Big Bend X (Sierra Quemada/Mariscal Mtn. loop), 12/11

Day Four

Well it doesn’t rain overnight and the temp only drops to 44 degrees because it is still really clouded in but we optimistically think that it looks like it is clearing, or at least I do.  I keep telling Mark that this is not typical Big Bend weather and it usually clears out fast.

Originally we were going to make the long cross country run between Dominguez spring and Talley at the base of Mariscal Mountain in one day so it was good to have gotten some of it out of the way yesterday.  It is still a long way across the low country to the base of the mountain in the far right side of the picture though.

Off again by 9:00 and we make a few more miles down the Backbone drainage until we can cut across below some badlands that are part of the Cow Heaven Mountain group.

We jump over into the next drainage east, looking for Y-spring.  This is the only known water source in this entire section of the park SE of the Punta de la Sierra and W of Mariscal Mountain.  It is just above the River Road and just east of the side road down to Woodsons.  Lots of vegetation and grasses that indicate water but we see nothing wet.

We do begin to see lots of cattle and horse trails up and down this wash.  We cross the River Road at 11:00 after 4 miles and take a long break.  The horse trails make it much faster to find a route through the vegetation and we stay mostly on the east side of the drainage.

Some sign is so fresh that I keep expecting to come around a corner and be face to face with a vaquero.  That doesn’t happen but we do run into this guy who watches us carefully as we move past.

Pretty good and fast walking as we finally jump out of the wash and head SE over the flats towards the road to Talley.

We hit the road right where it jogs more easterly near the point marked 2075.  We go on down the mile or so to the Talley #2 campsite, which sits up on a ridge with a nice view and stop for lunch.  1:30 and 9.4 miles so far today.  The Chisos are still in the clouds but it is beginning to look a bit brighter over Mexico.

After lunch we walk the road, past the Mariscal Rim trailhead, to the Rio Grande to get water for the next day.  Pretty clear and flowing slowly, the sun is trying to poke through the clouds and temp gets up to 64 degrees.

This is my Aunt Jemima look with the bandana holding the gauze in place over my head wound.

3:00 we walk back up the road to the trailhead and start up the side of the mountain.  Like all of Big Bend there are just crazy rock formations and juxtapositions like this round volcanic rock field.

The trail is extremely well marked and easy to follow.  The clouds are moving out fast to the north and as we climb the sun comes out and it actually gets a bit warm.  We pass the nice campsite near point 2343 that is mentioned in Hiking Big Bend and continue on to the rim.  Finally some great Big Bend light and striking views north and west off the side of the mountain.  We just walked all the way across that!  (click on this pano, it is my favorite shot of the trip)

We get to the top about 5:00 and the skies are clear and beautiful.  14.3 miles today and my goal of camping on top has been achieved!  The wind is coming up and the temps dropping but the cleared out campsite is down behind some vegetation just enough to block most of it.

I pull on warm clothes and have time to get a few shots down into the canyon before the light leaves.  I tell myself not to worry I will be able get more in the morning.

A good dinner and view west off the mountain, finally a reasonable sunset to savor with a bit of light reflecting off the Rio Bravo.

It has been a strong day and now that the weather has moved out the next few days should be stupendous.  The night starts with the best stars we have seen as well, including a few meteors just a few days before the Geminid meteor shower begins.

Day Five

I wake up in the middle of the night and it is totally clouded over again!  What the hell?  We wake up to clouds and fog, not really thick but our great view had disappeared.

Clouds were rolling over the Mariscal ridge from the east and we were just below the bottom of them.

Crappy views down into the canyon but you can see down into Cross Canyon and even see the Cross Canyon trail winding its way down to the beach at the river.

If you have never been up onto Mariscal Mountain (or the Mesa de Anguila or the Dead Horse Mountains for that matter) they are old limestone sea floor that has been raised up.  Lots of fossils in the rock and it is very rough from the slow dissolution of the calcium in the rock by rainfall.  It will tear you up if you catch it wrong.

The Mariscal Rim trail becomes the Cross Canyon trail as it turns away from the canyon rim and heads north towards Mariscal Mountain proper along a pretty narrow ridge.  Just imagine the high point of Mariscal Mountain straight ahead in the clouds.

The trail then curves around the head of Cross Canyon and drops down to the actual junction with the trail that runs down through Cross Canyon to the river.

We get to the signed intersection at 11:00 after 4.3 miles and have to make a decision.

The grand plan for the trip was to have a short day today, yet still dropping the 1300’ down to the river in 2.5 miles from here, and hanging out on the river for the afternoon.  No one I had ever talked to had actually walked down to the river so I really wanted to do it.

Then tomorrow, the bold move.  We were going to haul seven quarts of water (enough to get us back to the car) 2000’ up from the river while climbing to the very top of Mariscal Mountain and then walk the spine of the ridge all the way down to the mine.  A distance of about 11 miles.

This weather was really harshing our buzz, not to mention our plans.  No need to walk the ridge if we would be in the clouds or even if the views were not going to be incredible.  It would be a really hard walk and could only be justified if we were going to be blown away by the sights.  In addition Mark’s foot was a bit sore from earlier in the trip and maybe in the back of my dinged head and backside I too was not at full power.

We looked at each other and decided to head for the barn.  Mark knew this kind of decision making all too well, he has climbed Mt. McKinley four times but only summitted once, some days it is just not meant to be.  The barn (car) was still 20 miles away so we would have yet another night out in the desert.

I am sure that this trail was the short route over the mountain for the folks living and farming at Talley to go over and see their neighbors at Solis instead of having to go all the way around the top.  They carefully chose the best finger between the straight walled side canyons, that run east off of the main ridge, to bring the trail down.  Great, far reaching, views could be had when descending this side of the mountain.  Not so good today but you can see Talley Mountain on the left and the Fresno drainage in the middle.

We drop down to the river at Solis and fill up with enough water to get us back to the car tomorrow and then head up the road towards Talley Mountain and the Fresno wash.

Up the Fresno wash a short ways and we take a right up a wash that will lead us east around Talley Mountain and to Juniper Draw.  About 5:00 we are at the mouth of the wash that Solis spring is in but we don’t have the will to do the extra mile and half it would take to do the round trip to see if it was running or not.

We move on north and east through some big barren flats towards a low divide over to Juniper Draw between points 2165 and 2189.

We find a protected place out of the up wash breeze and finish the day at 14.1 miles, only 58 degrees for the high.  The clouds had thinned enough to give us some alpenglow on the Sierra del Carmens and another outstanding sunset.

Day Six

Waking up to a fourth morning of overcast skies was becoming a bad habit.  The clouds were rolling over 3700’ Talley Mountain.  That’s getting to be a really small pack now.

And when we saw that the entire Mariscal ridge was in the clouds we knew we had made the right decision yesterday to head out early.

We jumped over one more low ridge and into the large Juniper Draw proper.

Up stream for a few miles until we could cross over another low divide below point 2448 into the narrower Glenn Draw.  The Glenn Draw is more badlands type deposits and winds around more than Juniper.  As we near the old Glenn springs community the skies begin to clear some and we come to the end of the water that runs for more than a mile from Glenn springs itself.

Normally I would walk the wash, along side flowing water, up to its source but the damp clays were really building up on our shoes so we exited stage right up onto the flats above the wash, very near the Lewis grave monument and overlooking the entire Glenn springs area.

For the first time in six days we saw other humans.  As they drove by below us, on the Glenn springs road, I imagined that we looked like a menacing Indian party up on the ridge.  Over 120 hours since we saw people, a new record for me.

We steamed up the road, past the springs and over the hill and there was the car in the distance.

We roll on to the car by 1:00 after 8.6 miles.  We clank walking sticks together and the trip is completed!  We had one beer in the trunk to celebrate with as we pulled off the packs and pulled on clean T-shirts.

We carefully walked the car back out the Glenn springs road and then we drove down to Rio Grande Village for a cold drink and to show Mark around that side of the park.  Back up to PJ to turn in our permit and onto the Chisos Mining Co. motel for a much relished shower and more beers.

Mark began to get a feel for the local culture when we had dinner at the Starlight and the community chorus came in to sing Christmas carols along with Santa Clause giving out presents to the kids, right in the middle of a fellow playing some pretty good country western music!

The Tourist Days

One good thing about coming out a day early is it gave me a chance to show Mark more of the park.  We were up before light and had breakfast at the Big Bend Motor Inn.  Off towards the park to another overcast morning but a great sunrise over the Chisos

All the way down the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive to Santa Elena canyon which we had to ourselves except for the Mexican crew working on the other side of the river doing Tamarisk control.

We took our time driving back up, taking in all the road side exhibits- the Dorgan house, Castolon, Mule Ears overlook, Burro Mesa Pour Off, Sotol Vista, Homer Wilson, etc.  The Chisos from the Tuff canyon overlook.

Up into the Basin to the lodge for lunch.  Pretty good chicken fried steak but the highlight was the bear who had been hanging around the back of the kitchen made a promenade past the dining room windows.

And even stood up on the glass trying to get to the salad bar (a picture I just missed), can you say Yogi anyone?

Back to PJ to give them our detailed water report and to peruse the books, etc.  Everyone we talked to commented on how weird the weather was, it was certainly nothing like I had ever seen in Big Bend.  On our way back to Study Butte, I was searched because of the suspicous shirt I was wearing ;).

We returned to our room to do some packing and then off to the front porch in Terlingua where we got quite a show by three different musicians.  Dinner at La Kiva and open mike night.  Mark was really getting the whole immersion experience!

Next morning we had breakfast at India’s with the local coffee klatch group and felt right at home.  Time to head towards San Antonio but we went via Alpine so we could visit the Museum of the Big Bend.  Lunch in Ft. Stockton at Bienvendos and onto SA eventually in some light rain.  The next morning we flew back home and now the planning for the next trip is already underway.

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