Heading down Big Bend Juniper Canyon from the Chisos Mountains
I awoke the next morning and broke camp and headed toward the Juniper Canyon Trail. I remembered this trail being one of the most treacherous I had ever hiked. Even more difficult than hiking down the Hermit’s Rest Trail in the Grand Canyon.
Read part I of the hike – Big Bend Chisos Mountains hike day 1
The good news is the park service obviously worked on this trail since the last time I hiked it over 25 years ago. The descent was much more manageable with switchbacks and a more gradual decline.
Anywhere you look at the Chisos Mountains they are beautiful as they rise right out of the desert. I think the back side of this mountain range turned out to be more spectacular than the views heading up from the Chisos Basin on the front side.
One beautiful view after another in Big Bend Juniper Canyon
The only problem is I had trouble making time as I would stop for photos every ten feet or so. It seemed every time I hiked a little bit the movement would create a new angle to view the beautiful mountains and the desert below.
This did turn out to be an issue because I spent more time in the sun than I would have had I just been hiking. I tragically forgot my Tilley hat in my car at the airport. I fortunately had a baseball cap, which I rigged a dish towel around with the aid of duct tape to protect the back of my neck from the sun.
One of the fascinating parts of hiking down from the Chisos Mountains was to observe the gradual change in the flora as the elevation dropped. I was hiking in a mountain meadow at the beginning of the day and at the end I found myself in a desert environment with flowering cactus and yucca plants dominating a dry arid earth. Big Bend is home to more species of cactus than any other park with 70 different kinds, but don’t expect me to name them.
Crossing the Chihuahuan Desert on the Dodson Trail
I eventually made it down the canyon to where a backcountry gravel road meets the trail. There is a metal box here where people can stash water, but the road is recommended only for 4 wheel drive use. I did not use this box for storage, but I did utilize the next water stash, which was 12 miles away across the Chihuahuan Desert on the Dodson Trail. A gallon of water was waiting for me there.
My goal was to hike this whole stretch today to ensure I had enough water. I had a little more than two liters left. Plenty to get me through the 12 miles, but if I could not make the 12 miles, then it would be a little tough.
I figured since I was hiking across the desert that it would be relatively flat. I turned out to be quite wrong on this estimate. The Dodson Trail, which is the 12 mile stretch from the Juniper Canyon Trail to the Blue Creek Trail at the Homer Wilson Ranch was a son of a bitch, especially the first 6 miles.
You think of a desert as a flat expanse of dry hot ground, but this section of the Chihuahuan Desert was quite different. It was like the foothills of the Chisos Mountains. It was up one ridge and down the next. For the next 6 miles it was up and down, but it seemed to be more up than down.
The terrain coupled with the heat, combined with the lack of shade, added to the fact that my backpack was way too heavy, really began to slow me down. I felt like I was back at the end of the Chicago Marathon except no one was handing out water and gatorade. I would walk about fifteen minutes and have to stop and seek shade. Shade sometimes was usually in the form of sitting under a brush or rock. There were a few dry creeks and springs that had some trees, which I enjoyed, but most of the time shade was sparse and it was hot. Fortunately, wispy clouds covered the sun for periods of time only to have the hot sun break through again.
Worn out on the Dodson Trail
Each time I stopped I was swarmed with flies. I still could not believe such an army of flying insects could be found in such a hot environment. When I read that Big Bend was home to over 450 kinds of birds, I was amazed as that is almost the same number found in Florida. I now understood how the desert environment could hold such a quantity of birds as I discovered they had plenty to eat.
I knew I had to make time, but I also had to listen to my body. I did not want to over exert and come down with heat stroke. When I was tired I rested, found shade, and drank water and crystal light. The good thing about the flies is they made me want to keep going. I never got too comfortable while resting.
One particular climb up a ridge just about did me in. I realized I was not going to make my water stash tonight. This was going to make things a little dicey as I only had two liters left, and I needed some water for dinner and to drink that evening. I was so thirsty I could have downed both liters in an instant. I ended up drinking one liter that night. It was a good thing I let the park ranger talk me into carrying more water. I bought two liters at the store just before leaving.
A thirsty goodnight
I went to bed thirsty. I had about five miles to go the next morning to where I left the water. I knew I would be okay, but I was a little worried, about what might happened if I stepped off the trail accidentally and even got lost for 15-20 minutes. Sometimes when you solo hike, there is no margin for error.
On the bright side, I had a gorgeous view of the sun beating down on the Sierra del Carmen Mountains on the other side of the Rio Grande in Mexico. There would be no Old Granddad tonight as I did not want to drink alcohol and dehydrate myself further. It was a sober, thirsty, but scenic end to quite an adventure hiking down Big Bend Juniper Canyon.
The adventure continues in part III – Completing the Outer Mountain Loop
Read Big Bend hiking tips – Outer Mountain Loop hiking tips
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