"Caution. High risk of theft, destruction of property, and attacks from wildlife. 4x4 is absolutely required. High clearance? Recovery Gear? Spare tire? Extra fuel/water?"
This was my welcome to Big Bend National Park as we rolled in early Friday morning. We'd powered through the night, sleeping intermittently, from San Antonio to Big Bend.
We strolled on through to the visitor's center to begin figuring out the plans that would guide us through this weekend. But, as we would quickly find out... the park was almost booked out completely. Our choice was narrowed down to two possible camp sites. Some site off of Old Ore Road. Or Johnson's Ranch.
We inquired about Johnson's Ranch and was quickly barraged with a list of warnings. Break ins, theft, destruction of property, bear sightings, mountain lions. The danger was apparent as the Ranger listed off her fire and brimstone repeatedly. I looked at the pictures they had of the site.
The danger intrigued me, but the site... it made the decision for me. We booked out Johnson's Ranch and grabbed a copy of our papers and a map. The plan was simple. Explore as much of the off-road trails as we can, and set up camp and survive.
As we told them of our plans, the Rangers made absolute sure that we knew how terrible the roads were. The washouts were abysmal, the conditions... terrible.
Absolutely everything I was looking forward to.
With the discovery that my dog was not allowed on the trails, and that with the wild life sightings... we couldn't leave her outside or inside of the truck, lest she become bear food.
We headed on down and made our first turn taking us to Old Ore Road. The road conditions weren't too terrible, and we were able to quickly make work of it. We ran into a few drivers coming the other way, which after some awkward trail passes, we were able to glean some information from them.
There was a couple in a Jeep whom I recall especially. When informed of our plans, they exclaimed that it was a terrible idea! The Rangers had informed them that the roads were closed, with wash outs feet wide. We simply smiled and told them that we had been told otherwise and were in for a challenge.
They wished us luck and we continued on our way. The stakes were high. We were traveling in my truck. We had no cell service. We could handle getting stuck. But breaking something was out of the question. With this in mind, we pushed onwards.
We traveled on through to the location I was most excited about.
Black Gap Road.
The stories and rumors of it were that it was perhaps the most challenging trail in any of the parks in the state. As we began to take the trail head, the dirt bikers in front of us turned off. Even they were not brazen enough to take Black Gap Road.
We continued on. Very quickly we realized why it was so widely acclaimed. The main path of the trail took us through tight switchbacks, canyon trails with ledges a foot high. The sides of the trails? Drop offs.
With the tight trails, my focus was 100% as we continued through the trails, our truck sometimes leaning to 20-25 degrees according to my dash. There were points where looking out my window felt like I was looking straight down into the canyon.
We advanced slowly, using our truck to it's full capability, we began conquering the switchbacks, the drop offs, the loose rocks, and the tight canyons. It was absolutely technical driving, yet with our upgrades to the truck, we managed to pass through with no damage, no scratches, and our skid plates remained virgin.
Our excitement had for the day, we began our way down the eastern River road to get to our camp site. The couple in the Jeep had warned us that it was closed off, and it was apparent why. Each dry creek crossing was terrible. As we crawled through, our front and rear came within millimeters of touching.
Through one stretch of desert running and a few others... confidence almost gave way to disaster. From powering through the desert, we found a series of ruts. We were tossed back and forth in a see sawing motion as our truck tried to survive the deep dips and sharp inclines of the washouts.
Not once though did our truck falter. Toyota's engineering combined with the premium Icon stage 7 suspension absolutely ate every thing we threw at it while begging for more.
During calmer stretches, sharp bumps led me to push my suspension.
Hamming on the gas, I approached the inclines... not just once, but multiple times did we jump the truck and continue on without even coming close to pushing our limits.
We rode within our limits, but it was apparent that the trucks limits still were beyond the toughest we threw at it.
Eventually with all the fun and excitement done for the day, the real "danger" approached. We pulled into our campsite, just hundreds of feet away from the Rio, which the Ranger informed us a lot of the danger crossed from. Both animal and bipedal.
We were the first to arrive between the two campsites. We sketched out the area, looking for signs of any wild life or human life. As we tried approaching the Rio, rustling in the brush separating us from the banks made us quickly turn tail.
We set up, locked and loaded, but enjoying the calmness of an apparent "dangerous" area. Soon our future friends made their way down to their camp, and we quickly met each other and bonded over the apparent dangers we faced.
Some quality HEB jalapeno poppers, drinks, and conversation were quickly passed through as a cold night began to led us back to our sleeping quarters. A few shots of the stars with everyone asleep, and I too would go to sleep.
We awoke in the morning, safe and sound. Our camping area still secure, we began to pack up as we began for day two. We would make our way west through the park to the Terlingua Ghost Town, and then on to the State Park.
As we headed out we checked out the canyon overlook over the Rio Grande. A quick hike and we were in the Canyon, and the beauty of the area again made itself apparent. We hustled back to the truck where the dog was waiting, and we left out.
An uneventful drive later, we continued basking in the neverending beauty of the area. The State park in my opinion was even more awe inspiring than the National Park.
Multiple stops were made along the road, checking out view after view.
Eventually we made our way further west out of the park and the mountain ranges begin to fade. A quick stop in Presidio and Marfa for food and gas, and we began the long haul back to San Antonio.
An absolutely amazing trip and it definitely blew away any other place I've ever been to. The pictures speak for themselves. The area is just absolutely remarkable.
And this was my weekend, all thanks to a spontaneous decision to get outside made Thursday afternoon.
A big thanks to Justin Renaud for the camaraderie and co-piloting skills. Definitely a great guy to go on spontaneous trips with.
And as always, my dog is still the best road trip companion everrrrrrrr soooo. My dog > yours.