Riding Big Bend
This post contains information about riding Big Bend Ranch State Park as well as Big Bend National Park in southwestern Texas. The parks and the area (particularly the off-beat town of Terlingua) are some of my favorite places on the planet. To properly appreciate and absorb these remote and beautiful places, you need to motorcycle (or drive an off-road truck), mountain bike, and hike. The Chisos Moutains, in particular, offer stunning backcountry portions that can only be seen properly on a hike. Don't miss at least the short hike to the Window in the Chisos area. Adding a river trip will give you additional perspective on this beautiful region.
Note that this is one of the most remote regions of the continental U.S. and a very harsh desert environment. Temperatures and conditions can change quickly, and winter evening temperatures can be below freezing while spring and summer daytime highs are above 110 degrees. Medical help is at least four hours away when you are in the back country. Ride very carefully, bring good maps and GPS units, and carry water, appropriate clothing and medical gear. Also note that cell service is spotty at best in the area. Don't count on a phone call to save your life!
Also note that Texas law regarding private property is very stringent. If a piece of land or a dirt road is unmarked, ASSUME IT IS PRIVATE. Off-road exploration is best done only in the state and national parks, after consulting the maps given out at the headquarters. If you are on someone's private land without permisison, you can be cited and fined for trespassing. That is, if you don't get shot. More after the jump.
View Big Bend Ranch SP Ride in a larger map
PHOTO GALLERY from 2012 ride in the park.
"Road to Nowhere" Publication; information on off-roading in BBRSP.
"The Other Side of Nowhere" Publication, information on mountain biking in BBRSP.
You can rent motorcycles in Austin, Texas from several vendors:
You can also rent small dual-sport bikes (KLRs, WRs, etc.) in Terlingua, Texas during the winter months:
Check out the state-produced mountain biking guide, The Other Side of Nowhere.
Ride with Mike Long or Crystal, who own Desert Sports. The pair knows the geography and history of the area intimately, and they are also part of a small group of people who built the mountain bike trails in the region.
For exploring Big Bend National Park, a great overview map is the National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map: Big Bend. This map is sufficient for driving adventures; you'll want topo maps for backcountry hiking and biking.
The best off-road driving map of Big Bend Ranch State Park is the Exploration Map: Big Bend Ranch State Park. This is published by the park, and can be purchased at the Suecado Ranger Station or the park station between Presidio and Lajitas.
For a unique luxury motel, don't miss Posado Milagro. See photos of the place in the photo gallery below--it's gorgeous. Bear in mind some rooms have outhouses and unattached hot showers.
Upstairs at the Mansion is a partially rennovated abandoned hotel in the ghost town. Looks like an amazing place.
For a cheap room and a barrel full of local color, stay at the Cowhead Ranch, which is about 25 miles away from Terlingua. Rooms are $10 a night, and they are dusty, adequate, and cheap.
An interesting option would be staying at Chinati Hot Springs, a natural hot springs and hotel that is west of Presidio.
Darrick's story of near-death after the photo jump.
Darrick's Near-Death Experience
This is a piece of the story left on the cutting floor. After being blown out of town by a windstorm that knocked out the power and cell service in Terlingua not to mention reduced visibility to damn near zero, we were cited for trespassing (a $500 fine) and then nearly blown off a ridge making sunset photographs. We all drove home afterwards, assuming the hellish day was done. Not so.
I drove back to the hotel, and was starting in on the Sotol and a shower when Al came barreling into the room.
“Get the car,” he said. “Darrick had a flat and nearly went down! We have to go get him.”
I dialed Dan Dickie, who as it turned out was headed to dinner that very minute and could toss his trailer on the back and deliver the KTM so we could fix the tire in the morning. Dickie did so, and when he came upon Darrick, found the bike resting on the front forks, in the dark black of a Terlingua night, with the front wheel removed and the tire off.
Dickey asked Darrick what tools he used to do this, and Darrick held up his hands. “These,” he said.
His wife interjected, "But you don't have any tools!"
"THESE," Darrick said. "I used my hands!"
I’ve heard stories about off-road racer Scott Summers doing the same thing, but Summers is an animal, a beast who used to load his XR600 race bike into the truck with his hands. Darrick is an off-road racer as well, but a normal human one. Al and I concluded that the front flat—which left his bike weaving and bobbing across the road like a drunken hyena chasing a jack rabbit—had sent a surge of adrenaline through the man which allowed the feat. Mothers flip burning cars to save babies, and Darrick bardehandedly peels off tires that nearly kill him.
Although a few minutes after all this, we met down The Starlight and Darrick consumed a one-pound hamburger topped with two fried eggs, jalapenos, and a host of other vegetable and animal products that the cook found in back along with most of the bar's stock of Sotol-laced margaritas. The whole mess went down so quickly and efficiently that it made me doubt that Darrick is in fact a normal human.