Beneath the Sierra Maderas del Carmen

This weekend I revisited one of my most favorite places on earth, the Marufo Vega Trail, in the far eastern drainages of the Big Bend National Park. This is a favorite for many reasons, among them the solitude, the scenery, and, oh yes, did I mention the solitude? This is a land not to be taken lightly. People die out on this trail every year, mostly from dehydration and exposure from lack of water, lack or preparedness, being lost, or any combination thereof. I have made this trip many times, sometimes with friends, mostly solo. This weekend was just such a solo trip, nearing the end of the season when the temperatures are mild enough to allow comfortable backpacking on this trail.

The trailhead begins near the end of the road that leads down to Boquillas Canyon, at the extreme eastern end of BBNP. There is a small parking lot, and no other comfort features, such as toilets, shade or picnic tables. Just a dirt parking area. I reached the trailhead with great anticipation, as this is my first backpack trip of the new year, and I am a victim of “cabin fever” of the first magnitude. The trailhead:

Marufo Vega Sign

If you are camping on this trail, it is considered “zone camping,” which means that you have no designated campsites. You go until you decide to set up camp, and try to find a flat spot devoid of cactus and rocks, no mean feat. I have a couple of camping spots that are never occupied (again, due to the solitude), so even though you cannot reserve any camping spots in the zone camping areas, you never have to worry about being the first one there. You are always the first one there. Along the way, you pass the remnants of cable towers, much like ski-lift towers, that were used to haul cinnabar ore north from Mexico to ore terminals in the northern part of the present Big Bend National Park, in the early part of the last century:

Ore terminal

In three hours I had hiked the 5.1 miles back to a bench that sits at about 2000′ altitude, just before the trail drops down to the river nearly a thousand feet below. Here, there is a wonderful campsite, just large enough for a 2 person tent, that looks downriver into the lower canyons upstream from the Black Gap Wildlife Refuge, and is dwarfed to the south by the Sierra Maderas del Carmen Mountains just beyond the Rio Grande River in Mexico (usually referred to as the Sierra del Carmen). These mountains rise to an altitude of 8900′, with the front escarpment rising up from the river immediately to 7000′. The face of the Sierra del Carmen can be seen from just about anywhere on the eastern side of the park. This was my campsite with the mountains rising in the background:

Tent w SdelC

 

One of the wonderful vistas on this trail is looking back downriver at the lower canyons. In this view, Mexico is in the right and Texas is on the left, the Rio Grande River shows in the center of the image, 1000′ below:

Downriver canyons

 

The Sierra del Carmen at sunset is one of the most spectacular sights anywhere. The solitary pointed spire in the rt. center of the range is El Pico, which stands at 7000′, nearly a mile above the location of my tent:

 

Sunset SdelC 1

 

The panorama of this imposing wall of granite and limestone is amazing at sunset. In this Chihuahua Desert, this island sustains large conifer forests at its highest altitudes:

Sunset SdelC 2

 

Sunset across the mountains back to the west was nearly as spectacular:

 

Sunset

 

Which gave way to the stars. I have been experimenting with some “startrails” photography, so what better to do but experiment on this 70-degree night:

Startrails 2 Startrails 1

 

The sunrise was its usual magnificent display, with the sun rising directly above the Sierra del Carmen:

Sunrise SdelC 1

Sunrise downriver canyons

 

After breakfast, it was time to break camp and head back to the trailhead, but not before a few minutes of solitude (there’s that word again) with my flute

Flute

 

A glimpse of the flora and geology along the trail:

Yuccas

Trail in drainages

 

From a ridge just before you drop into the drainage that leads the last mile out to the trailhead, you overlook the little town of Boquillas, Mexico. This was once a favorite destination of park visitors until the liquid crossing tradition was eliminated by 9-11. Just recently, a port of entry has been build on the U.S. side of the river, and a Mexican POE on the opposite bank, so you can pay your $5 for the rowboat ride across to the Mexican town for lunch, a beer at the Park Bar, or just to explore this little piece of history. Be sure to bring your passport, or you will not be allowed back onto U.S. soil:

Boquillas

 

With the rest of the country gripped by the Arctic Vector, you can understand why a backpack trip on a 91 degree day made me glad to be in this little patch of Paradise. If you’re planning a trip here, be sure to contact me for details. We now have a “Starpark” in Marathon. It’s the Marathon Motel, with accommodations for stargazers and astrophotographers, in the most accessible Class 1 Dark Skies in the lower 48. Come see what the excitement is all about. Thanks for visiting.

Wind Rivers and Bridger Wilderness

In our previous post we briefly outlined the 12-day trip in a couple of pix from each day. Here are a few more of our favorite images from this trip. The lower elevation lakes are more heavily vegatated, with grasses and lillies adding a tanic color to the water:

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The “high meadow” plateau gives stunning views of the peaks of the continental divide of the central Winds as you approach:

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We had spectacular sunsets every evening:

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026 Sunset Day 11

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A very unusual phenomenon, Sandpointe Lake, features a sandy beach:

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We found butterflies and moths abounding wherever there remained blooming flowers:

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One of our favorite high-altitude flowers, still in bloom are the “Elephantheads,” appropriately named:

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Great views of Middle Fork Lake:

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Some images taken from passes and saddles overlooking valleys created by the continental divide, or lesser saddles:

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A couple of views of Glacier Lake and Mt. Victor:

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Long Lake, a formidable barrier between Europe Canyon and Glacier Lake:

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Some reflections on the mountains:

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Backpacking the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming

Let’s go backpacking!  Each year I and two good friends pick a mountain range and head off for two weeks of adventure above timberline.  This year, it was the Wind River Range of Wyoming, just to the southeast of the Tetons and Jackson Hole.  We’ve been to these mountains before, and we try to spend as much time as possible “off-trail” and way back away from the other hikers, up where the snows don’t melt and the Grizzlies don’t roam.  It’s a bird’s eye view of God’s Creation without a lot of interference from man, and it’s a good place to be.  Come on along!

The first day was a 10-mile hike with full backpacks, and the first two miles enjoyed over a 1000′ elevation gain.  Camp the first night was in a meadow overlooking the Wind Rivers, with the jagged, round-topped Bonneville Peak standing guard.  Sunset the first night was phenomenal:

001 Boulder Creek Day 1

002 Boulder Creek Day 1

Day 2 we clicked off another 8 miles and gained another 1000′ altitude up to Middle Fork Lake.  We found a great place to camp, and a nosy mule deer thought so also:

003 Day 2 Middle Fork Lake

004 Day 2 Deer MFL

Day 3 we kept our campsite at Middle Fork Lake and did a day hike up over the saddle to Bewmark Lake.  Middle Fork and Lee Lakes as seen from the saddle:

005 Day 3 MFL Lees Lake

An unnamed lake just above Bewmark Lake, just below Photo Pass, at just under 11,000′ in altitude.  The streams were pretty, but is has been a very low snow year, and all the snow is gone, as well as a few glaciers that we saw when we were in these mountains three years ago.  Some of the streams are barely running, or in some cases, not at all:

006 Bewmark Lake Day 3

007 Flow Bewmark Lake Day 3

Day 4 we packed up and made a short trek up and over a pass to Halls Lake. We have been here once before, and it’s a beautiful place. We made a day hike up to the top of the knobs overlooking the valley of the Shoestring Lakes.  This panorama shows Halls Lake from a ridge above the lakes and the Shoestring Lakes as you pan around to the right:

009 Panorama Halls Lake Shoestring Lakes Day 4

010 Halls Lake Day 4

An eagle spreads his wings on the hunt, and another wonderful sunset over Halls Lake:

008 Eagle Halls Lakd Day 4

011 Halls Lake Day 4

Day 5 we head out on another short day, only 4.25 miles from Halls Lake to Europe Canyon and Europe Canyon Lakes.

012 Europe Canyon Lk Day 5

015 Europe Canyon Lakes Day 6

Day 6 was a day hike up to Europe Canyon Pass. Joe and I enjoyed a lunch on the pass, looking over into the Wind River Indian Reservation and Milky Lakes before a storm chased us down:

013 Europe Danyon Pass Day 6

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016 Europe Canyon Lakes Day 6

Day 7 was a tough 3.6 miles from Europe Canyon, past Long Lake and over the 500′ high buttress, then down to Glacier Lake and Glacier Valley:

017 Long Lake buttress Day 7

018 Glacier Lake camp Day 7

Day 8 we all did a day hike up to Hay Pass, at 11, 350′.  Views were spectacular.

019 Glacier LK Day 8

020 Hay Pass Day 8

021 Hay Pass BJM Day 8

The next morning we took a side trip to a small, unnamed lake up against the cliff face near our camp. What a wonderful surprise to find this gem tucked away and protected just for us:

022 Lake Glacier basin Day 9

023 Lake Glacier basin Day 9

Day 9 we did another day hike, this one to the Continental Divide on the other end of the valley, also at over 11,000 feet:

024 Glacier Lake Day 9

Day 10 we packed up to begin the 3-day hike back toward the trialhead.  Another calm morning meant more beautiful reflections on the water:

025 revlection Glacier LK Day 10

Day 11, our last night in the mountains, ended with a spectacular light show:

026 Sunset Day 11

027 Sunset Day 11

Our last day, heading down and back to the trailhead, the air was filled with smoke from fires burning in Wyoming and Idaho.  We ended our 12 days safe and sound with no food to spare:

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The Wind River Range, and the Bridger and Teton Wilderness, is some of the best-kept secrets in this country.  It covers a vast expanse of wilderness and roadless area accessible only to foot and horse, and seems as unspoiled as it was hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago.  Be ready to be self-sufficient and self-rescue worthy, and above all, respect the weather that these mountains generate, especially lightening.  For more information on hiking and backpacking the Winds, write me and I’ll get you in touch with some great information to get you started.  And remember, “You don’t stop backpacking because you grow old, you grow old because you stop backpacking.”

Happy Trails