Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Hiking the Closed Canyon Trail, Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas

Though I could write volumes about the number of hiking opportunities in Big Bend Ranch State Park, one of the highlights would certainly be the Closed Canyon Trail. I would not be the first person to wax poetic about this glorious slot canyon though I was totally unaware of it prior to coming out here. The ranger said I must see this place before I left. I'm so glad I did!

I would call this more of a walk than a hike. However it does involve a bit of scrambling especially as you get deeper into the canyon. From the map it looks as if you can get all the way to the Rio Grande River.  About halfway to the river, it becomes impossible to go further without ropes. The park does not allow canyoneering as far as I'm aware.

If you have ever traveled to Utah, this place would seem like it is straight out of Zion National Park. From the trailhead, the canyon entrance is not apparent. After a short walk, the imposing walls loom overhead. From the entrance, the trail runs roughly a half a mile into the canyon. Parts of the canyon can be slippery after rain. I would say that the risk for a flash flood is generally minimal, though of course rain even 80 miles away can cause a sudden flash flood.  It's always good to check the weather in a large area to know whether there's a risk for flash floods.

There are many opportunities for photos deep in the canyon.  obviously the light can be tricky. It is a north-south oriented Canyon so some of the better light can be at midday. When I went to is fairly cloudy though this actually help with some of the photos. 

The drive up is not too bad either! 

Overall, a single day is not nearly enough to explore Big Bend Ranch State Park. Nevertheless, it was a good teaser of things to come in future visits!

Monday, April 17, 2017

Hiking the Fresno Divide Trail, Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas

In my most recent adventure to Big Bend Country, I mostly repeated several adventures I have done in past. This included canoeing down Boquillas Canyon, hiking Emory Peak, and walking through Santa Elena Canyon.  I did have the opportunity to explore several areas that I've never been to before. One of them was Big Bend Ranch State Park.

Though only about 20 or 30 miles from Big Bend  National Park, Big Bend Ranch far less accessible to the casual passerby- adding to its elusive charm. Most the roads are unpaved and require high clearance. It is also a major mountain biking destination. In fact, it's achieved one of the greatest awards in the mountain bike world from IMBA - an “Epic Ride”. As I didn't have a mountain bike today, I was satisfied by taking the park by foot.

A great hike which is not too far off the beaten path starts at the West Contrabadio Trailhead leading to the Fresno Divide-Dome Loop Trail. I like to this hike because it involved quite a bit of wilderness travel though with fairly minimal effort. At 8 miles and length, it can easily be done in about a half to three-quarters of a day. There are some great vistas with plenty of opportunities for photos of desert life. In the early winter and spring, the blue bonnets are in bloom adding to the allure of the trail.

I happened to hike this trail on a Saturday. In spite of the high season, I ran into no other hikers. It was a windless day and the silence was welcoming. It is at a lower elevation than most of Big Bend Ranch State Park as well as the National Park and so desert life seemed sparse. With no trees nor hills to obscure the view, I admired the unnamed desert mountains in the distance. Ribbons of color created an ethereal look. It felt like traveling across the ocean, where you know you’re moving but without any point of reference, it is hard to say how far. It’s dreamlike.

Towards the halfway mark of the hike, the trail does come to a vista with views of the Fresno Divide as well as the valley below. Then it sharply dips into an arroyo with steep walls. It's funny how such a stark landscape can hide elusive canyons such as these. At the heat of the day there was not even a bird nor a bug to break the silence. Quiet contemplation was very natural here.

As it loops back towards the trailhead, the topography remains flat.  I enjoy the arduous Trek to a distant Peak, I also like hike like these where walking is as effortless as breathing.  I was back to the trailhead after only four hours of  deliberately slow hiking.  Perhaps next time I will bring a mountain bike and have a similar experience.

I would highly recommend this hike in the late winter or early spring. I think the Blue Bonnets were just beginning to bloom and would have loved to experience the explosion of color that occurs later in the season.