Working from Wide Open Skies

With time running short in the season before scorching heat takes over Big Bend, I decided to head back that way. After all, hiking the South Rim can only be an annual tradition of mine if I’ve done it at more than once. But why spend just a weekend in Big Bend if I can spend a whole week? So I booked this place:

Cloudflare Marfa was a remarkably productive office. My backlog over the past few weeks has become well more than knee-deep, but I managed to wrap up a lot this week while squeezing in some time for side quests in the evenings and coffee shops during the days.

Point of Rocks

About ten minutes south west of Fort David is an old waystation along what was a military road from San Antonio to El Paso in the mid/late 1800s. Today, it is a picnic area at the base of a massive boulder pile. In 6th grade, my class did a West Texas field trip and came here for an afternoon of running around. The following year, somehow, my mother found the same place based on my extremely rough description, but wouldn’t let us climb too high.

But she wasn’t here to stop me this time. And Wednesdays are for climbing. 600 foot ascent in total. Lots of fun. Sixth grade me would have thought I’m so cool.

The South Rim and Emory Peak. Again.

Heavy winds in the area kicked up a lot of dust over the past few days which started to settle into the valleys below the basin, adding a bit of desolation to the view but also a feeling of floating above it.

I’ve decided that counter-clockwise is winning, which is backwards from what I did last time. That way it’s a 4 mile straight-shot from the basin out to the rim, then a stroll through the meadows and Boot Canyon, finishing high up on Emory Peak before a dramatic pile of switchbacks down to the trailhead.

And back at the trailhead, I discovered the store was still open. So I grabbed a beverage and went to the paved Window overlook for sunset.

I declare the Second Annual forced march of the South Rim a success.

Old Ore Road and the Upper Burro Mesa Pouroff

Between the week’s running and yesterday’s hiking, I declared an Xterra hike today. We did the bulk of Old Ore Road after dark on the New Year’s trip in 2018, so I decided to sleep in and then visit that with a picnic at a vista pull-off.

And of course, Ernst Tinaja is at the end of that road, which I always enjoy wandering through. But one of the first pools was full. Despite trying my best to find a way around, my hike was cut short.

I will say I’m proud of that mantle, but I couldn’t repeat it wearing my backpack with water and camera, which I didn’t want to leave behind. So I moved on.

Upper Burro Mesa Pouroff

I’ve realized I have my Big Bend favorites but need to branch out slightly. An easy but dramatic looking hike I found on AllTrails was the Burro Mesa Pouroff, two hikes split at the midpoint by a 500+ foot drop where there is, presumably, a waterfall after rains. I did the upper half this time, which made for a nice canyon hike.

This was a great, and I had it all to myself. It’s a side-stop on Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive that doesn’t call a lot of attention to itself. And it has just a few rock scrambles in it to keep things interesting.

Sotol Vista

The tour of big hazy skies continued just down Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive at a rest stop called the Sotol Vista.

Mariscal Canyon Rim

My last hike of the trip was an AllTrails find in the most remote part of the park I’ve ever been to. I picked up Glen Springs Road, which we took to Black Gap, as a shortcut down to River Road from Panther Junction. From there, it was another half hour down a rocky spur to the banks of the Rio Grande — near the Talley backcountry campsites and the trailhead for the Mariscal Canyon Rim. At three hours from the nearest paved road, with no one else in sight, right on the border and feeling like the edge of the world… this was definitely the most remote place I’ve ever been. And I’d like to think I’ve been in an admirable number of out of the way places.

So I hid my pair of expensive laptops in the in-floor storage with the jumper cables, hoping I wouldn’t have to eat crow later in front of Cloudflare’s Security Response Team upon my return.

The hike started through a dried up wash snaking between cairns that marked the way. I’ve come to think of stacked rocks more often as vandalism than trail marking because it has become quite the trend to make temples of rock stacks along popular trails of big parks. But the cairns here felt necessary to avoid wandering off into the rocky wastes, never to be seen again.

Notice: Hikers must be duly prepared for the challenges of this trail. Temperatures may well exceed 110°F during spring and summer. You will find NO shade and NO water along this trail. This combination of factors make this trail potentially deadly during the late spring and summer. Tell someone your plans before heading out. Always wear a hat, and clothing to protect against the sun’s radiant heat, take along plenty of water (1 gallon per person/day) and salty snacks, and start early when temperatures are cooler.

National Parks Service

Luckily today was very temperate with an unusually thick cloud cover.

Suddenly the trail turned into a steep hill climb, rising about fifteen hundred feet in less than a mile onto Mariscal Mountain, for which the mine on the other side is named. The route is flanked by more rocks and a forest of thorny plants to deter photographers from straying too far off the path, but at the top, a few viewpoints look into the canyon below.

Views are magnificent as you ascend the western slopes of Mariscal Mountain. You will be able to see the expanse of the park’s low desert, and mountains stretching far off into Mexico. Mariscal Canyon itself is difficult to see until you arrive at the rim, and suddenly encounter the 1,400 foot deep precipice.

You will find yourself at the sheer edge of Big Bend’s narrowest and steepest of the three major canyons. In this canyon, the river makes its northward turn that give the “Big Bend” region of Texas its name. Enjoy the sights and silence, then return the way you came.

National Parks Service

I could have stayed there for hours, but I did want to be off the trail before nightfall, lest I be haunted by the ghosts of Mariscal miners. Back at the trailhead, I followed the rest of the Talley road to the banks of the river. I wouldn’t exactly call the Rio Grande a source of fresh water, but it was flowing fast enough and not too cold, so I waded in to wash off the sunscreen/sweat grime while being stared down by a rag of loose farm horses downriver.

My backcountry campsite was Talley 2, just a few minutes up the road from the trailhead on a bluff overlooking the river basin. I arrived just minutes before the most brilliant sunset.

Heading Home

Last night at Talley was beautiful. It was also a lot warmer than I expected, which is a bit of a mixed bag. I slept in, then had a bottled coffee on the edge of the bluff as the cloud-cover lifted. And then began my nearly 3 hour journey back to pavement and 8 hour drive from there back home.

At some point while I was inappropriately rally-driving River Road, the Xterra’s traction control computer decided to just give up for the morning. And then my usual evap clog code was thrown. And the shackle on my shackle-hitch jiggled its way free. At least the former two mended themselves on the long drive out of the park.

Big Bend, as always, thank you for the adventures. Until next season.