 Trip Report Reply #1 on: January 16, 2011, 09:00:57 PM
Slowerthensnot

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« Reply #1 on: January 16, 2011, 09:00:57 PM »

Very cool, did Mas o menos a few years back and seemed like such a cool area to get lost in!
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  Topic Name: Big Bend Ranch Bikepacking, Dec 2010 Trip Report Reply #2 on: January 17, 2011, 08:43:28 AM
Village


Location: Austin, TX
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« Reply #2 on: January 17, 2011, 08:43:28 AM »

Matt,

Awesome video, photos and write-up! I'm bookmarking this for future reference.

Thanks for sharing!
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  Topic Name: Big Bend Ranch Bikepacking, Dec 2010 Trip Report Reply #3 on: January 17, 2011, 06:29:08 PM
Marshal


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« Reply #3 on: January 17, 2011, 06:29:08 PM »

Very nice, seeing this in Jan with snow outside makes me want to load up the ol bike and kit and get dwon to Big Bend

Thanks for the report!!
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  Topic Name: Big Bend Ranch Bikepacking, Dec 2010 Trip Report Reply #4 on: January 18, 2011, 05:14:06 PM
cpblue

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« Reply #4 on: January 18, 2011, 05:14:06 PM »

Fantastic video work.  Thanks for posting it.
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  Topic Name: Big Bend Ranch Bikepacking, Dec 2010 Trip Report Reply #5 on: January 23, 2011, 09:26:06 AM
fat bob


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« Reply #5 on: January 23, 2011, 09:26:06 AM »

Matt,

Fantastic write up, great pix and video. I'm on the fence about the Terlingua trip with the big crowd, your trip seems more like my flavor. I'm wondering a couple of things.

1) If/when you get some time, would you mind posting your gear review for this trip?

2) What did you utilize for logistics? Did you chart everything out on topo maps and carry maps, or load .gxp files and go with a GPS unit? Combo of both? I'm horrible with direction and recently got a Vista HCX... still trying to figure that out too!

Thanks Mat!
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  Topic Name: Big Bend Ranch Bikepacking, Dec 2010 Trip Report Reply #6 on: January 23, 2011, 02:00:22 PM
Bikepatrol


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« Reply #6 on: January 23, 2011, 02:00:22 PM »

Awesome  thumbsup
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  Topic Name: Big Bend Ranch Bikepacking, Dec 2010 Trip Report Reply #7 on: January 23, 2011, 05:06:04 PM
mattinaustin


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« Reply #7 on: January 23, 2011, 05:06:04 PM »

Thanks for the great comments.  I like making the movies just so I can re-live the trip over and over.  Plus it would have been nice to have this sort of info before we did the trip.  If it can help anybody else I am glad to put together a report with some details. 

1) If/when you get some time, would you mind posting your gear review for this trip?

Hey Fat Bob (I feel like I am insulting you...sorry)...
Gear was the basic bikepacking kit that is discussed here all the time.  Light weight shelter, sleeping bag, tools, etc.  But here are the highlights for what I carried...Greg carried different stuff:
1) Shires Tarp Tent Virga
2) Marmot Hydrogen bag
3) Patagonia down sweater w/ hoodie
4) Katadyn Hiker water filter
5) Osprey Talon 22 with MSR 6 liter bladder (a 100 oz and a couple of bottles would be plenty for the route we took)
6) 2 tubes
7) pump
8.) Garmin Vista
9) extra cycling shorts, 2 pair wool socks, wool undershirt, tights (double as camp pants), balaclava, light wool gloves, full finger riding gloves, light cap, light eVent shell
10) small pack towel, inflatable hospital pillow, fleece lined ditty bag to put pillow in for extra comfort, Big Agnes insulated core sleeping pad
11) headlamp, extra batteries
12) zip ties, extra der hanger, fiber fix spoke, master links, multi tool with chain tool, duct tape, lube, etc.
13) esbit stove and tabs, beer can pot, crappy waterproof matches that were hard to light
14) a little too much food :-)
15) various toiletry, first aid, survival (compass, magnifier, trash bag, small pocket knife, etc)
16) camera, SPOT (which stopped working the 3rd day)

I think that is most everything.

2) What did you utilize for logistics? Did you chart everything out on topo maps and carry maps, or load .gxp files and go with a GPS unit? Combo of both? I'm horrible with direction and recently got a Vista HCX... still trying to figure that out too!

I spent a lot of time with TopoFusion along with a poor park map to create a gpx track.  It worked really well.  Once we got to the park they had a large laminated topo map with all of the trails marked that we brought along.  Definitely get that map.  I should be able to get the actual gps track from my Garmin if I get around to downloading it all.  The trail is pretty well marked, but if you are in a daze you can miss things and when in creek beds it can get pretty confusing.  I would have a good map at a minimum.

Happy to give you more info if you need it.  It was a great trip.

--Matt
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  Topic Name: Big Bend Ranch Bikepacking, Dec 2010 Trip Report Reply #8 on: January 24, 2011, 05:04:08 PM
fat bob


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« Reply #8 on: January 24, 2011, 05:04:08 PM »

Thanks Matt,

That's exactly what I was looking for. There's an off chance I might get to go out there gratis since a friend of mine has a business trip scheduled in Odessa, from there we'd go to BBR and try to re-create your trip... maybe shorter though since we're both fat and just want to enjoy being out there. I'll hook up with one of the laminated topo's for sure, I may have to head up there to copy your gps tracks, I think I've got a spare memory card hanging around somewhere...

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  Topic Name: Big Bend Ranch Bikepacking, Dec 2010 Trip Report Reply #9 on: February 13, 2011, 01:56:41 PM
ibethemarc


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« Reply #9 on: February 13, 2011, 01:56:41 PM »

Great video and writeup.
If you were to do it again, would you have stopped at pila montoya, jackson pens or tres papolotes for that first day? I am planning a trip for spring break and was thinking tres papolotes would even out the mileage but we would then have to trek the solitario with all of our gear? Did doing the solitario without all the gear make a huge difference and where did you leave all of it?
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  Topic Name: Big Bend Ranch Bikepacking, Dec 2010 Trip Report Reply #10 on: February 13, 2011, 07:23:31 PM
mattinaustin


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« Reply #10 on: February 13, 2011, 07:23:31 PM »

Great video and writeup.
If you were to do it again, would you have stopped at pila montoya, jackson pens or tres papolotes for that first day? I am planning a trip for spring break and was thinking tres papolotes would even out the mileage but we would then have to trek the solitario with all of our gear? Did doing the solitario without all the gear make a huge difference and where did you leave all of it?


Thanks!  I would definitely go for Tres Papolotes for the first camp if you are good to ride for 8-9 hours or so.  I would recommend coming in to camp from the east side of the Solitario (clockwise).  All of the rough riding and steep climbing is on the west side.  They were trying to repair the old water pump at Tres Papolotes and may have it working by now.  If that is the case you don't need to stock up too much at Pila Montoya or Jackson Pens.  If you feel like you are running short on time you could probably find a spot at Jackson Pens or one of the Pila Montoya sites.

It probably wasn't that much of a difference dropping off the tent, sleeping bag and pad before the loop.  Certainly it made some difference, but not enough to really matter.  There are spots you will probably lose traction and have to walk, but not many.  I think the weight savings for me was around 5-6 pounds all said.  We just stashed the gear close to Jackson Pens.  One thing you will learn and appreciate about that park, it is desolate!  You will see very few people unless you go on a big holiday (I guess Spring Break might qualify) and even then there won't be too many.  Most of the roads are pretty rough and require a truck or high clearance 4x4 and patience.

Make sure you plan your water.  If you decide to do a similar route, but make camp for the second night further out, you will have to wait until the Madrid Springs before refilling.

Good luck and let us know how it goes!


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  Topic Name: Big Bend Ranch Bikepacking, Dec 2010 Trip Report Reply #11 on: January 02, 2012, 02:43:33 PM
Blammo


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« Reply #11 on: January 02, 2012, 02:43:33 PM »

Did you ever get around to downloading your Garmin tracks?
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  Topic Name: Big Bend Ranch Bikepacking, Dec 2010 Trip Report Reply #12 on: January 04, 2012, 07:24:39 AM
mattinaustin


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« Reply #12 on: January 04, 2012, 07:24:39 AM »

I seem to have lost the actual history tracks, but I should have the track that I created and followed while out there.  Some of the waypoints are not valuable since they may point out a pila (water tank) that is long since dry.  Send me a PM with your email and I will send them to you.  You can also get a really good map from the ranger station that is helpful.  Whatever you do to navigate out there, check with the park to see if which of the wells are running and if the spring is flowing.
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  Topic Name: Big Bend Ranch Bikepacking, Dec 2010 Trip Report Reply #13 on: February 15, 2012, 03:48:26 PM
cass


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« Reply #13 on: February 15, 2012, 03:48:26 PM »

Thanks for all the info and inspiration! It was really useful in planning a recent tour.

http://whileoutriding.com/2012/02/15/back-in-the-chihuahuan-desert-bikepacking-in-big-bend/
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  Topic Name: Big Bend Ranch Bikepacking, Dec 2010 Trip Report Reply #14 on: February 15, 2012, 07:38:14 PM
BloodyrØØts


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« Reply #14 on: February 15, 2012, 07:38:14 PM »

Are most of the trails just following gravel roads and flat?  I'm looking to do some mild hukking and technical stuff as well as getting some endurance riding in. 
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  Topic Name: Big Bend Ranch Bikepacking, Dec 2010 Trip Report Reply #15 on: February 15, 2012, 09:16:08 PM
cass


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« Reply #15 on: February 15, 2012, 09:16:08 PM »

Not sure about mild hucking potential, but the trails I rode were a pretty even mix of fast doubletrack, rough jeep trails and desert singletrack. I wouldn't call it particularly technical - there was nothing I couldn't ride on a rigid 29er. But it was a fun mix.
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  Topic Name: Big Bend Ranch Bikepacking, Dec 2010 Trip Report Reply #16 on: February 17, 2012, 08:58:41 AM
mattinaustin


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« Reply #16 on: February 17, 2012, 08:58:41 AM »

Thanks for all the info and inspiration! It was really useful in planning a recent tour.

http://whileoutriding.com/2012/02/15/back-in-the-chihuahuan-desert-bikepacking-in-big-bend/
.

Great pictures and write up!  I can't wait to go back out there again.
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  Topic Name: Big Bend Ranch Bikepacking, Dec 2010 Trip Report Reply #17 on: February 17, 2012, 10:48:22 AM
annoying crack


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« Reply #17 on: February 17, 2012, 10:48:22 AM »

Thanks for all the info and inspiration! It was really useful in planning a recent tour.

http://whileoutriding.com/2012/02/15/back-in-the-chihuahuan-desert-bikepacking-in-big-bend/


That looks like a nice adventure. LOVE those pictures!
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  Topic Name: Big Bend Ranch Bikepacking, Dec 2010 Trip Report Reply #18 on: January 25, 2014, 07:21:57 AM
Holt


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« Reply #18 on: January 25, 2014, 07:21:57 AM »

im going out there in a couple weeks to do some bikepacking. I know this is a older post but if you still have a GPX file I would love to have a copy of it? I have been searching but can not find one - that works. There is one on the IMBA site but Base camp will not take it... I intend to make one while Im there, but it would be cool to have something to follow
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The Mutant

  Topic Name: Big Bend Ranch Bikepacking, Dec 2010 Trip Report Reply #19 on: January 25, 2014, 07:38:40 AM
mattinaustin


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« Reply #19 on: January 25, 2014, 07:38:40 AM »

An oldie but a goodie!  I haven't been back out there since this route was done so they may have re-directed some of the trails here and there.  Make sure to check with the park before going out.  You also want to find out which of the tanks have fresh water in them.  We may have deviated from the trail a few times on the GPX routes attached so don't rely on them solely and don't follow them if it doesn't make sense. 

Have a blast, great weather for a trip out there right now!

* 20101210-BBRanchDay1.gpx (140.83 KB - downloaded 66 times.)
* 20101211-BBRanchDay2.gpx (180.73 KB - downloaded 65 times.)
* 20101212-BBRanchDay3.gpx (244.59 KB - downloaded 63 times.)
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