BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK, TX W/TIGER LILLY - 12/10
TIGER LILLY GOES SOUTH, PART - 2E
So like most things good, it didn’t take much ride planning. I had been there before, Tiger Lilly had not. She hadn’t been to Carlsbad Caverns National Park either, so we would stop there on the way. We’d take her pickup, load the bikes and gear in the back and motor on 550 miles south of Santa Fe and get on the border at Big Bend NP. We don’t live far from the Rio Grande up near Santa Fe, NM. We were going to see what it looked like further down river where it runs between Mexico and Tejas and runs North instead of East or South. Tiger Lilly was going to ride her Suzuki DRZ400S dual sport and I would ride a DR650SE. Tiger Lilly works on her own bikes and had lowered her bike to fit her leg length better, put on some bar risers, added BarkBusters, a spare carry on fuel tank and her dirt gear. (See her future ADV tech report on how to lower a DRZ400S for people who’ve got larger brains and shorter inseams.) TL’s bike had newer Dunlop 606’s and so did my bike. Her bike, as usual, was spotless and well prepped. I didn’t do anything to my DR except change the oil and filter, fill the tires with some air, cleaned and oiled the chain and cleaned the mirrors a bit. The previous layers of dirt and grime on my DR, applied on other rides, stayed right where they were. It’s sort of like pancake makeup, push-up bras and big hair in Texas, somehow it all stays in place….
Extra gear, water, food, GPS, maps, etc. would be carried in backpacks and/or bungeed to the luggage racks on the bikes. Spare tubes, tire irons, CO2 cartridges, camera batteries, lip balm, sunscreen, homemade oatmeal cookies, and other stuff necessary when putting yourself responsibly OUT in the desert and the mountains for 5 or 6 days.
We would visit Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, get a motel room somewhere along the way down into Tejas and then tent camp out in BBNP for a few days and do some dirt. So since we were taking a truck, I could take stuff that wouldn’t normally fit on the bike for a road trip. Extra drinking/cooking water, more food, lots of music CD’s, big cooler with ice (for food and cold beer), extra fuel, hiking boots, air mattresses, big sleeping bags, including a military surplus extreme cold weather modular system (ECWS) bag rated to -40’F. I brought it for TL to use. She thinks a night spent out in the open, (read anything not a motel room with hot showers and clean linen), is ALWAYS COLD
, no matter what the season. I told her she would be sweating in this bag.
Tiger Lilly and I were going South in the week between Christmas and NewYear’s Day and were expecting warm days in the 70’s and 80’s in Big Bend with overnight temps in the 30-40’F range. Not bad for the end of December in the Rockies. I brought a bottle of Bailey’s Irish Crème and 14 bottles of Santa Fe Brewing Company “Nut Brown” and some Newcastle beer and she had some Crown Royal whiskey. TL brought her point and shoot pocket camera and I-Phone and I brought my Kodak Z1285 pocket point and shoot. We intended to document, photograph and write about Big Bend NP for an ADV ride report of the trip.
……..Oh, and she also had a lady-sized point and shoot, Kahr double-action only, 9mm auto with two magazines full of FMJ ammo…
The woman is an engineer, rides street, rides dirt, flies planes, worked in the oil patch in Canada, shoots guns, plays the guitar, sings, works on her own bikes, and is tough, fiercely independent and pretty easy on the eyes. In the words of Delbert McClinton, a “woman like that puts out a lotta’ heat”.
Don’t know Delbert McClinton? Well, I tell people that if the song writer Leonard Cohen had been born in Lubbock, Texas he would sound like and write songs like Delbert McClinton. The man is a West Texas legend. We played a lot of Delbert’s music in the 20 hours we spent coming and going in the truck on this trip. Try Delbert’s 2005 Grammy award winning CD, “The Cost of Living”
. You’ll know I didn’t steer you wrong..
….and Delbert had a lot to say on this trip…..
FIRST DAY - 12/26/10
DOWN INTO MEXICO
There was casino out in Vegas,
Had a million dollars on the wall,
Got my imagination workin’ overtime,
I knew I had to have it all,
I knew I had to have it all.
The first day route took us out of Santa Fe, headed South on Hwy 285, headed for Cline’s Corners, Encino, Vaughn, Roswell, (yeah! That Roswell!),
then Artesia and into Carlsbad, New Mexico We stopped in Carlsbad at the Denny’s and had lunch. We both ordered club sandwiches and made sure we took pics of the food. It was edible. Then we went out a side route, 62/180, southwest to the Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Tiger Lilly was doing the driving and NO I wasn’t going to get to drive HER truck or play with the trigger pull of HER gun. She was in control of the forward motion, heater, A/C, seat, music volume and vents. I could mess around with the door handle on my side, the electric window on my side, the “eject” button on the CD player and my seat belt harness. If I tried to play with anything else, there was going to be gunfire inside a very small, confined space. The back seat of the extended cab truck was jammed full of gear and stuff, so the passenger seat was slid forward and my knees were against the dashboard. If the airbag on my side had to go off it was going to take both of my legs off at the waist. I was going to have to find something useful to do for 10 hours…so 2eddies was riding shotgun and playing music DJ, assistant photographer, navigator, assistant LoadMaster, story teller and cookie stealer. Her Sponge Bob Squarepants was riding the dash…
My BERIK dirt boot eyes had to ride out back in the bed…and BERIK was giving me the stink eyes! BERIK had his nose in the wind, but he couldn’t hear the music.
But first we went down into the cave…
I hadn’t been in Carlsbad Caverns in decades, we each paid the $6.00 entry fee and walked down the slope from the Visitor’s Center towards the cave mouth and then down into the Earth. It’s certainly impressive. Everywhere you turn or look, there is something so old, so new to the eye, so geologically natural and yet so unreal.
We took more photos, but if you want to see more of it, look up Carlsbad Caverns on the ‘Net and feast your own eyes. Better yet, jump on your moto and see it for yourself. It took a few hours to go thru the long full tour and when we came up into the Sun again in the late afternoon, we still had time to drive further South. So we did…
We took a paved side road, 396, East out of the Caverns NP area thru Black River Village and connected back up with Hwy. 285 by Malaga, NM and headed down range, across the state line, towards Pecos, TX traveling thru the Permian Basin oil patch. Now Carlsbad, NM and Pecos, TX are both located on the Pecos River which actually has it’s headwaters near Santa Fe in the Pecos Wilderness high in the Sangre de Cristo mountain range. I’ve wandered along it and fished it for trout for many years. The river is prettier up where we live in the mountains. The Pecos River runs into the Rio Grande further down SouthEast in Texas around Langtry.
We found a Motel 6 in Pecos, TX and grabbed our gear for the night. We ate in a nearby truck stop at I-20 and 285. The salad bar and entries were surprisingly good. I had the rigatoni pasta with meat sauce and it was so large a plate, I took most of it back to the motel room and had it for dinner two more nights. Day old pasta is sooooooo good!
SECOND DAY - 12/27/10
Sheree was a dancer, she was a schemer
We came up with a fool-proof plan
She would work it from the inside
And I would be her getaway man
Yeah, I would be her getaway man
In the morning, we made a quick stop at the local Walmart for a few items, including a tub of Philadelphia Cream Cheese for Tiger Lilly’s morning bagels.
Tiger Lilly showing how she spreads the cream cheese
Then pointed the truck Southeast on 285 headed for Ft. Stockton, TX. The countryside thru here is a little bleak. Lots of mesquite, sun-blasted sand and oil patch equipment pumping oil and gas out of the ground. We saw a lot of big drilling rigs, running 24/7, punching new holes in the dirt. The price of a barrel of oil must be up, what else would get a person out into this kind of country…
At Ft. Stockton, we turned South on Hwy 385, that’s 3-8-5 and headed for Big Bend NP thru Marathon, TX. Out here you better be watching your gas mileage since gas and watering holes are few and far between. Down around Marathon the landscape starts to get interesting, more hills, twisty pavement, more old volcano peaks, some big cattle ranches, but not many people. Out here you are either running cows, digging for oil, coming from/going to Big Bend NP, running drugs or people up from Mexico, US Border Patrol or DEA. “No country for old men“….
It’s 39 miles from Marathon, TX to the entry gate border of Big Bend National Park near Persimmon Gap.
You still have to ride a number of miles into the park before you get to Panther Junction. You can get gas there, use the facilities and hit the Main Visitors Center. It’s about a 10 hour ride from Santa Fe, but you change time zones, so we picked up an hour going from the Mountain to Central time zones. I had previously stayed up in the campground in the Chisos Mountain Basin, but this time we planned to stay on the Eastern side of the Park at the Rio Grande Village campground. We did stop at the Panther Junction Visitors Center to pay the Park entrance fees, pick up some maps and I talked to a Park Ranger about the dirt road conditions. Then we drove the 20 miles East to Rio Grande Village.
Now Big Bend NP was created in 1944 and is the least visited National Park and it is the 15th largest in terms of size. But the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is their busiest time, along with Spring Break around Easter. While in the Big Bend NP area, you should definitely also think about visiting the nearby huge Big Bend Ranch State Park and taking a pavement ride along the Rio Grande from Lajitas, TX northwest to Presidio, TX on Hwy. 170. Put aside a week, in the Big Bend area, to do it all. DON’T RUN OUT OF WATER OR GAS!
We did not have a reserved campsite, but it turned out it was not a problem. There were a number of sites available. The tent sites are $14.00 a night. We found one in the “No Generators” zone of the campground and started to unload our gear and bikes. The Rio Grande Village campground has a store, gas, water, bathrooms, showers, RV hookups and sells food, gear, ice, beer and wine. There is an ATM machine and Wi-Fi is available. There is next to no cell service in the park. It is also located close to the Hot Springs along the Rio Grande. Tiger Lilly made sure I understood that nearby hot showers, hot springs and dirt roads, in that order, were singularly important on this trip. I told her I understood. Nothing like a woman who wants to be clean and dirty on the same road trip….
We got the tents set up, the truck unloaded, put on our riding gear and took off on the bikes for the Chisos Mountain Basin. I wanted Tiger Lilly to see the mountains in the center of the Park and to ride up the fabulous road to the Basin. I was hoping we would see a bear or mountain lion or deer. “THIS IS BEAR AND MOUNTAIN LION COUNTRY! SPECIAL REGULATIONS APPLY!“
, an official sign says. Last time I was riding in BBNP, in early 2009, we saw lots of deer and one very large, very beautiful, very well-fed mountain lion on this section of road! Made my trip! The road is twisty, narrow and VERY scenic!
The basin campground and Basin Visitor’s Center, hotel and restaurant are around 5,400’ and there are peaks all around you up to 7,825’ on Emory Peak, the highest peak in the Park.
Got to the restaurant a little before the 5:00pm opening time, so we sat out on the patio, laid back and put our boots up and took in the long view. TL took out her I-Phone and started to check the Internet, I began to take pics and remembered to thank my Irish lucky stars that I was still alive and able to come back up in these mountains on a dirt bike motorcycle again.
The Basin restaurant opens for dinner at 5:00pm and we went in and ordered a couple of cold beers right away. TL ordered the trout and I had the BBQ beef sandwich, both of which were very good. While we were ordering, I noticed the waitress had a foreign accent to her speech, so after the waitress took our order, I asked TL where she thought the waitress might be from. The Tiger Lilly thought she had heard a German or Austrian accent. I said I thought she was from Russia. The bet was on! The loser had to pay for dinner. When the waitress returned with our entries, I asked her where she was from. She quickly said “Russia.“. I asked her if she was a visiting student or had married someone in the park. She said she was married to someone working in the Park. Cool, smoked her! I just saved dinner money! Thank You very much! We ate our meal and then we settled on the shared carrot cake for dessert. The carrot cake is also highly recommended!
We rode the 30 miles back to the campsite in the dark. We were putting along at 55-60mph when I saw Tiger Lilly stick out her left boot indicating something ahead. She didn’t slow down…It is pitch dark down in Big Bend at night, just the stars overhead and our headlights, then I saw it! A havelina was standing right on the centerline. I saw TL pass it within a few feet. Shit! Which way is he going to go? The big pig looked straight at me and I thought, “this is going to hurt!” But at the last second, the havelina turned and ran for the opposite side of the road. That was close! Later TL told me that there were two more havelina standing on the shoulder of the road. I didn’t even see them….
We got back to the tents, talked for a while over cold beer and some short liquor and then TL got her stuff together to go get a hot shower, then we went to sleep. Tomorrow we ride Old Ore Rd.
THIRD DAY - 12/28/10
It all went smooth and sweet as honey,
We got it all and nobody got hurt.
Me and Sheree were counting the money
When that little gun fell out of her purse
Yeah that little gun fell outta’ her purse
The coyotes were calling each other all night, it sounded clear, great and wild…I woke up, got the stove burning and started to heat some water for coffee and breakfast. Scored some points by getting hot tea made for TL and handing it to her in bed. Then I got stupid and overplayed my hand and asked her how she had slept. She said she had slept okay but had cold spots in the sleeping bag I loaned her that made her feet and hips cold. WTF! She was in a three layer -40’F rated arctic sleeping bag on an air mattress 6” thick, inside a 4-season tent. The best sleeping bag that American taxpayer/military money could buy. The nightime temps were in the mid to high 30’s. How could she be cold? She should be cooking and well done in that bag by now. But women have different heating/cooling systems than men do. So I lost points. From the sound of her voice I had better figure out some way to make that bag work by tonight! But I had a back-up plan…
OLD ORE ROAD
We got ourselves together, ate breakfast, geared up and mounted up. Headed out to the nearby Old Ore Rd. for some “un-maintained 4WD” dirt road. Now in Big Bend NP they have paved roads and “maintained dirt roads” which can be driven in a high clearance vehicle.. They push a grader down them often and keep them two lanes wide in most places. An “un-maintained 4WD road” is NOT maintained and is often rutted, broken, narrow, eroded, nasty, and almost always just wide enough for one vehicle in two tracks. It is NOT single track. You are not allowed to ride ANY of the foot trails or single track in the Park with any vehicle. Your vehicle must be licensed and plated. No “non-plated” dirt bikes or ATVs are allowed to be driven in the Park.
We soon turned off the pavement and started to ride Old Ore Rd. North towards Telephone Canyon and the intersection with Dagger Flat Rd. about 26 miles away. Tiger Lilly was doing fine and enjoying her new lowered setup on the bike. Her feet could now touch the ground! We kicked it up the dirt road, having fun! After a few miles, I wanted to stop at the “Ernst Tinaja” primitive campsites and then walk northeast up the arroyo into a very cool, narrow canyon. So we turned off Old Ore Rd. and rode ¼ mile East into the camp sites and parked in the parking area. We changed into our hiking boots for the walk up a ¼ mile into the arroyo.
The rain water, that runs occasionally and furiously thru the canyon, has cut into the stone floor and walls and revealed many colorful geologic layers, some filled with fossils of marine life.
The various layers are sharply bent, curved and smoothed out.
Take your camera and take your time here. Keep your eyes out for fossils and fabulous color!
Further up the canyon, several deep pools have been cut into the bedrock marble layer, some are filled with water. I wondered about animals who, when trying to get a cool drink in the desert, fell in the steep walled pools and could not get out. The deep pool walls have scratches in the rock where some frantic, exhausting, drama played out.
After wandering around in the canyon we walked back to our bikes and sat down for a snack of TL’s homemade “one is a full meal” oatmeal cookies and some water. Then it was back dirt riding! We kept heading North along a tall ridgewall of stone up towards Telephone Canyon, in arroyos filled with sand or gravel, up and down hills, on ridgelines winding our way up the tracks. Tiger Lilly was behind me, riding hard. I came around a curve down inside an arroyo and looked for the way up and out of the sandy bottom. At the last moment I saw the track up, but it had a large pile of watermelon sized stones lying at the foot of it. Not good! I quickly flicked the bike over left and hit a dirt ramp up and around the big rocks. I quickly glanced over my shoulder back at TL, wondering if she saw the easier way up in time. What I saw was scary! TL and her bike were flying sideways in the air and then I saw the cloud of dust when they both hit on their right sides! That hurt! I stopped, got off my bike and hurried back to them. TL said she was okay, but her bike was lying with the wheels uphill. We both had a brief, uphill struggle while we stood her bike up. Nothing broken on rider or bike. Good! But it probably was going to leave a large, colorful bruise on her hip. She had seen the large rocks too late and while trying to avoid them had gotten crossed up, airborne and went down. Thanks to her body armor, we rode on…
We got to the Telephone Canyon trail cutoff and stopped to cool off and have some water. It was hot and my first layer t-shirt was soaked with perspiration. Once I had my jacket and helmet off, the sweat started to evaporate and had a very nice cooling effect!
Tiger Lilly was fine and had a pocket full of ready to go, so we continued on Old Ore Rd. towards Dagger Flat Rd. Good riding and fun, filled with equally good scenery and long distance, big, blue sky views. We finally got to Dagger Flat Rd. and turned West for a few miles until we hit the pavement on Hwy 385. We stopped for some more water and to take a break on the side of the road. Nice to ride dirt in the desert!
Tiger Lilly with the Chisos Mountains in the background.
Then we turned South on the pavement and headed for Panther Junction. We stopped at the Visitor’s Center to pee and change into our bathing suits and put our riding gear back on over them. Tiger Lilly and I were heading to the Hot Springs near our campground and rode 17 miles East from Panther Junction and then turned off on the short 2-3 mile dirt road to the parking area for the springs.
This is a unique spot. The old small border village of Hot Springs, TX was founded in the early 1900’s and had a post office, general store and a motel right on the Rio Grande and the border with Mexico. There is a shallow ford over the river there and trade was had with nearby Mexican villagers. People wanting to come to the hot springs “to take the waters” also could drive in and get a room. Then walk down a ¼ mile trail to the springs located right next to the Rio Grande. Today, there are empty buildings in the townsite, and the hot springs building is gone, just the ruined foundation walls for the spring are there. The hot springs 2-story building was swept away in a big flood years ago. The spring gets 105’F water from deep underground and you can rest your dusty, weary bones and/or jump over a low wall into the cold river if you want to. Mexico is just on the other side of the river. Here are some pics…
Post Office and General Store at Hot Springs
Tiger Lilly loves hot springs!…and so does 2eddies!…We took a nice long soak and then got dressed and went back to our campsite a few miles away to get a cold beer and make dinner. Back at the tents, that cold beer tasted mighty good. We had ridden some nice dirt tracks, seen some countryside, soaked in a hot spring and cold beer was now available. Bring on the food…TL had cooked a ham before we left Santa Fe and I had some rigatoni pasta leftover. So we grabbed two more beers and some heated baked beans and raw baby carrots and had dinner by candlelight. Tasty! Life was Good!
We talked and after the dinner and beer, we drank a few fingers of Baileys and Crown Royal and stared at the stars overhead looking for meteorites.
Then TL went and took her hot shower while I took a look at the maps for tomorrow. Before sleep, I gave TL another sleeping bag to place under the bag she already had and suggested she put her jacket over her feet to eliminate any cold spots. Tiger Lilly was now sleeping on a 6” air mattress, two folded layers of polyfill sleeping bag, 3 more layers of arctic sleeping bag and bivy sack and had stuff piled above her feet and she was in a two layer tent! Hopefully she would stay warm and cozy. Anyone else inside all of those layers would have self-ignited and burst into flames! The night was reasonably warm and clear. And when my head hit the pillow, I went out like a light.