Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Day 2 in Big Bend Country

Yesterday was a great day spent exploring Big Bend National Park with two women from MTF, whose husbands were out playing on two wheels in the dirt. Today one of those two women is going to ride on the back of her husband's KTM while the other woman and I are going to rough-road it in her P/U truck to meet the guys at Sauceda, in the heart of Big Bend Ranch State Park.

After breakfast this morning at the little cafe at the motel, Becky and I hopped in her husband's pickup truck and started heading toward Big Bend Ranch State Park on FM 170. We needed to get a head start on the dual sport riders, since they can make much better time than we will on the 47+ miles of gravel and dirt to get to Sauceda for lunch.

We stopped at the Warnock visitor center just east of Lajitas to get our park passes then got back onto 170 to drive this fantastic road toward Presidio. This stretch of 170 is called the River Road. It closely follows the bends and twists of the Rio Grande, occasionally gaining significant altitude up the 15% grades to the tops of bluffs that overlook the river at some points. The views at the top of these bluffs is spectacular, with the river and the bluffs on the Mexico side of the river and occasional glimpses deep into Mexican territory.

The Park Ranger at Warnock suggested that we take the first turn-off onto Bofecillos Road toward the state park entrance road. He doesn't recommend this road to car drivers but felt we could handle it in the truck. When the road appeared we turned right to head north and within a mile we were cursing that park ranger big time! The road was very rough, very twisty, and with steep grades. In many places the rocks, gravel and sand were so deep we feared we would lose momentum as we climbed the steep hills and took the 90-degree and greater bends in the road. The roadway was barely one vehicle wide and each time we crested one of the steep, blind hills we feared for what we may come up upon coming the other way.

At one point on this desolate road, we figured out that if anything happened to us, no one would ever find us. Yikes! Soon the very rough roads had shaken our bladders to the point that we took a quick pit stop out there in the wilderness that is Big Bend area.

We were very glad to reach the turn onto the Park Road 20 miles later. This road, while still fairly rough in places, was a piece of cake compared to the last 20 miles on Botecillos Road. We flew along, relatively speaking, and sometimes wondered if we were ahead of or behind the riders. We guessed that we might be in between the two groups, since both groups passed us on 170, one pack of riders passing us soon after we leave the Warnock visitor center, the other pack passing us just before we took the turn onto Botecillos Road.

As we bumped and jostled along on the Park Road we whooped and yeehawed our way over the hills and through the low, dry river beds. It was bronco-bustin' fun when we weren't terrified out of our wits by the loose gravel that caused the rear-end of the truck to slew sideways into near out-of-control skids.

After what seemed like forever, we finally spotted tin roofs glinting in the distance ahead of us. In a few more minutes we reached the little Sauceda compound. We were the first ones there. There were no bikes in the parking area near the little store/gift shop. It wasn't too long, however, before we saw the first bikes approaching on the road, their cloud of dust and distinctive "thumper" engines heralding their arrival long before the bikes came into view. In twos and threes the bikes arrived over the next 15 or 20 minutes.


Lunch was hosted by the park ranger staff in the Bunk House. Sauceda is an old restored ranch, donated to the state years ago. Today, the park hosts bi-annual cattle round-ups, an event when any city slicker can pretend to be a cowboy for a few days. They have a nice bunk house with large open living room with fireplace, and industrial-sized kitchen, and a large eating area with wooden plank tables and benches which promise some good chow and good times.

The food was good: Enchiladas verdes, salad, and ice cream for dessert. We visited a bit, browsed the gift shop then decided we should get on the road ahead of the riders, in case we ran into problems or got a flat tire. One by one, however, the riders caught up with us and passed us. So much for that plan! This time we took the main exit road - Casapiedras Road - back to 170 instead of the rugged Botecillos Road. This was like an interstate road by comparison. Still gravel, but smooth and wide and straight the entire way. We could travel 50 mph on this road without problems.

We made a quick stop at Ft. Leaton just to see it - t's part of Big Bend Ranch State Park - then headed back toward Study Butte. It was close to 5:30 PM by the time we made it back to the campground/motel. A very long day. But fun! Some riders were already returned to the motel, others were not far behind, having chosen to go over to Presidio first.

The three of us walked across the street to a little tiny cafe for dinner that night. It would be my last evening in the Big Bend area. Tomorrow morning I would get up and get on the road after breakfast to drive back home to Houston.

It was a good trip. I never once regretted not being on the bike because of the opportunities having a car provided me.


  1. What a cool trip. The thought of riding in early March is such a mystery to me. Big Ben National Park looks amazing....

  2. I have not made it to the Big Bend yet. Great post and great info.