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Old 01-02-2011, 05:52 PM   #1
TigerLilly OP
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Big Bend National Park December 2010

Prologue

It’s winter in Santa Fe. If we want to ride we have to go somewhere warm. Over a couple of beers one night, fellow inmate 2Eddies and I hatched a plan to go to Big Bend National Park in Texas during the week between Christmas and New Year’s. He’d take his DR650 and I would take my DRZ400S. Only problem was I had to put a lowering kit in it first. I scrambled, ordered the parts, installed the kit, and it was time to go test it out. See my tech report in Thumpers on How To Lower Your DRZ400 For The Inseam Challenged (Coming Soon). Big Bend is the least visited national park in the country. It is remote, desolate, and beautiful and has some great dual sport riding opportunities. Even over Christmas week, which is traditionally the busiest time of year, it was un-crowded.

Sunday December 26, 2010 – Road Trip

2Eddies pulled into my driveway at 7AM. We loaded up the bikes and gear into my truck and the whole Grapes of Wrath affair hit the road. Getting gas in Vaughn, NM..


From Santa Fe we headed straight down hwy 285. Lunch was at Denny’s in Carlsbad, NM and then it was off for a little side trip to Carlsbad caverns for a little low tech spelunking. Its about 30 miles out of your way but well worth it. Carlsbad Caverns became a national park in 1930. There are 110 known caves within the park which were formed by sulfuric acid resulting from the oil deposits in the area eating away the rock. Some of the caves are deep underground with no openings to the world above. The present opening to the main cave labyrinth allowed air and water to enter and form the magnificent formations in the cave.










We headed south again on 285 and spent the night at a Motel 6 in Pecos, TX. Oil country. Reminded me of home.


Beer Time..


You can never be too well prepared..


Dinner was at the only restaurant open in town…the Pilot truck stop. It was actually pretty good. And they give you A LOT of food.




2Eddies ended up eating the left overs for two more days!

Monday December 27, 2010 – On To Big Bend

We hit the road for Big Bend. It would be about another 4 hours from Pecos to the campground. Pretty desolate country until you start to get close to the park.


Marathon is the last town you hit before you get to the park. The gas is cheaper and you can even get your hair done!






If there is nobody at the park gate, continue 20 miles to Panther Junction to pick up you $20 seven day pass (for one car). Make sure to get some secondary vehicle passes if you have hauled your bikes.


There are several campgrounds in the park. We decided to stay at one called Rio Grande Village on the south east side of the park because it was close to the hot springs and to my surprise and delight had hot showers available 24 hrs for $1.50. There is also a small convenience store with beer and free WiFi access. No cell service. Camping Fee was $14 per night. The campground was pleasant and very quiet and they even have a no generator zone. It is 20 miles from panther junction to Rio Grande Village. The other popular spot is Chisos Basin where there is a good restaurant (also with free WiFi) and a hotel but no showers for campers or hot springs. Pick your poison.


We unloaded the bikes and got the tents set up and jumped on for a ride before the sun went down. We rode the 20 miles to Panther Junction on pavement and an additional 10 miles up into Chisos Basin on pavement to hit the restaurant for a beer and some really good food. 2Eddies on the beautiful road up to Chisos Basin.


The trout and the BBQ sandwich were both really good. The carrot cake was excellent and the prices quite reasonable.






We rode back in the dark and barely missed a bunch of Javolina that had decided to stand in the middle of the road. It got very cold that night. Down in the 20’s but warmed up quickly the next morning. Total of 70 miles for the day.

Tuesday December 28, 2010 – Old Ore Road and the Hot Springs

We needed to hit some dirt so we decided to do Old Ore Road which is an unmaintained 4WD road on the east side of the park. It starts about 3 miles from the campground.


About 4 miles in on Old Ore Rd is a sign for Ernst Tinaja primitive camping area. Turn right and head up the road about ¼ mile to the parking area and take the trail ½ mile into the canyon. There are some incredible rock formations in this canyon.

P

I






After this little side trip we headed up Old Ore Rd. It’s rough in several places and a few miles into it I had my first crash of the trip. My bike didn’t like the looks of the step I encountered as I came around a blind corner and I didn’t get over on the right line in time. 2Eddies looked back just in time to see me flying sideways in the air. Nothing hurt but my pride and a few nice big bruises so off we went. We encountered another group of about 5 ADV riders going the opposite way a few miles further on. It was a gnarly section so nobody stopped. By the time we wound our way through Telephone Canyon and hit the end of this road (about 28 miles of rough dirt) we were hot, tired, and ready for a soak in the hot springs.






Ah, hot springs, man (or woman’s) best friend. We rode the 30 or so miles on pavement back towards Rio Grande Village to pick up the short 3 mile easy dirt road to the hot springs. Look for the sign at about mile marker 17.


The Hot Springs are at the end of a 1/4 mile easy, flat walking trail from the parking area. There are pit toilets in the parking area where you can change. Back in the 1930’s this was a real hot spot (pardon the pun) for people crossing into Mexico and wanting to come and “take the waters” for their health. A fellow named Langford built a fancy two story bath house on the site and there was a post office, store and motel. All that’s left now are some ruins and the springs pool is actually what’s left of the foundation of the bath house. It’s right beside the Rio Grande and you can swim if you can take the temperature and current of the river. Mexico is less than 100 yards away. Water temp is 105 degrees year round. Bring a bathing suit. There is no fee.



P


After an hour or so of soaking bliss we decided to head back before it got dark. We got back to the camp, 2Eddies had leftover truck stop rigatoni, and I had ham and baked beans. All interspersed with beer and whiskey of course. I splurged on $1.50 blissfully hot shower and we turned in for a great night’s sleep. Parking Area at Hot Springs


Camp


Dinner


Wednesday December 29, 2010 – River Road, Black Gap, more Hot Springs

After a surprisingly warm night, we were up and ready to go by the crack of 10AM. Today we would tackle the river road. The day was shaping up to be pretty warm so I opted for my dirt helmet, a decision which would cost me later. We headed out of camp and picked up River Road East about 4 miles down the road. This proved to be a fast well maintained gravel road. We weren’t paying attention and ended up taking the road to Glenn Spring which forks north at about the 10 mile mark. It had a section of deep pea gravel that got our attention but was otherwise pretty good. We eventually figured out our navigational faux pas and decided to take the unmaintained Black Gap road to get back to the river road. The first four miles of this road has some pretty gnarly sections. Some hill sections with big boulders where you have to really pick the right line and a few sandy arroyo crossings. One arroyo crossing had a right hand curve out of sand. I got on the wrong line and had to swerve to miss a soccer ball sized rock and lost the front end. I got up cursing my own ineptitude and was pissed off enough that I managed to pick the bike up myself. A DRZ400 is a heavy bike (about 350 lbs.) so I was proud of myself.

By this time 2Eddies realized he was riding solo and had come back to find me. We carried on up the road. A couple hundred yards later I caught a long thin prickly branch of a trailside bush between my goggles and the faceguard on my helmet. About four feet of bush whipped across the end of my nose as I went by. It hurt like a SOB and I was sure I’d torn half my nose off. I continued down the trail even more pissy than before and we encounter this…


That ledge is at least three feet high. We stop to assess the situation and I pull my helmet off to see if my nose is still there. Luckily it felt worse than it looked.


We decided that discretion was the better part of valor in this situation and decided to walk the bikes up the ledge. I’m sure 2Eddies could have done it as it was pretty doable if you got the line just right but I was not so sure and we were a long way from anywhere if something went wrong. There were a number of large square boulders cemented into the surface that didn’t look too friendly either.


I’d had enough and needed a break so we stopped for lunch at the top of Black Gap.


A few minutes later these two guys in an FJ come down the road towards us. Seems they had been out taking pictures here the evening before and one of the guys had lost his wallet.


We helped them look for a while, and as they were getting back into the truck, the wallet fell out from between the seats. They were so happy they gave us a couple of ice cold Shiner Bocks (the national beer of Texas).


The day was definitely starting to look up. We thoroughly enjoyed our beers and finished the uneventful five or six miles of Black Gap road back to river road. Just a few deep gravel and rocky sections but nothing too serious. We connected back with river road and decided to head back east rather than do the river road all the way to the western end and then have to ride fifty plus miles of pavement back. Besides, the hot springs were starting to beckon.
The country here is stark but very beautiful in its own way.






At the hot springs parking lot we ran into a guy on a WR250 riding two up with his girlfriend. He was even more inseam challenged than I am so he had backed the preload on the rear suspension off to nothing. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to steer that thing!


After a nice long soak it was back to camp for basically a repeat of the evening before. Complete with truck stop leftovers, ham and beans, and the hot shower. Mileage for the day 64 with all but 6 of them dirt.

Thursday December 30, 2010

Each morning was getting warmer than the last. We were having breakfast in our shirt sleeves and it was good. We decided we wanted to see some of the western side of the park and opted for a pavement oriented day to cover more territory. We set off back towards Panther Junction and kept heading west to pick up the road to Castolon and Santa Elena canyon. Rio Grande village to Castolon is 55 miles. The 22 miles of road before Castolon is wonderfully curvy and smooth and winds through some gorgeous scenery. Highly recommended.




Costolon is a dusty little outpost with a little store and visitor center but no gas. Gas is a little scarce in this part of the park. Plan ahead. The store does however have the coldest beer I have tasted in a long time.




There is also a cool old adobe farmhouse there and you can see Santa Elena canyon 8 miles in the distance.


After a quick refreshment we rode the 8 miles to Santa Elena canyon. This canyon is only a few hundred yards wide and has 1500 foot walls. The Rio Grande runs through it so you have Mexico on one side and the USA on the other. There is a trail about 1 mile long that lets you hike into the canyon. There are some steep steps at the beginning of the trail. A very worthwhile side trip.














While at the Santa Elena parking lot we ran into inmate Overlander from Kansas who was teaching his 60 year old sister to ride a dual sport bike. She was totally loving it! This was also the only place in the entire park where we had any cell reception.

We decided to pick up Old Maverick Road which is a very well maintained 13 mile dirt road back to the main road which would take us back towards Panther Junction. We were headed to Chisos basin for some beer and a good meal. About 10 miles before the basin the DRZ ran out of gas. This was surprising as I only had 100 miles on the clock. Usually it gets better mileage than that but we had been fighting wicked headwinds and running at 60 plus mph all day. I switched to reserve, we got up to the basin and I refilled the tank from my 1 gal spare gas can. Gas can be hard to come by out here so we travel prepared.

We managed to score a couple of beers from the restaurant manager even though the place wasn’t due to open for another half hour (opens for dinner at 5PM) and enjoyed them immensely on the patio.


We enjoyed an excellent dinner of grilled chicken salad, buffalo burger, and some wonderful pumpkin pie for dessert.






Rode back to camp in the dark, sans javolina sightings this time.

Friday December 31, 2010 The Road Home

We had called friends in Santa Fe from Santa Elena canyon the day before and were warned that it was snowing and very cold at home (near 0 Deg F). We enjoyed our last bit of warm weather as we packed up all our gear, loaded the bikes, and headed out at 9:30AM CST. We would gain an hour on the way home but were looking at a 9 hour drive. We finally caught up to the weather at Vaughn, NM.


The next 30 miles of black ice were no fun but we made it without incident. We got to Santa Fe and unloaded bikes and gear first at 2Eddies place, then at mine. It was bitterly cold and we wondered if we should just turn around and head back…

Epilogue

Many thanks to 2Eddies for watching my back, keeping me safe, and putting up with my shit. Its not everybody that you can do a trip like this with and good riding partners are worth their weight in gold. Until next time…


The suspension mod on the DRZ performed beautifully. I was much more confident on the bike as I was able to touch the ground with both toes. The rear end hooked up way better than it had pre-mod as the longer links had the effect of softening up the rear suspension. I had lowered the front forks in the triple clamps as well so the handling remained about the same. I don’t think a heavier rider would benefit as much from this modification as the rear suspension might be too soft. I weigh 135 lbs and its just about perfect for me now.

Thanks for reading, keep the rubber side down, and hope to see you on the road…/TigerLilly
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TigerLilly screwed with this post 01-07-2011 at 02:56 PM
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Old 01-02-2011, 06:05 PM   #2
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Great Pics!!!
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Old 01-02-2011, 06:31 PM   #3
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Nice writeup! It looks like it's worth the drive.
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Old 01-02-2011, 06:37 PM   #4
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Been about 9 months since I was there, your ride along feels like I was right along with you.

Thanks
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Old 01-02-2011, 07:50 PM   #5
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Nice!

Big Bend is a definite treat.

While it has been some time that I don't ride dirt, I still enjoy the remoteness and the harsh geography of the park from my road bikes. Love Rio Grande Village and the camping opportunities it offers. The hike from the campground to the hot springs is also a treat.

Thanks for posting.
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Old 01-02-2011, 09:19 PM   #6
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I've enjoyed the back road in BB for a few years. It doesn't change much but nothing out there cannot be taken for granted. In May of this year an experienced riding bud took a real low speed fall & spent 5 days in the hospital after a 4.5 hour operation which was to hammer a 11mm wide titanium rod from the knee through the leg bone to the ankle into the broken off lower leg bone. The thiner leg bone was also broken but it was just set in place.
She is still not back into the DS saddle & doubt if ridding will be very important as it once was.

Moto boots were worn & all off road riding gear in place.

It took over two & a half hrs to truck her out from the injury site to our primitive camp site. This was a very bad break(s) & the pain level was way up there. Zero damage to the bike.

Those non maintained roads mean just that, mother nature is in charge out there.

Good RR & very glad nothing worst happened to you.
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Old 01-02-2011, 09:33 PM   #7
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Kahr?
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Old 01-02-2011, 10:02 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cpf3 View Post
Kahr?
Absolutely! Good Eye.
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Old 01-03-2011, 04:47 AM   #9
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You've made Big Bend move up a bit on my list of places to go. Thanks for sharing the trip.
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Old 01-03-2011, 07:47 AM   #10
TigerLilly OP
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wolfgang55 View Post
I've enjoyed the back road in BB for a few years. It doesn't change much but nothing out there cannot be taken for granted. In May of this year an experienced riding bud took a real low speed fall & spent 5 days in the hospital after a 4.5 hour operation which was to hammer a 11mm wide titanium rod from the knee through the leg bone to the ankle into the broken off lower leg bone. The thiner leg bone was also broken but it was just set in place.
She is still not back into the DS saddle & doubt if ridding will be very important as it once was.

Moto boots were worn & all off road riding gear in place.

It took over two & a half hrs to truck her out from the injury site to our primitive camp site. This was a very bad break(s) & the pain level was way up there. Zero damage to the bike.

Those non maintained roads mean just that, mother nature is in charge out there.

Good RR & very glad nothing worst happened to you.
Yep, I've had my share of broken bones on a moto. A titanium rod holds my left femur together but I never considered giving up riding. I'd rather die on a motorcycle than from old age in a nursing home.
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Old 01-03-2011, 08:15 AM   #11
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Looks like y'all enjoyed the park.

I spent the week out there too and believe I saw those two blue DRs (one with yellow helmet) coming out of the Castalon store. I would have been the old fat guy on the dirty GS.
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Old 01-03-2011, 08:20 AM   #12
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Beautiful! I love Big Bend!

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Old 01-03-2011, 08:37 AM   #13
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Looks like y'all enjoyed the park.

I spent the week out there too and believe I saw those two blue DRs (one with yellow helmet) coming out of the Castalon store. I would have been the old fat guy on the dirty GS.
Ha! I remember seeing you. Although I would have phrased it as "mature gentleman on well used GS". Hope you had a good ride too. Thanks for readin'.
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Old 01-03-2011, 08:53 AM   #14
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Excellent trip and pics

Someday I'm going back to BB with the time to ride some of the easy dirt roads. We missed Carlsbad Cavern hours by 5 min, so that's another thing on the list. Only prob is that it is a really long ride from my place.
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Old 01-03-2011, 08:57 AM   #15
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Breakfast at the Pink Bus (Kathy's Kosmic Kowgirl Cafe) and life is complete in BB.

Nice write up
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