I awoke thirsty in the Chihuahuan Desert midway through my Big Bend Outer Mountain Loop to grunting and footsteps outside my tent. I did not hang my food because there was nowhere to hang it since I was in the middle of a desert. My food and pack were right outside my tent. I poked my head outside to see three mule deer grazing nearby. At the appearance of my head they took off over the ridge. I am sure when my tent opened they were hit with an offensive smell.
Homer Wilson Ranch and water was the goal
I had four miles to hike to Homer Wilson Ranch to get my gallon of water I had stashed. I got up and packed quickly as I did not want to waste any of the cool morning temperatures. Although I was not that hungry, I forced a pop tart down my dry mouth and continued the adventure.
Read part I of the hike – Big Bend Chisos Mountain Hike
Read part II of the hike – Big Bend Juniper Canyon hike
Easiest section of the Big Bend Outer Mountain Loop
Fortunately, this stretch of the trail was much easier than the first part of the Dodson Trail that killed me the day before. A lot of this part of the trail followed a flat dry arroyo. While hiking in the dry riverbed I fantasized that it had clear cool flowing water up to my ankles, and I was able to dip my cup and quench my parched throat.
My fear was that I would accidentally walk off the trail as desert trails are sometimes not the easiest to follow. Even getting lost for 15 minutes would not be good as it would be that much time without my life source water cache. Fortunately, the park does a great job of marking the trail with cairns, so I never strayed off the trail.
Homer Wilson Ranch a welcome sight
A couple hours later, A familiar butte came into view. I also saw signs of old fences, so I figured I was in the vicinity of the old Homer Wilson Ranch and most importantly, my extra water. The ranch came into view as I rounded a bend. I also saw something I had not seen in two days – people.
A reunion with my precious
I put my pack down at the ranch and walked over to retrieve my precious. There was also extra water left by good hiking Samaritans as well as some oatmeal bars and a bag of pot. I thought I was hallucinating for a second, but it was definitely cannabis. The last thing I needed in my mouth was hot smoke, so I left it for the next hiker. All I wanted was my precious water.
I met a very nice couple, and I was so tempted to ask them for a ride back to my car and forgo the last 10 miles of this trip. Even though I had only walked 4 miles this day, I was pretty tired out from the lack of water and the heat. I found out later that the high this day was 98, and I think the day before was hotter. I could not live with myself if I wimped out, and I really wanted to complete the challenge. It would have been a cop out to quit now. Although I was hot and thirsty, I knew I could make it. I was just a little dehydrated and not near any danger zone. Plus, I had my beautiful water.
Grueling hike back up to the Chisos Mountains
The good news – I had plenty of water, the bad news – my backpack was pretty heavy again, and the worst news – I had to hike up to the top of the Chisos Mountains again. I had about 3 miles more of level hiking through more dry gulches until the trail started going up, up, and up.
Once I began gaining altitude again, I hiked in 15 minute increments before throwing off my pack, gulping water, and slumping onto my pack. Two people in horses came down the trail. I asked them where my horse was. They laughed, but they stopped laughing when one horse refused to walk past me. The rider had to dismount and lead his horse past me even though I had backed off the trail. After three days hiking in the hot desert, I am sure I smelled pretty bad. They said the horses are not used to the shape of people with backpacks.
A beautiful world out there
The last thing the horseman said to me was “it is a beautiful world out there,” as he stretched his hands out pointing to the view in front of us. Despite my worn out condition, as I limped up the Chisos Mountains, I could not agree more with his words of wisdom. The golden desert spread out below us, and I could see where I had come from. It was magnificent.
I continued onward in the same slow fashion. Finally, I saw a sign, and I realized I had reached the Chisos Mountains plateau. I had to hike less than a mile over the plateau to the Laguna Meadows Trail that went straight down to the Chisos Basin and back to my car. It was about 3.5 miles down to the basin. I was so glad to have the hard part of the hike over. Usually, I hike a good 2-3 mile per hour clip, but today I had barely averaged over 1-1.5. It would be close to 6 p.m. before I got in.
Downward to the Chisos Basin and a completion of the Big Bend Outer Mountain Loop
As I got close to the Chisos Basin parking lot, a turkey buzzard was in a tree next to the trail. He was probably waiting to see if any Outer Mountain Loop hikers were ready to collapse. I know I felt close, but not today Mr. Turkey Vulture.
I could see buildings and a road close by, and the end of the Outer Mountain Loop was near. Just as I was about ready to hit the home stretch, a road runner emerged from the brush and practically walked over my feet. He stopped and preened himself, while I took photographs. He was the second I had seen today. I saw another one atop a rock while in the desert.
Never been so happy to see a parking lot
I then limped into the parking lot, threw off my backpack, and bought two powerades and a chocolate milk. I was even too dehydrated for my traditional end of hike beer. It was a tremendous feeling to finally be done. The Outer Mountain Loop was an incredible challenge. Despite the difficulties, it was worth it to see the amazing backcountry and scenery and experience 3 days of complete solitude in Big Bend National Park. The best part of it was the feeling of accomplishment at the end.
Read tips on undertaking this adventure – Outer Mountain Loop hiking tips
The goal of Traveling Ted is to inspire people to outdoor adventure travel and then provide tips on where and how to go. If you liked this post then sign up for the email newsletter. Notifications are sent out once or twice a month with what is new with Traveling Ted’s adventures. There is no spam and email information will not be shared. Other e-follow options include Facebook (click on the like box to the right) or twitter (click on the pretty bird on the rainbow above).
Congrats Ted on one very tough hike. Thank heavens you’re able to stash water.
I did a trip years ago down the Green River in Utah by canoe with my young kids & their friend. By 11 am our aluminum canoe was too hot too touch. Often we floated down the river instead of canoeing. And I had barely brought any ice so by day 2 on a 6 day trip all we could think about was water – ice cold water. Lesson learned for sure.
Despite your hardships this really was an incredible trip – and even more so because you did it by yourself.
Leigh recently posted..5 Great Day Hikes Near Boulder, Colorado
It was quite an experience. I definitely have a healthy respect for desert hiking. I look forward to hiking again in the Appalachians or similar eastern park where water is plentiful.
I grew up in Texas but have never been to Big Bend National Park. I have been around the world more than once but have not seen this wonder right in my own backyard. You have inspired to make up for this oversight next time I am “home”.
Jonathan Look, Jr. recently posted..Photo: Ubine Bridge in Mandalay, Burma
Since my trip to Big Bend I have met a lot of people from Texas who have never been and also met people while I was there who were visiting for the first time. Big Bend is so remote that it is not easy to get to even for Texans unless you live in San Antonio or El Paso. It is 12 hours from Houston and about 10 hours from Dallas, so it is a one day plus drive from the major population centers. I hope my story and pictures inspires you to make the trek someday. It is one of the most beautiful places in the world that I have ever visited.
The 3-part story in beyond fantastic – I devoured every word, Ted. Great pics and exceedingly well-written evocative description of your experience!
You are a trooper. Thanks for hanging on through the whole adventure. Although there were parts of the trip I would like to change if I did it again – overall I can’t complain. Being thirsty, hot, and swarmed by flies were an inconvenience and not a danger. Dehydration is serious business, but I had the water thing in control as far as being something that was life threatening. Thanks again for following along.
I enjoyed your pictures and story. I was born and raised in Fort Stockton (the gateway to Big Bend) my Great Grandparents were pioneers in the Big Bend in the early 1900s. The Dodson trail is named after my great, great grandpa and his family (William Harvey Dodson). Yet I’ve never hiked it. But your story is inspiring me to do so!
You are fortunate to live so near such a national treasure. It took me a ridiculous amount of time to get there. I have been twice. The first time we drove from Chicago and one way was almost 30 hours of driving. The second included a 4 plus hour two leg flight to Dallas and then a ten hour drive from there. It was worth it, and I am sure I will return.
That is cool that you have such a family connection to the park. I hope you hike the trail soon. Just make sure to bring extra water.
Thanks for the reply Ted. We drove through Big Bend often as I was growing up. We used to cross at the low points of the Rio Grande and visit relatives in Mexico. It was different in the 70s. Much more relaxed then now.
Do you recall if there are any remnants of the Dodson home on or near the trail?
I do not recall any Dodson home remnants, but I was pretty exhausted on this part of my trip, so I might have passed and seen them but not remembered. The only remnants I remember seeing was for the Homer Wilson Ranch.