Tuesday, 23 February 2016

The Outer Loop - Big Bend National Park

“People die on that trail,” said the Park Ranger.

Andrew and I tried desperately not to sigh out loud and roll our eyes in unison.

This is the part we hate about mandatory backcountry permits. Don’t ask any questions, just assume the people who are excited to get into the outdoors are out of shape and have no clue what they’re doing.

We politely listened to the Ranger’s advice and, for the most part, stuck to our original plan.

The Outer Loop Trail in Big Bend National Park covers over 30 miles and a variety of terrain. Starting and finishing at Chisos Basin, the Outer Loop is a combination of the Laguna Meadow, Blue Creek, Dodson, Juniper Canyon, Boot Spring and Pinnacles Trails. (Or in the reverse order if we’d gone the direction that “everyone normally goes,” according to the Ranger.)
On the Laguna Meadow Trail, looking back to Chisos Basin.
On the Blue Creek Trail.
When we were in Big Bend three years ago, at the same time of year, the weather had been colder and windier than we expected and we shivered in our light sleeping bags at night and wore every piece of clothing we had during evenings and early mornings. This year, we hit a weeklong heat wave and left the zippers on our mid-weight sleeping bags undone and, even then, I sweated through most of the nights.

On the first day, after driving to the Park from Alpine (2 hours), getting our permit, caching water and having lunch at the Chisos Mountain Lodge, we hiked a couple hours uphill to Laguna Meadows. A roadrunner saw us off at the trailhead and a skunk and two deer met us at our campsite.

The following morning we hiked down to Homer Wilson Blue Creek Ranch where we’d cached three full days of water. It was already +35C (94F) so we had lunch and waited out the worst heat of the day in the relative coolness of the covered porch of the abandoned ranch house.

On the Dodson Trail.
Dodson Trail
Sunset camp on the Dodson Trail.
The rest of the afternoon and the next day we followed the Dodson Trail and part of the Juniper Trail. While not significant altitude variations, there was still a lot of up and down and the beautiful but sparse terrain provided minimal shade. A 4-wheel-drive track comes into the junction of the two trails and we took our lunch break in the shade provided by someone’s truck.
Along the Juniper Canyon Trail.
A room with a view
Day four was the biggest elevation gain up to the junction of Juniper and Boot Canyon Trails. With occasional shade provided by the namesake Junipers and lots of switchbacks it was relatively easy going and the fabulous views and the sounds and sights of the Mexican Jays kept us entertained. 
Shade along one of the switchbacks going up the steep Juniper Canyon Trail.

A couple more hours downhill got us back to Chisos Basin, ice cream and cold beer. 

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