Part 3: River Road in Big Bend National Park, TX


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The Trip

The group did a "veg day" and stayed at camp.  Kathleen and I decided to ride the unicycles to Boquillas Canyon and have a look.  What we did not count on was the strong winds that started after we were well away from camp.  We prevailed in the end, but came back to camp to join in the veg session.

The following day, we did a trip along "River Road" which is a rough 30+ mile 4x4 trail that follows the Rio Grande from Rio Grande Village to Santa Elena Canyon.  Kathleen and I had done River Road before in our Unimog 1300L but that was back in 2009 so our memories were sketchy.  It was close to what I remember, but rougher than the other members of the group were expecting.  But, once you are rolling, "in for a penny, in for a pound".  The trail was 6 hours, so roughness can be judged from travel time.

The Photos

The photos below are what we saw.

We rolled out of camp on the EUCs and headed north toward the Boquillas Canyon overlook.  Despite the strong winds and steep grades on the road, we arrived unscathed.  Above is the view of Boquillas Canyon from the overlook.  These cliffs were cut by the erosion of the Rio Grande river as the Sierra del Carmen escarpment rose from below.

Kathleen rolled in behind me as I was taking photos.  We were riding our Inmotion V11 electric unicycles (EUC).  They are great fun on windless days (which this one was not) and can handle reasonably steep grades (without wind).  Combine the headwind and the grade and you slow to a crawl making balancing difficult.  Note the full safety gear.

My EUC with Boquillas Canyon in the background.  Our total roll was about 12 miles.

At the overlook, we found some Prickly Pear cactus in bloom.  The blooms are big and have nice structure.

The Pin Cushion cactus were also in bloom, albeit with purple flowers.  Note the wall of thorns to prevent the local animals from eating the cactus.

Some of the blooms were heavily dusted with pollen.

Kathleen was daunted by the wind so we elected to turn around at the overlook and head back to camp.  As the afternoon sun moved lower in the sky it provide good light on the rugged peaks and cliffs of the Sierra del Carmen to the east of our camp.

The following morning, we broke camp and headed back to the overlook, this time in the trucks.  The wind was still strong but essentially irrelevant since we were in the cab.  Above is a view of Boquillas Canyon from the overlook point.

We left the overlook and continued on to Boquillas Canyon right on the Rio Grande.  We took the trail toward the canyon and came upon these morteros.  Morteros, in combination with a "mano", were used to grind mesquite and other beans in preparation for cooking.  The base rock is limestone (as evidenced by the surface pock marks) and is soft relative to granite river cobbles which were typically used as the manos.  The depth of the holes combined with their number suggest this site was occupied over an extended period of time.  Given the proximity of the river and the general lack of water elsewhere, this is not a surprise.

It does not look like much by eastern standards, but this is the "mighty" Rio Grande River.  In addition to being the major drainage in the area and the only water supply for many miles in any direction, it also serves as the border between Mexico and the United States.  The horseman in the center of the photo above is illegally crossing the border into Mexico.  He was likely chasing cattle that graze in the grass near Rio Grande Village.

We left Boquillas Canyon and started heading west on River Road.  At a bio-break I spotted this odd insect working the blooms on a Creosote bush.  Not sure what species this is, but it looks positively alien.

Our first stop on the River Road trail gave us a good view of the peaks on the crest of the Sierra del Carmen to the east of our position.

The trail showed evidence of recent rains and the ruts indicate that it was not an easy passage for whoever was on the trail that day.  Note the erosion patterns on the far hills.

These cliffs show interesting patterns due to erosion of the softer material.

In the distance, the southern foothills of the Chisos Mountains were in our path.

We arrived at the old Mariscal Mine site, but the group decided to continue on rather than explore.  This mine was used to extract cinnabar ore that would be refined into Mercury metal.

On the southern flanks of the Chisos we could see twin volcanic buttes that are named "mule ears".

This volcanic cliff shows the "layer cake" pattern common when subjected to multiple volcanic flows.

Further to the west, we got our first view of Santa Elena Canyon on the Mexican side of the border.  This is a true slot canyon and was cut through the ridge by a small creek.  Another, smaller, canyon is visible in the left of the photo above.  The Rio Grande is hidden behind the close ridge in the foreground and the large ridge in the background.

Another large volcanic outcropping just to the north of Santa Elena Canyon.  When we reached the asphalt road near Santa Elena Canyon, the crew decided it was time to head back to camp.  We headed toward Panther Junction and rolled north, then east.

Kathleen got this nice photo of our convoy rolling north: Vince, Mark and Mark.

Past Panther Junction on the downslope to Rio Grande Village, Kathleen got a nice shot of the cliffs of the Sierra del Carmen range in the distance illuminated by the setting sun.

Vince transits the only tunnel on this path.

Back in camp, the late afternoon sun provided good illumination of the rugged peaks of the Sierra del Carmen range.

Back at camp, the cattle were invading.  These cattle were likely the ones being chased by the cowboy who crossed the river earlier in the day.  The cattle were a moderately interesting diversion except for the bell on the pregnant cow.  The cattle stayed all night and the ringing of the bell became an annoyance around 0300.

The River Road trail took its toll on the crew.  We had a quick group dinner around sunset and then retired for the evening.  The following morning we said our goodbyes and headed out of the park.  Above is a view of the Chisos Mountains in the morning light.  These are very rugged mountains with steep cliffs and narrow canyons.

On the north exit from the park is a dinosaur exhibit.  The Big Bend area, it seems, hosts a large number of fossils that were recovered within the park boundaries.  Above is a brass cast of one of the fossils recovered.  This is some kind of monster alligator.

A cast of a T-rex skull recovered nearby.

The group separated with "the Marks" heading back into New Mexico and Vince and I heading to Del Rio, TX for an overnight stop on our way to San Antonio, TX.

Next: an on-the-road trip to San Antonio and points east.

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