Dec. 30th-Jan.3rd, 2016
51 miles walked, 43 with pack, 8 as a day hike
A southwestern Sierra Quemada ramble, what does that mean? How much area do the “burned mountains” actually cover? Most of us just refer to everything below the South Rim as such. Geologically it technically is maybe only the center peaks, north of Dominguez Mtn. and south of the Dodson trail, that are the ancient volcano. On the east and south it is clear as Elephant Tusk, Backbone ridge and the Punta de la Sierra plunge to the flat desert. On the west and south where do they end? Goat Mountain and Mule Ears? Triangulation Station Mountain and its long ridge? Sierra de Chino? They are all part of the larger Chisos Mountains and in many cases, related geologically there is an interesting discussion here.
In any case there is definitely an east side and a west side split nearly north/south by a watershed divide. East the Juniper, Fresno, Backbone and Dominguez/Fisk drainages drop east and then south to the Rio Grande. On the west side San Jacinto/Casitas Springs, Smoky Creek, Mule Ears and Blue Creek drainages move west and then south to the river. The divide runs from the high point of the South Rim, over the high point of the Dodson, down the ridge west of Dominguez Spring to the high point of the Punta de la Sierra and hits the river near the top of the great loop close to Reed Camp. A west to east line could be drawn that runs from the Mule Ears overlook to north of Elephant Tusk that breaks the area into northern and southern halves. Most people only hike the northern half trails (Dodson, upper Smoky Creek and ET), few venture south of that line.
Here is a map, in CalTopo, that illustrates the divides it also shows our approximate route and important springs.
Having never really explored the area south and west including the Punta de la Sierra, Lower Smoky Creek below Mule Ears and Triangulation Station mountain and not having been up the canyon behind Smoky spring since 1989, I figured that a good loop could be made with a number of springs and ruins to check out too.
The Big Bend Chat (BBC) 10th anniversary gathering was being held the week between Christmas and New Years so I thought I could catch part of it and get a long walk in. Due to the difficult holiday timing none of my usual cohorts could make those dates so I contacted Robert from BBC and not only was he planning to attend the gathering but was also interested in a similar exploration of the Quemada. Plans were made.
The Monday after Christmas I flew into San Antonio super early (read brutally early departure from the farm) where Robert picked me up and by 10:00 a.m. we were on I-10 headed west. Several stops on the way but into the Basin by 5:30. There had been a major snow storm that hit the park on Saturday and Sunday leaving 3-5 inches of powdery snow even down low. By the time we got there late on Monday most of it had melted down low but still several inches up high. We could see the Rosillos covered with snow as we hit Persimmon Gap
And even more as we climbed up into the Basin.
We stopped by the BBC group campsite to check in and then went up to the Lodge to check into the room we got for the night to avoid camping in the snow and really cold temps. We gathered at another BBC member’s room for chili and beers and to catch up.
Tuesday dawned beautifully clear and warming up. Breakfast with the BBC folks and then the group split, headed to different day hikes. Robert and I decided to go with RichardM to climb Casa Grande.