Last week Mary and I spent time hiking in Big Bend National Park in Texas. When we left our home in Midwest city it was 26°F. On our first day of hiking at Big Bend it reached 80° and we knew we had picked a winner for a December hiking destination! Apparently we weren’t the first to come up with this idea though. We discovered that the week between Christmas and New Years day are the busiest and there were no campsites available in the park. However, we did find a decent camping spot at the nearby town of Terlingua, TX.
Our first hike on Wednesday was on the Lost Mine Trail. It turns out there is no lost mine. In fact there never was a mine. The trail got its name because it overlooks a nearby peak that is named after a local legend. The legend is about a lost gold mine. However, due to the geology of the area there isn’t even any gold. Still, the trail has a cool name and it’s one of the most hiked trails in the park. While it lacks an actual mine it more than makes up for it by the spectacular views of the nearby peaks and the desert floor in the distance. You can also see many miles into Mexico.
After hiking Lost Mine Trail we also hiked the Lower Burro Mesa Pour-Off trail. The trail followed a dry stream bed to a cliff face where the stream on top of the mesa creates a waterfall when it rains. On our return from reaching the base of the dry waterfall Mary and I explored another area where we scrambled over and around boulders. We would have kept exploring but we were running out of sunlight and had turn around before the sun went down.
On Thursday we hiked to Slickrock Canyon. There is no trail that takes you to the canyon. Instead you hike dry stream beds until you reach the canyon. The trick is having a good guidebook because the hike starts out on Ash Creek but reaches the canyon on Oak Creek. You pass a hand full of creek that merge with the main creek before reaching the one that will take you to the canyon. Luckily our guidebook was pretty accurate at describing how to recognize the right stream bed to follow.
Unlike the perfect weather of the previous day this hike had us wearing several layers of clothing underneath our Arcteryx jackets. The temperatures were in the 40’s with occasional rain sprinkles, and the sustained winds were 25 Mph. When we reached the canyon the wind speed was at least 50 to 60 Mph as it channeled through the narrow canyon walls. At times we felt like we were about to be blown over. After walking through the canyon we explored the remains of an old well and windmill before returning. Our out and back hike was a little over 10 miles.
On Friday we drove to the east side of the park to hike the Ore Terminal Trail near Rio Grande village. Before hiking the trail we watched a guy paddle a canoe across the Rio Grande River. He had snuck over from Mexico to put out hand made trinkets that were for sale at the roadside scenic overlook.
The Ore Terminal Trail was quite interesting in that it mostly followed the ruins of an aerial tramway. The tramway transported zinc ore from the Puerto Rico mine in Mexico, across the Rio Grande and then into the desert where it reached the terminal. From the terminal ore was transported by wagons to the railroad in Marathon Texas.
For the most part the trail follows the tramway cable and collapsed towers. Along the way you can see bits and pieces of the hardware as well as several ore buckets. There is one tower still standing but you can only see it from a distance because the trail veers away in order to avoid a very steep climb up the canyon wall. Our trail guide was a little off and just when we thought we were about to reach the ore terminal the trail would go around another bend or go over another ridge. We were concerned about getting off the trail before dark and so we debated on whether to keep going or not. Each time one of us would say if it wasn’t over the next ridge we’d turn around. When we’d get there the other one would say let’s go a little bit more. In the end we were happy we kept going. Once we reached the plateau the scenery changed to a nearly level desert were we could see the Chisos Mountains in the distance. After shooting a few photos we high tailed it back the way we came.
While our hike to the ore terminal was mostly uphill our hike back was mostly downhill and we made much better time than we had estimated. When we reached our car at the trailhead we still had about an hour of daylight so we decided to go look at the hot spring. While the hot spring wasn’t really considered a hike we did explore a little bit along the banks of the Rio Grande and snapped a few photos. Friday’s weather was much better than the previous day’s. By the end of the hike we were back to wearing t-shirts and were a little sun burned.
On Saturday we drove down the unpaved Old Maverick Road. The road is rated as a high clearance vehicle road but the Subaru Outback handled it just fine. In fact we were on worse roads in Utah two years ago. However, there are other high clearance roads in Big Bend that we were warned to avoid. On the spur of the moment we took a side road off of Old Maverick Road to search for the ruins of Terlingua Abaja a deserted farming village constructed of rock and adobe on the banks of Terlingua Creek. At the end of the road there are a couple of piles of rubble, the remains of two buildings. They weren’t really much to look at. Had we not run into a guy who was camping nearby we’d have never known the main part of the village lies across Terlingua Creek.
The village wasn’t in our guidebook or on our map, and the lone hiker wasn’t much help either. All he said was that the village was across the creek somewhere, which made me, wonder if he had even seen it himself. So we set out to explore the area to see if we could find it ourselves. There were very little clues to where the village might be. There were footprints in the sand of the creek but they all appeared to reach a point in the sand were they turned back the way they came. So it was obvious that some folks weren’t finding the village. There were also very few places we could cross the creek without just wading in. On the other side of the creek there was fairly tall grass so it was impossible to tell if there were any ruins over there.
When we were about to give up I decided I was going to take a WAG (wild ass guess) at where I thought the village could be. I looked up and down the banks and thought that if I were going to build a village I wouldn’t build it there because it was all flood plain. Then I looked at the hills further back and thought to myself that this one area looked like a good place to build buildings. So we went downstream until we found a shallow enough place with enough rocks where we could cross the creek. I crossed first and climbed a very steep and loose embankment. When I reached the top I spotted the ruins of a fairly large building in the distance. I hollered for Mary to come up and together we explored the many ruins of the old village. We agreed that the large building must have been the town hall or the mayor’s house or at least the richest dude around. It stood on the highest hill overlooking the village. Then at the furthest outskirts of the village we found the remains of the cemetery.
I’m sure that there are guidebooks and maps that have the exact location of the village but we didn’t have any of those. Instead we followed a hunch and for a brief time we got to feel like we were explorers discovering the ruins of a long lost city!
After exploring Terlingua Abaja we headed back to pavement and the crowd of tourist for our final albeit very short hike into Santa Elena Canon.
Here are a few black and white photos from our hikes: