Rios Homestead, Big Bend Ranch State Park

It’s February, the weather is in the 80’s (above normal, even for the Big Bend), so let’s go take a hike!

My high school buddy, Walt, is in town and we’re heading out for a day hike through a small region in Big Bend Ranch State Park, a remote state park in the Texas Parks system. Accompanying us are friends and family that have hiked with us before. 

Let me go on record here that our destination is actually a private landholding within the boundaries of the state park. The trail we’re following is not a designated trail, but a game trail through the state park, to an old historic homestead that is still in private ownership, and we have permission from the landowner to visit the old homestead. Even though the land is within state park boundaries, to be here without permission is trespass.

Following an old ranch road, we divert onto game/horse trails until we intersect a well-defined drainage with flowing water, something rare in the Chihuahua Desert, but more common in Big Bend Ranch State Park due to many springs which flow intermittently in the desert. Along the way to the creek we pass a section of volcanic ash, or tuff, strewn with igneous rocks, which offer a bizarre contrast:p1050575As we round the hill we drop into the creek, flowing with crystal clear water:p1050499The early bloom has begun:p1050496Stands of the Big Bend Bluebonnet, or lupinus havardii, are reaching heights of 3 feet or more in some places:p1050498At one point the creek goes beneath the surface, then reappears near the rock intrusion of a “dike” which appears like a vertical wall amid the layers of limestone deposited by an ancient sea which covered Texas at one time:p1050501-2-panA short way up the drainage we encounter the face of the dike, and a wonderful waterfall cascades some 20 feet down the stone slabs:p1050509Time for a short pause for a Kodak moment with my high school friend:p1050507 Atop a stone pillar near the waterfall are found mortar holes, made by early peoples who were dependent on the water for survival. These holes, made by years of grinding food materials for cooking, are some 12 inches deep:p1050514 The view of the dike from atop the waterfall is spectacular. These dikes are formed by volcanic lava flows which cool and are left standing as the surrounding tuff and limestone is worn away by eons of erosion:p1050511 The area is alive with bluebonnets. These are native to Big Bend, not planted along the roadways by Lady Bird Johnson as you find in the hill country. These are miles back into the desert landscape, here growing in the creek bed:p1050500 Moss grows in places along the watercourse, forming artistic patterns in the water:p1050519 Not far ahead the creek flows over another dike, another 20+ foot drop with a small waterfall at the top:p1050522p1050527 More bluebonnets along the meandering creek, as we near a large spring, the source of the water:p1050529 At the spring we find a surprise in the desert…non-native palms, perhaps growing from dates dropped by early settlers:p1050534 Above the spring is found a circular foundation, perhaps the remains of a native American shelter, or perhaps ceremonial, where there are many flint shards littering the ground, the remains of much flint napping, the making of arrow and spear points:p1050535p1050536 A short distance below the spring lies the remains of the Rios Homestead, probably dating the the early part of the 20th century, where a family clawed out an existence from ranching sheep or goats. Signs of life on a hostile frontier are everywhere:p1050546p1050550p1050553p1050549 Near the living structures is found a magnificent stone corral. Imagine the time and labor necessary to carry, stack and construct walls, over 3 feet thick in places, with no mortar to hold them in place:p1050542-5-pan A peek inside the main house, a much later type of construction from the first dwellings. Two prism skylights provide light in the rooms during the day. (Keep in mind that this is private property, and we are inside with the permission of the owner):p1050563 Quite a place to sit and watch the sun set across the mountains:p1050568p1050565 Flowers abound in the early springlike sunshine near the homestead:p1050538p1050539p1050577 And so, as we make our way back along the trail to our vehicle, it’s easy to let your mind wander back to the two different times represented by artifacts found on our hike…the early native hunters and growers, and the later homesteaders who lived out daily lives here in the desert. More questions than answers, but certainly an appreciation for the hardy and fearless nature required to persevere here:p1050572 A final reminder that many such remnants of early habitation remain in our state and national parks. In this case, on unmarked private property. Leave it exactly as you find it. 

The experience of discovering artifacts is exciting and special. Do not deprive others of the same experience by removing them. Take only pictures, leave only footprints.

Published by texasflashdude

Photography and Travel, specifically adventure travel and backpacking in remote North America, give me an excuse to stay outside. If kayaks, bikes, backpacks, Jeeps, archeology, geology and wildlife can be included, all the better. Having spent my life working in the fashion and photography industries, I love the unusual, the spectacular, and the beautiful. God has given us a wonderful world in which to live, and I try to open others’ eyes to its wonders. I have shared nearly 50 years of this indescribable wonder with my wife, Jodie, and we go everywhere together. I hope you will share some of our journey with us.

18 thoughts on “Rios Homestead, Big Bend Ranch State Park

  1. Another wonderful trip. Thanks for sharing. The piece of wood you carved for us with the bible verse is on the piano and every time I walk by it I think of of you guys. Love it and all your pictures.

    Love Kathy

    Kathy Smith

  2. Now, this is the sort of landscape and hiking that would be more accessible for me — not having four wheel drive and all that. I’m still intrigued by those bluebonnets. When you wrote about them before — last year, maybe? — I thought they’d be wonderful to see. Maybe next year. I like the thought of them just blooming away back there, away from everyone: perfectly happy in their native habitat.

    I liked your emphasis on permission and responsibility, too. When I visited Monument Rocks in Kansas, I really was impressed by the fact that it, too, is on private land, and yet has been made accessible. There’s just a sign that says, essentially, “Don’t litter, don’t take souvenirs, and don’t bother the plants and wildlife.” The place was as clean as could be , and just beautiful.

    Of course, like your territory out there in west Texas, western Kansas doesn’t get a lot of tourism. Most people don’t think there’s anything worth seeing. 🙂

  3. Yes, I wrote about these huge bluebonnets last year. Most people can’t believe how early they bloom down here. Early April is usually peak for the hill country bluebonnets that are much smaller.
    Is Monument Rocks on the Oregon Trail? I just finished reading a wonderful book, “The Oregon Trail,” by Rinker Buck. I’ll bet he talks about a lot of the places you visited in Kansas. It’s about a modern-day crossing of the Oregon Trail from Missouri to Oregon in a mule-driven covered wagon in 2014.
    Thanks for the comments.

  4. Hey, nice pictures. Since I am the owner of the property, they are particularly interesting and familiar. I am tho not sure who you are but I have no problem with you going out,. Kirk

    1. Hi Kirk. Thanks for the comments. I was on this hike as a guest of Dan Sholly, who did the facility use plan for Big Bend Ranch State Park, and is a local friend. I live in Marathon, and hike and backpack in this area frequently. I was very careful not to disclose the location of your property, and also made sure that people reading this blog know that it is a private inholding and is not open to the public. Thank you for your permission for me to hike there again. I am very careful to leave artifacts undisturbed, and would never take anyone there with me without your permission.

      1. Hey Don thanks for your reply and you are exactly the kind of person who needs to go out there. Please make yourself at home there. K

            1. Hello,
              My name is Alberto Rios III. The two “square” buildings in this picture were built by my Great Grandfather (Manuel Rios) and the longer rectangle home was build by my grandfather (Alberto Rios Sr.) for my grandmother after they married. The rock corrales were built by my great grandfather, grandfather and his brothers. They were goat herders and mine workers. I’ve been there many times in my younger years but haven’t been to the ranch since 2001. We know that area well and have lots of memories and stories/history from that place. That area was covered in fruit trees when my grandfather was a kid and they had pomegranate and palm trees by the creek. Anyway, it was interesting to run across this article. My father and I have been wanting to make another visit to this place. Please let us know how we can contact you to get permission. As always, we will leave nothing but footprints. Thanks for reading.

  5. Hello Alberto. Thank you so much for the information that you supplied about your family’s history at this wonderful place. I do not own the property. After my initial post, the owner contacted me through this blog and gave me permission to go there, but he did not give me permission to take anyone else to the property. His reply to my initial post is included in the “comments” section of this blog, as is his name. I do not know how to contact him directly. He did not give me that information.
    I would love to help, especially after you have such a personal family connection to the homestead. I would suggest that you check back to my blog and see if the owner responds to out posts.

  6. My grandmother was one of the daughters of Manuel Rios, my dad was born in a cave near there to some illegals, they were unable to care for him and gave him to my grandmother as an infant to raise. My father was named after one of her brothers (Jose). I was told the illegals already had several children, they were hands of the Rios and lived in the cave. I would love to visit the remnants that are left one day. I love the photos you posted, I always wondered what the ranch looked like.

    1. Hi Joe. Did you see the comments posted by Alberto Rios III that were posted to this blog in 2019? He gives some good detail about the ranch. Thank you for the additional historical information about your dad and your grandmother. I have no idea where the cave might have been.
      Thanks for you comments.

      1. I did read the Albert’s post, I know his dad but don’t believe I’ve ever met Albert III. One of my best friends (Brad Newton) lives in Presidio and it never occurred to me to reach out to him about finding out more on the Rios Ranch. Brad was once the river commissioner when we both lived in Ft Stockton back in the 90’s, he’s quite the history buff of the region. Anyway, thanks for replying. Keep in touch.

  7. Great. I would love to know more about the ranch. If you read all the comments on this post, you saw that the current owner of the property is Kirk Meade, and he lived in Alpine at the time he responded to my post.

  8. Our grandparents Manuel and Maria Rios lived at the homestead featured in the article. Be interesting to located/contact the people/person that currently owns the homestead to get permission to revisit the area. A lot of memories that our father Noberto Rios spoke of daily.

    If anyone has the information we need, please feel free to forward it me. Manuel C. Rios 702-557-7781

    Thank you!!

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