Friday the 17th was our Groundhog Day, as once again we were up and on the road for Big Bend before 6AM. This would be our second, and last day at the National Park.
Again we were treated to an incredible Texas sunrise as we traveled the 90 miles towards the Park. We encountered very, very few cars that morning going in either direction. Traffic did pick up a bit as we entered the park, and when we got to Panther Junction, the lot was half full. Busy, but fewer cars and people than the previous day.
I checked in with a different park ranger that morning, wanting to learn some more about the trail I’d selected for that day, the Pine Canyon Trail. He said that was a really fine walk, but getting to the trailhead might be harder than the hike. Accessing the trailhead required a long off-road trek that became tougher as the drive wore on, he said. He asked what I was driving, and said “You shouldn’t have any problem” once I told him of the Transcontinental Jeep.
We made a right turn out of the parking lot on Park Rt. 2, and fairly shortly made the right turn onto Glen Springs Rd. This road wasn’t too bad, here in Vermont we’d call it a Class IV road. Dirt and gravel, marginally maintained. Top safe speed perhaps 20MPH. I drove it at less, about 15MPH.
About 2 ½ miles along Glen Springs Rd. the turn onto Pine Canyon Rd. came into view, and we turned right. Pine Canyon Road is nothing more than a jeep track, rocky, rutted and washed out in places. I jacked up the Jeep to “Offroad 2” height, and reduced speed. We traversed the 4 miles along this road at an average of 8MPH, and fortunately encountered no vehicles coming the other way. It took a little bit, but when we arrived at the trailhead, we were the only folks there so far that day. I parked the Jeep well out of the way, lowered the suspension to ease exiting the vehicle, and turned it off. Time to get ready for the walk.
Wife decided once again to stay at the trailhead while I explored. It was a brighter day than Thursday, but still on the chilly side. I went with the same layers as the day before. I inspected the well-signed trailhead. The warnings today included snakes, along with bears and mountain lions.
The trail signage used in this park is excellent. Solid plate steel is used, with the words cut out. While the signs do rust, they never wear out and are always readable. This is not the case with the wood & paint signs used in the Northeast. I wonder if this type of signage has ever been considered up there?
This canyon trail was very different from the Window Trail. For starters, it was an uphill hike into the canyon. The track itself was well-used, and was made of loose gravel. I hate walking on loose gravel. Your feet slip, and traction is not good.
The first part of the hike was through a typical high desert country. Yucca, prickly pear and other scrub filled the plain as I walked up towards the canyon entrance.
Occasionally there’d be a small tree here and there, and bushes that had little red berries.
I don’t know what it was from, but invariably around these bushes was a lot of scat from some kind of critter.
I’d been walking perhaps ¾ of a mile when I heard footsteps coming up behind me. A young, solo hiker was approaching. He was moving much faster than I, so I stepped aside as he passed. We greeted each other, and he complimented me on having such a wonderful wife that would patiently wait at the trailhead while I go walking.
He moved on, and I stopped to shed the parka shell and stow it in the day pack. The day was warming slightly, and the steady uphill slog through the gravel had raised my temp. Onwards towards the canyon I went.
Before long the I was entering the canyon, and the flora and terrain was changing. Many more trees were growing here, mostly deciduous, and the trail began to transition into more of a packed earth affair- not so much gravel.
At roughly the 1 ½ mile mark I was in the woods again. There were trees everywhere, and it was obvious that this part of the canyon saw significant water. The trail started undulating, more up than down traveling the direction I was going. Pine Canyon was the opposite of yesterday’s canyon- when it rains, water flows out of this canyon.
The trail continued for perhaps another ½ mile, and then abruptly stopped. Towering rock walls encompassed three sides, and you could see where the rainwater would fall into the canyon if you craned your neck ‘way back, looking at the rim far above.
The fellow that passed me was perched upon a rock, sipping some water. We chatted a bit about the trail and Big Bend in general. He was from Fort Worth, and said he tried to get out this way as often as he could. Except in the summer. I mentioned that I was from Northern New England, where a hot day in the summer might be 80°. He laughed and said that would be a great day here. He said Big Bend was only enjoyable from November through March for hiking, and I didn’t argue. I’ve spent summertime months in Texas- it gets incredibly hot.
I asked him if he’d seen the scat along the trail. There was a lot of it. He said yes, and thought it was probably javelina. The park was located at the northern end of the range of these smallish pig-like critters. They’re also known as peccary, or skunk pigs.
After drinking some water, I bade fellow hiker goodbye and began the trek back to the beginning. Once the brief ups and downs were passed, the walk was a steady downhill affair, and it wasn’t long before I was back in the desert, looking towards the trailhead.
The entire walk was just over 4 ½ miles, round trip, with an elevation gain of 1037 feet. It took exactly 2 hours to complete.
Wife and Jeep were still there, as was an impressively customized Wrangler that must have belonged to the man I saw on the trail. As we prepared to depart, we saw a pickup truck in the distance heading our way. We waited for it to reach the parking lot, and then started out towards the paved road, Jeep high in the air once again.
This closed out our exploration of Big Bend National Park for this visit. It is a great park- “must see” in my opinion- and I am already plotting a return. I want to climb some of the impressive peaks of the Chisos Range.
Maybe next year. But not in the summer!
The road trip continued- stay tuned for more. Thanks for stopping by!