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Contact: (940) 627-5475
Location: North of the Dallas / Fort Worth Metroplex near Decatur, TX
Caddo/LBJ National Grasslands mailing/ business address:
1400 US HWY 81/287
P.O. Box 507
Decatur, Texas 76234
Directions to TADRA Point main equestrian trailhead for the park: Avoid going around past Cottonwood Lake as the park’s website recommends when pulling a trailer of any size. Large trailers can slip off the narrow road over the levee to the dam and get high centered before the cattle guard past the dam.
Directions from Dallas: I-35E north to I-35 in Denton continue north exit Highway 380W to Decatur, you will go west 24 miles to FM 730, right exit (signs also say Airport) then go left, north 9.5 mile to CR 2461 (sign will also say Cemetery) turn left onto CR 2461, 100 yards turn left and follow around to forest service road 904, turn right and follow signs to camp at TADRA Point.
Directions from Fort Worth: I-35W north to US-81, go northwest to US-287 then northwest US-380 head east (stay in left lane) less than a mile to FM 730, left (signs also say Airport) then go north, left, 9.5 mile to CR 2461 (sign will also say Cemetery), turn left onto CR 2461, 100 yards turn left and follow around to forest service road 904, turn right and follow signs to TADRA Point.
Direction from Oklahoma: I-35 south to Highway 380 West [just north of Denton] to Decatur, you will go west 24 miles to FM 730, exit right (signs also say Airport) then go left, north 9.5 mile to CR 2461 (sign will also say Cemetery), turn left onto CR 2461, 100 yards turn left and follow around to forest service road 904, turn right and follow signs to TADRA Point or Off of 35, in Gainesville, Exit Hwy 51, California Street towards Decatur. Go about 23.8 miles, and go right on FM 455, Go 7.1 miles, and go left on FM 730 (near some big towers) Then a little past 7 miles, you will go right on 2461, then follow instructions above.
Directions from Wichita Falls: Highway 287 South almost to Decatur. Take Hwy 380 East, stay in left lane, about 1 mile (Airport exit) to FM 730. Turn left and take FM 730 North. Follow directions above from here.
Once you are in the Grasslands you will see brown signs to TADRA Point (but these can be very hard to see in the dark).
Facilities: Camping at TADRA Point is primitive with no running water faucets or electrical hookups. Water is available for horses either from the windmill powered water tank or the stock pond. TADRA Point also has a covered and lighted pavilion and two vault toilet facilities. Most of the campsites have two tie posts for your horses, a gravel pad to park your trailer, and numerous shade trees. There are also campsites at Bois D’ Arc and Valley View which have similar facilities. Valley View can be rented out for group use.
Fees: $4.00 per day per vehicle
Reservations: Reservations cannot be made for individual campers, it is on a first come first serve basis. You might be able to rent out the entire camping facilities, such as Valley View, for organized events, please contact the park for details.
Mileage: Over 75 miles of trail! There are five color coded trails which can all be access from TADRA Point.
Orange Trail 25.5 miles
White Trail 14.4 miles
Blue Trail 14.4 miles
Red Trail 10.7 miles
Yellow Trail 10.4 miles
Map: A trail map can be purchased at the park office for $10.00 in person or $11.00 if you have it mailed to you. I’d suggest purchasing a map before your trip so you can plan out where you would like to ride and study the trails before your trip.
Terrain: The terrain is mostly sandy flat ground with just a few rocky sections and a few trails which have some ups and downs. Overall, the terrain is not challenging.
Cell Phone Service: I have ATT service which did not work in my trailer but I did have service outside of my trailer.
Dogs: Dogs are allowed but must remain on leash while in TADRA Point campground
Hunting: Hunting is allowed during the permitted season. Hunters are required to wear florescent orange except when hunting migratory birds or turkeys. It is recommended riders and other park users wear florescent orange during the hunting season as well. Hunters are required to be 150 yards away from the roads, marked trails, park boundaries, and lake shorelines.
If you want to get lots of miles under your horse, then visit Caddo / Lyndon B. Johnson National Grasslands, a popular equestrian destination, just north of the Dallas / Fort Worth Metroplex. Managed by the US Forest Service, the park has approximately 75 miles of well-marked trails. LBJ Grasslands has just about 20,250 acres and Caddo Grasslands has just about 17,755 acres. The term “grasslands” can be a little deceiving and lead me to believe this park would consist of wide open spaces of tall native grass prairies. Although several sections the park do consist of open grasslands a large section of the park consists of thick forests with heavy undergrowth. I learned that the title “grasslands” is really a term designating the land as protected. LBJ Grasslands was originally called the Cross Timber National Grasslands due to the thick belt of forest running along the area, but the name was changed sometime in 1974 in honor of President Lyndon B. Johnson.
The multi-use trail system is shared by equestrians, cyclists, and hikers. Motorized vehicles are not allowed on trail. However, several roads traveled by vehicles and ATVs run within park boundaries and intersect with the trail system. You and your horse will become pros at maneuvering through the many gates in the park. You will often come to a gate before a road crossing. The gates are fairly simple to open and close from horseback due to the higher placement of simple chain hook latches. Although the trail system is expansive and scenic, you don’t get that feeling of being in the middle of nowhere. For this reason I feel safe when riding alone in the park, if you get turned around or in trouble you are bound to run into a landmark, road, or another park user to help.
The main equestrian trailhead and camp ground known as TADRA Point accesses all five loops of the trail system. TADRA (Texas Arabian Distance Riders Association, Inc.http://www.tadra.org/) members have donated time and labor to create and maintain many miles of trails and to construct restroom and camping facilities at TADRA Point . Camping at TADRA Point is primitive with no water faucets or electrical hookups.
Water is available for horses either from the windmill powered water tank or the stock pond. I decided to fill up my trailer’s water tanks and bring all the water I could from home to avoid hauling water from the camp ground tank to my campsite. I also took many opportunities to ride or lead Angel over to the windmill and hung out with her there while encouraging her to drink directly from the tank. The windmill and its eerie sounds did not seem to concern her. I rather enjoyed staring up at the metal marvel and wondered why so many people, to include myself, are attracted to such ancient but extremely useful technology. These visually pleasing contraptions used well over a 100 years ago still find great purpose even today. Maybe that is the appeal in today’s world of throwaway technology, what is good today is out dated tomorrow. TADRA Point also has a nice covered and lighted pavilion and two vault toilet facilities. Most of the campsites have two tie posts for your horses and a gravel pad to park your trailer. By far the best quality of TADRA Point is the numerous oak trees providing cool shade and natural beauty. The park comes to life with deer, armadillos, and other wildlife at dawn and dusk. Don’t be surprised if you are fortunate enough to spot a critter in the middle of the day as well, such as hogs, skunks, hawks, snakes, etc… I had to ride around a very annoyed skunk who was aiming and ready to fire! Cattle roam the grasslands and the park is popular with bird dog enthusiasts. The Valley View camping site is often rented out and used for bird dog training and events. Hunting is allowed at LBJ but hunters are to remain 150 yards away from designated trails, roads, lake shoreline, and park boundaries. During hunting season it is recommended you wear florescent orange.
LBJ trails consists of five color coordinated loops; the 25.5 mile Orange trail, the 14.5 mile White trail, the 14.4 mile Blue trail, the 10.7 mile Red trail, and the 10.4 mile Yellow trail, all originating from TADRA Point. Wow, that’s a lot of miles in one park! The terrain is mostly sandy flat ground with a few rocky sections on the Red and White trails. I rode Angel barefoot with no issues. The park is a mixture of open prairie and forest land. Some areas have gentle rolling hills with only a very few spots of mildly challenging inclines and descents. The Red trail offers a bit more diversity in terrain type, takes you to the shoreline of Cottonwood Lake, and provides an overlook. The White trail also has a great overlook area. I enjoyed the Yellow and White trails best, as I prefer forest trails with lots of shade. The Yellow trail also has a cool wooden bridge to cross and a piny forest area distinctly different from the rest of the park. Ponds and windmill powered water tanks are scattered throughout the park.
My Trail Tale:
My trip to LBJ this past September in 2013 consisted of many firsts; my first trip to the park, my first time to drive solo in our new truck pulling our trailer over 600 miles round trip, my first time to use four wheel drive, and the first time Angel and I won sweepstakes for placing first in horsemanship and first in horse categories in our division at the NATRC (North American Trail Riding Conference) competitive trail ride. I must thank CAM Forge Farrier Services (Mr. McConnell) for making and donating the eye catching copper plated horseshoe sweepstakes plaque – THANK YOU! Needless to say we had a good time and really enjoyed the park! I don’t recommend driving into the park for the first time in the dark and rain. Although there are signs pointing you to the TADRA trailhead, they are hard to see in the dark. The roads are mostly sandy caliche material which gets very sticky in spots during a heavy rain. I was driving very slow due to being unsure of my route, and I got stuck. Using four wheel drive for the first time to free myself out of a mucky situation was quite empowering, boy I am glad we now have 4×4 capabilities. Luckily a friend (Thanks Liz!) met me at the crossroads and I followed her the rest of the way to the TADRA Point campgrounds. I thoroughly enjoyed this park and can’t wait to return.
Park Office (432) 358-4444
Reservations (512) 389-8919
HCR 67, Box 33
Marfa, TX 79843
Near Presidio TX
Directions: The entrance to Big Bend Ranch State Park is located at Farm to Market Road 170 and Casa Piedra Road. There are two separate directions you can come from to get to the park entrance.
Traveling south on 118 from Alpine going towards Lajitas turn right/west on FM 170. Travel through Lajitas remaining on 170. From Lajitas the park entrance is approximately 43 miles of magnificent scenery. Once in Reford there will be approximately eight miles left to get to the main entrance. From FM 170 turn right onto Casa Piedra Road. This route could be more difficult when hauling a trailer but it is said to be one of the most scenic roads in Texas.
Going south on 67 from Marfa heading to Presidio. Once in Presidio take FM 170 southeast for approximately 6-7 miles and then turn left onto Casa Piedra Road, look for the brown state park sign. This is the route we traveled.
When turning onto Casa Piedra Road from FM 170 it is about a 26 – 27 mile drive on a gravel road which is rough and not well maintained in areas, to get to the park headquarters at the Sauceda Ranger Station. The entrance road starts out as a fairly wide well maintained gravel road, it later narrows and becomes rough, then once closer to the headquarters the road begins to improve somewhat. Travel approximately 6 miles on Casa Piedra before coming to a T or split in the road, go to the right. Travel approximately 1.5 miles before coming to a split in the road and go left. Travel for 9-10 miles and then you will come to the large park entrance sign (you can’t miss it), continue straight and on the main road. Just after passing the large sign there is a vault (chemical no flush) toilet on the left. Follow the signs and stay on the “Main Park Road”. A few miles after passing the main park sign entrance look to the right for an extremely large boulder overhang formation. This is a neat place (Cuevas Amarillas rock shelter) to stop as there are pictographs and maize grinding holes hidden under the shade of this huge rock. Further down the road you will pass Agua Adentro Pens, an equestrian campsite, on the right, providing another opportunity to use the mural painted restroom (vault toilet) if needed. On the Main Park Road you will notice mile marker signs which gives you an idea of how much further you have to travel to reach the headquarters. I recommend getting a map of the park ahead of time to help with navigation. I like the Big Bend Ranch State Park Discovery Map, it is large, very handy, and even has the electrical lines, railroads, fences, and contour lines, among many other items marked. The road narrows, gets very rough in spots, crosses cattle guards, and inclines/descents which are a bit steep at times but doable. We were in a one ton dually pulling a three horse trailer with an approximate 12 foot living quarters. The speed limit is 25 but you will have to go slower than this, especially if you are hauling a trailer. You will also go over low water crossings which are usually dry. I noticed on one of the low water crossings the road was eroded away on the right leaving about a one and a half foot drop off on the edge. I would not recommend making this drive in the dark if you are pulling a trailer or unfamiliar with the area. Pay extremely close attention to the signs and map when entering and exiting the park, as a wrong turn could get you miles off course and you don’t want to haul any further than necessary on these roads.
Getting There: I highly recommend finding a place to stay with your horse the day before heading into Big Bend Ranch State park and the day after leaving the park. We stopped on our way in and then on our way out of the park in Alpine and boarded the horses at Big Bend Equine Center – www.bigbendequinecenter.com. They have a nice barn containing large covered stalls with outdoor runs and if you provide them with your horses feed then they will take care of all their needs. Freddy took great care of Angel and her buddies and the horses got to rest up before the long haul from Alpine to Big Bend State Park. Big Bend Equine Center also has an arena and round pen. You also have the option to camp out on the center’s grounds in your living quarters trailer, but I don’t believe they have hook ups. We rested up at the Highland Inn for a very reasonable price while the horses enjoyed the equine center.
During this respite we thoroughly enjoyed Alpine; my good friend, an Alpine resident, was happy to give us a tour, thanks Karen! We especially enjoyed eating breakfast at Bread and Breakfast Bakery & Cafe and shopping at Big Bend Saddlery. Alpine is a fun city to visit and staying there one night before going in and after coming out of the park is a great way to rest up both you and your horses from that long bumpy haul in and out of the park. Although Alpine seems close to Big Bend Ranch State Park it is not an easy drive, especially when considering the 26 -27 miles of unpaved park road into Sauceda Headquarters.
On our way out of the park we planned on getting diesel in the nearest town to Big Bend State Park, Presidio, but we had a bit of a scare. The sign said they were out of diesel and after much searching we learned there were no other gas stations in town that served diesel. We were not sure we had enough fuel to get to Alpine. So we waited, as the store staff explained they should be getting a tanker trailer of diesel in sometime that day but they did not know what time exactly. After explaining to the manager that we would not be able to leave for Alpine until we were able to get some diesel he explained that their tank was not completely out but they closed the pump because once it gets low it pumps very slow. We explained that we did not care how slow it pumped just so long as we could get some out. Luckily there was enough to get us to Alpine! So in retrospect I recommend bringing at least five to ten extra gallons of diesel on hand when traveling to Big Bend Ranch State Park.
Hours: Sauceda Headquarters hours of operation: 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. daily
One of the many perks of this rugged and remote park is that you do not have to rough it if you don’t want to. Of course there is primitive camping but the comforts of a warm bunkhouse and house are available for reservations. At the park headquarters office, aka, the trading center, there is running water with restrooms and showers. In the office is a store and a type of mini museum with artifacts and interesting information. Human facilities include primitive campsites, the Sauceda Bunk House, and the Sauceda Big House. Primitive campsites are located all throughout the park and are just that, primitive, with little to no facilities. At some of the campsites there are chemical toilets.
Equine Campsites: According to the state park website there are six campsites in which you can bring your own horses, some of which have a water supply and corrals.
Sauceda Headquarters: If staying at Sauceda Bunk House or the Sauceda Big House you can keep your horses in the corrals located near the barn, which is adjacent to the big house and not far from the bunk house. This is where we kept our horses while I and my friend Carol stayed in the bunk house. Our friend, Kelly, was able to plug in her living quarters trailer into the barn outlet and be right by the horses. However, this was not an RV plug so it did not run everything. She was also able to run her generator. The pipe corrals were adequate but did not provide protection from the weather. I also had to move a few items, like metal t-posts and other debris out of the corral, to make the area safe for my curious horse.
Agua Adentro Pens: Located along the 2WD main park road which accesses Sauceda Headquarters, this site consists of three large shade shelters, several livestock corrals with an active water trough, a water tank, three fire rings, picnic tables, and a dry vault toilet. There is plenty of space to maneuver large rigs. Located in the west-central part of the park, the site offers unlimited access to miles and miles of ranch roads and trails to explore.
Escondito Pens: Located near Sauceda Ranger Station, this site is approximately two miles off of the main park road on a 2WD high clearance road. The site consists of woven wire pens, an active spring fed water source, two shade shelters, picnic tables, a dry vault toilet, and two fire rings.
Fresno Campsite: Located in the bottom of Fresno Canyon, this site is accessible by a 4WD road. No horse trailers are allowed. It is necessary to ride to the campsite, but camping gear can be hauled in with a 4WD vehicle. The site consists of 2 hitching rails, 2 picnic tables, and 2 fire rings. There are no corrals at this site. Seasonal water may be located approximately ¼ mile from the campsite where livestock can be watered; otherwise, plan to carry in water for your horses. This site though primitive, will get you near the west side of the Solitario and the historic Fresno Canyon.
Jackson Pens: Located on the rugged 2WD high-clearance road accessing the Solitario area. Check with the park before attempting to drive your trailer down this road. The site consists of woven wire pens, an active water trough, a fire ring and picnic tables. From here, one can ride into the collapsed volcanic caldera of the Solitario
Javelin Pens: Located on the rugged 2WD high-clearance road known as the Madrid Road. Pulling a horse trailer is not recommended. The site has remains of pump jacks and other ranching artifacts, and an operating well. The site also consists of woven wire pens, 2 picnic tables, and a fire ring. Non-potable water is available. The Rancherias trail and the heads of several canyons are near this area.
The Sauceda Bunkhouse, a former hunting lodge built in the 1960s, is large with segregated sleeping areas and bathroom/showers for men and women and a central living/dinning space. The sleeping area can accommodate about 60 people and consists of a a hallway with rows of twin size beds on each side of the hallway. There is some privacy as two twin size beds are in a type of nook or cubicle with a thin wall between the next set of beds. An opening/doorway with no door or curtain and lattice work with a handy high shelf is located above the foot of the bed. There is a light above each bed and one outlet for each cubicle/nook. This is a small but cozy space. On one side of the hallway the cubicles have mirrors and on the other side the cubicles have windows. The living area is open to the dinning area. The living area consists of three leather couches and a large chair with end tables and a coffee table. There is a large TV on the wall with a VHS and DVD players. A fireplace is also available for use in the living/dining area, but was not being used during my visit. In the dinning area there are several large tables with chairs, a coffee machine, water dispenser, a microwave oven, and two refrigerators with clear glass doors (this is where guests can store their food). Coffee, silverware, and styrofoam cups are available. A kitchen is also in the Sauceda Bunkhouse but it is only opened to park cook staff who prepare meals for the guests. Guests cannot use the kitchen to store food or prepare meals for themselves. Suaceda Bunkhouse also has a large front porch with plenty of seating. Sauceda Bunkhouse is located on a hill and overlooks the park headquarters. Reservations must be made ahead of time at the bunkhouse and the price is very reasonable at $35.00 a night (does not include meals).
The rustic Sauceda Big House is a unique and historic home built in 1908 and remodeled in the 1940s. This is a three bedroom home. One room has a queen size bed while the other two rooms each have two full size beds. There are three bathrooms, two of them have bathtubs and the other has a shower. There are several fireplaces throughout the home. Each room can be reserved for $100 a night for one to two people and $50 a night for each additional person (does not include meals). During my stay in the park one family had rented out all three rooms in the Big House and seemed to really enjoy the house and park. They were kind enough to show me around so I could photograph the home. The home has a working kitchen and dining room. Guests can chose to prepare their own meals or purchase meals ahead of time and dine at the Sauceda Bunkhouse, which is a nice walk across headquarters just up a hill.
Meals: Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are prepared at the Sauceda Bunkhouse kitchen by park staff and are available to guests, but you must purchase the meals ahead of time. During my stay in the bunkhouse I found the food to be delicious. Breakfast mostly consisted of bacon, eggs, or pancakes. I did not have lunch because I brought my own food to pack out on the trails for lunch. Dinner was my favorite meal and ranged from home cooking to delicious Tex-Mex cuisine. Call the park for meal reservations at 432-358-4444. All meals will be paid in full (non-refundable) by phone prior to arrival. Note: From May 1 to August 31 the kitchen will only open when reservations have been made by a group of 10 or more. For parties of less than 10 persons, frozen microwave meals will be available for an additional charge.
Fees: Be sure to check with the park for accurate fee information as this is subject to change. Park entrance fees vary depending on if it is peak season.
$3.00 – $5.00 daily park entrance fee
$2.00 a day per horse equestrian fee
$8.00 nightly for a primitive camp site (this allows up to 8 people per site)
$5.00 nightly for back country camping (camping in non-designated campsites)
$35.00 a night when bunking at the Sauceda Bunkhouse
$100 a night for 1 room for 1 to 2 people in the Sauceda House and $50 for each additional person
Dogs: Dogs are not allowed in the bunk house, the big house, or on the trails. Please review the link for the park’s policy on dogs: http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/state-parks/big-bend-ranch/dog-policies
Hunting: Hunting is allowed in the park during certain times.
Cell Phone Service: Extremely poor to nonexistent. Verizon can get some poor service. I have AT&T and was unable to make a phone call. I could send a few text messages with difficulty; it is not reliable.
Mileage: Exact total trail mileage is unknown but there must be over 100 miles of trails in the state Park. I also heard of a group of men riding their mules from Lajitas to Sauceda Headquarters. They must have a great deal of experience in back country camping or they may have hired a guide.
Map: There are several different maps available at the Sauceda Headquarters trading center. The map I found most useful is the Big Bend State Park Discovery Map which is about $2. I also bought the Big Bend Biking Guide for $2 which I found useful for trail riding. Here is a link to one of the basic park maps: Big Bend Ranch State Park Map
Terrain: The state park offers an eclectic range of easy to extremely difficult and rugged trails. The main roads are the easiest trails to travel. The jeep trails offer some inclines and are slightly more rugged, and the one track trails can range from mild to extremely difficult. The dry creek beds or arroyos offer a break from the rocks with fine dark colored sand which is deep in spots. This is a vast mountainous rocky land so shoes/boots are a must for your horse. The land is very dry as well so be sure to bring plenty of water along.
Trail Markers: I was only able to cover a tiny portion of the largest state park in Texas. But from what I saw the trails markers are placed at main junctions by the main roads or jeep roads and once away from the main cross roads there were no markers. Bring your map, compass, GPS, or even better book the park guide, Raul.
Trail users: Trails are shared by hikers, equestrians, cyclists, and motorized vehicles to include dirt bikes and ATVs. However, with the exception of the first day when we saw some hikers high along a ridge line, we saw no one else on the trails – this is a BIG park.
Description/Trail Tale: We arrived at the largest state park in Texas, Big Bend Ranch, on New Years Eve Day. The trip to this park alone is a another tale. Our friend, Kelley Brough, was a pro at maneuvering her dually which was hauling a fully loaded three horse trailer along the 27 mile unpaved park entrance road while keeping our precious cargo safe. Staying at the cozy Sauceda Bunkhouse was certainly the way to go for myself and friend, Carol Grosvenor; enjoying the comforts of a soft warm bed, soothing hot shower, hot meals, and good company by night while riding through the harsh Chihuahuan Desert by day. Big Bend Ranch offers many accommodations for visitors such as the cozy bunkhouse, the historic Big House, primitive camping, or you can chose to stay in your trailer but there are no standard RV hook ups. We all ordered breakfast and dinner from the kitchen at the Sauceda Bunkhouse and packed out lunch for the trail. Enjoying a warm breakfast and dinner prepared by someone other than myself after a long ride was definitely a wise decision. I loved not having to fuss with cooking and packing lots of food, plus the meals were delicious.
When we first arrived the bunkhouse was packed with off road motorcycle enthusiasts, evidently they plan a yearly get together at the bunkhouse. They were an eclectic group from all over, from Texas to Alaska. This was their last night and fortunately for us only a few were going to be biking on the trails the next day. We made sure to enjoy different sections of the park since horses and motor bikes usually don’t mix so well. They were a very friendly boisterous bunch and we talked about the trails and got to listen to Brad Collins share some tall tales. Brad gives motorcycle riding lessons at Hidden Falls, located in Marble Falls, TX. He also describes himself as a professional story teller and “third best liar in Texas”. The yarn he spun about breeding pairs of armadillos that lined danced and dug post holes was my favorite!
The following morning, after filling up on biscuits and gravy, bacon and eggs, and canned peaches we celebrated New Year’s Day in the saddle. From the ranger station we rode west on the main entrance road and turned right at the Cinco Tinajas trail sign. For a short ways we rode through an arroyo and then followed a trail to the left curving up a rocky hill and back down into another dry creek bed. To our right the arroyo met its end at the base of a statuesque canyon wall. Curiosity compelled us to ride on to the canyon base, but all three of our horses objected and seemed to believe there was surely a creature of doom lurking in the shadows. Looking up I learned what caused our horses’ hesitation, several tiny silhouettes; hikers, could be seen along the lofty ridge. This was the only instance we ran across other trail users during our exploration of the park trails. Hidden in the canyon’s shadow revealed one of the Cinco Tinajas. A Tinaja is a shaded desert water basin carved out by runoff carrying abrasive sand and rock. The deepest Tinajas hold water even in the driest times; knowing the location of such a resource was vital in the frontier. We admired the view for a moment then double backed, following the arroyo and taking a right at the glutch. Heading in a new direction down the sandy arroyo armed with map and compass we enjoyed the vastness of a 300 thousand acre park. Getting turned around was a slight concern of mine, but my friends were handy with the their map and compass which showed our path was true. Navigating the arroyo was a bit tricky, in spots our forward travel was blocked by formations of boulder like rocks, which would have produced little water falls had the creek not been dry. We took our time finding the best ways around or up the rock barricades; our horses did great! As we went along, my horse Angel alerted me to movement ahead. I caught a glimpse of a Javalina tail disappearing into the brush. At my second glance he was safely on top of the hill; swift creatures. The little arroyo lead us to a well defined jeep road leading us back to the main park road and then headquarters. Our trip turned out to be an 11 mile loop ride. To top off my New Years day, my old high school pal, Karen Caswell, and her family stopped by for the late afternoon and hung out with us. We gave her and her three kiddos a ride on the horses.
The following day we used the “Big Bend Ranch Biking Guide”, which is just as handy for equestrians, and picked out the Chilicote Springs – Sauceda Loop Ride. This took us on the Llano loop, an easy level gravel road to the Puerta Chilicote trailhead, and then finally to an overlook at Ojo Chilicote, which provided a superb spot for lunch. This ride ended up being just over 12 miles and showcased the parks overwhelming vastness and
rugged country. The trail itself was mostly tame two track level dirt to gravel roads. Along this route I saw numerous disturbances in the soil which appeared to be cattle prints. Big Bend Ranch contains herds of Longhorn cattle; this was the only signs I saw of them. At one point we halted our horses and kept quiet, drinking in the silence. Our horses’ rhythmic breathing was all that could be heard.
We decided to use the services of the park’s longtime renowned guide, Raul, on our third day’s excursion. Raul has worked at the ranch for years, is quite the hand, and knows the trails better than anyone. The weather decided to become unpleasant with strong winds and light sleet. I could not even begin to explain where Raul took us, it seemed more like bushwhacking up the side of a mountain, through deep gullies, across ravines, and zig zagging rocks and cactus. The terrain was rough. Raul said we were on an old coyote trail which has not been used for years. I was thankful to have chaps and a raincoat on. This fair weather rider was happy to have pushed myself to ride in the unpleasant weather, as the views and exploring remote trails was worth a bit of discomfort.
The following day, our last day of riding at the park, we awoke to a winter wonderland. Snow had blanketed the ranch making for spectacular views. I was anxious to ride in the snow, something I’ve never done before. However, my friends’ shod horses were unable to be ridden due to the snow balling up in their shoes and making them look like they were walking on high heals. My horse, Angel, is not shod and I use boots, which preformed well in the snow. Feeling disappointed for my friends and a little insecure about riding out in 450 square miles of rugged unfamiliar country, I figured I’d just be doing a short ride around the headquarters. However, I got lucky, Raul was taking a group of three, a friendly women and two teenage girls, out on the ranch horses for a trail ride. I was welcomed to tag along! This last ride was the piece de resistance, riding in the snow covered Chihuahuan Desert, seeing the ominous flat top mountain, La Mota, blanketed with snow, galloping along the deep sandy arroyo, seeing red pictographs along the side of a boulder, and riding to Los Banos De Leyve. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the vast wonderland of Big Bend and look forward to returning to the Biggest State Park in Texas. The rugged trip into the park is well worth it.
Location: Northwest of Austin
2805 Pace Bend Road North
Spicewood, TX 78669
Contact: 512/854-7275 0r 512/246-1842
From Austin exit 290/71 west, 290 and 71 will split, stay to the right going northwest on 71, turn right on Pace Bend Park Road (RR 2322), this is a lighted intersection and you will see a large Chevron gas station which also has a Grocery Store (Paleface Grocery – a good spot to get ice and what ever else you might need). Pace Bend Park road will dead end right into the gate house of the park (you do not have to turn off of this road which is approximately 4 miles long). Once at the gate house be sure to ask for a park map and trail map. You can also get these maps on-line, see the links below.
Equestrian overnight camping: Allowed
Dogs: Allowed but you must have your pets on a leash and you can’t leave them unattended
Cell Phone Service: Good
Texas Hill Country, rocky, hilly, and flat in some areas – shoes/boots are recommended
Approximately 12 -15 miles of riding combined on the inner and outer loop areas
Bikers, hikers, and equestrians
Fees: Credit/Debit cards are not accepted. Fees may change or vary so be sure to call the park for the most up to date information.
Day Use: $10 per vehicle and $2 per trailer
Primitive Camping: $15
Improved Camping:$20 (no horses allowed)
Day use: Sunrise to twilight
Campers: 24 hours
Quiet Hours: 10pm – 7am no generators, music, etc…
Primitive camp sites (400 sites according to their webpage) are open for equestrian users while the improved campsites (20 sites) with water and electric do not allow horses. Most of the primitive camp sites have picnic tables, grills, fire rings, and shade trees. There is no running water at the primitive sites. The park has waterless restroom facilities numbered 1 – 15 throughout the park located off of the paved main loop park road.
If you enjoy trail riding but also love to kayak, you can accomplish both at Pace Bend Park. The park is managed by the Lower Colorado River Authority and is one of several Lake Travis recreation areas which allow horseback riding. The 1,368 acre park is just a few miles northwest of Austin, tucked into a bend of Lake Travis. For equestrians the park allows day use and overnight primitive camping. A seven mile paved roadway loops around the park perimeter. Beach access to the lake is outside of this loop and marked trails are located inside the loop. Horseback riding is allowed in both the interior trails and outer loop areas. The interior marked trails are shared with hikers and bikers. Motorized vehicles are not allowed on the interior trails, as this part of the park is managed as a wildlife preserve. Some of the trails are marked as “hike and bike only” trails (no equestrians). When first exploring the interior trails, it can get a little confusing and easy to find yourself on a hike and bike only trail, as they are not marked at every intersection. If you find yourself on a trail with lots of low hanging branches then you just might be on a hike and bike only trail. The park is a popular spot for off-road bikers. During each of my visits we encountered bikers on the trail who were considerate and polite, but seemed surprised to see horses! Keep this in mind when riding, as it is not uncommon to have bikers come up from behind or in front and they are not necessarily looking out for horses. In fact many park goers seemed surprised to see horses in the park, which made me wonder how often trail riders frequent this area.
The interior trails weave in and out of oaks, cedars, and Texas wildflowers. The ground consists of typical Central Texas Hill Country limestone surface which makes shoes, boots, or amazingly tough hooves a necessity. The interior trails are at a higher elevation and offer some gorgeous Lake Travis views where you can see all the lake action. Riding outside the loop offers almost constant views of the lake, but also puts you in the middle of all the beach activity. A day use area northwest of Mud Cove located outside the park loop road is quieter and opens up into some unmarked trails. Riding along the waterfront or into the lake itself is risky, and when lake levels are low it is just plain not advisable. I’ve heard of some occasions where horses sank in the unstable soil. During my last visit in June, our friends who arrived a day before us experienced this first-hand when their horses sank along the water’s edge, causing one horse to fall. It was a close call but they were all right. Water sources on the trail are scarce with exception to the lake, but as stated that could be dangerous. I saw only one water source, a water tough, on the interior trails located by a chain link fence near trail #208.
Primitive camping at the park is on a first-come, first-serve basis; reservations aren’t taken. Make plans for an early arrival to scout out the best spot. Mud Cove, located on the northeast side, is one of the better areas to camp with your horses. When looking at the Pace Bend Park Visitor’s Map, Mud Cove is near restroom #11, this restroom can also be seen from the main park road. Many campsites have picnic tables, grills, fire rings, and tall shady oak trees. There are no pens, but portable or electric pens are allowed or you can high-tie your horses but be sure to use tree savers. No running water is available at the primitive sites; youmust bring water for your horse and yourself. Quiet hours (no generators, music, etc.) are enforced from 10pm to 7am. Bring your puppies but keep them on a leash per park rules. My dog, LB, loves to accompany us on our camping trips but she did not like our first trip to Pace Bend as the campsite was full of burrs. She would pick up one in her paw and stand still as a rock until we pulled it out. On our last visit during the Super Moon weekend in June, LB approved the burr-free campsite. We enjoyed a delicious fajita dinner prepared on the grill thanks to Caroline Moody while staring up at the Super Moon, the closest and largest full moon of the year!
Lake Travis is popular for swimming, boating, skiing, and whatever other water activities you can think of. The Park is busy, so if you are looking for peace and quiet or you have a horse that spooks easily then this may not be the place for you, especially on the weekends. However, there are several benefits to camping with your horses at Lake Travis. You are not limited to just horseback riding, which makes it fun for your non-riding friends as well. Swimming in the lake after a long hot ride is an added bonus to this location. On my first trip to Pace Bend Park, I had the privilege of going horseback riding and kayaking in the same day. Thanks to Carol Grosvenor who amazingly managed to stuff five kayaks in her truck and trailer, along with her horse and camping gear, several friends and I had our first kayaking experience. Now I’ve become a fan of kayaking but I don’t have to let that infringe on my riding time by enjoying both activities at Pace Bend. See you on the trails or in the water!
Description and photos provided by contributor, Lin Sutherland
The Ranch is located just north of the Big Bend National State Park.
Map link: Stillwell Ranch – Google Maps
The Stillwell Ranch is located on the north-east side of Big Bend National Park about 7 miles from the park’s north entrance known as Persimmon Gap. Drive about 39 miles South of Marathon, turn southeast onto FM 2627 and travel 6 more miles to the Stillwell Ranch.
Overnight camping with your horses is allowed.
There are approximately 19 uncovered horse pens.
(approximately 14 horse pens are on one side of the road located by the electric/water/sewer hookups and approximately 4 pens on the other side of the road by the electric/water only hookups)
The Ranch also has shower/bathroom facilities, washer and dryers, and free wi-fi. The old fashioned Stillwell Store offers food, drinks, other supplies, and gas (but no diesel). Diesel can be found at the National Park. Be sure to check out the Hallie Stillwell Hall of Fame Museum.
Fees (rates are subject to change so please call to verify current costs):
Primitive Camping –
$7 adults, $4 children ages 7-11, and free for children ages six and under.
RV hookups –
$19 for rigs under 28 feet
$23 for 29 foot rigs
$26 for rigs over 29 feet
-Stay 6 days and get the 7th free
$5 to approximately $10
Map: Call ahead to ask for maps of the ranch area and National Park.
The terrain here is rough with rocks and lots of cacti. Shoes or boots for your horse are essential and long sleeves and long pants (even better, chaps) are recommended for you. You can ride on dirt or gravely roads or on the trails. You can find level ground or steep inclines and canyons to explore. You can gain access to Big Bend National Park from Stillwell Ranch.
The Stillwell Ranch is currently for sale with a contract pending. The sale is expected to be closed on in May of 2013. It is believed the perspective new owner wishes to keep the Ranch the same so equestrians may still be able to enjoy the Stillwell Ranch.
Description / Trail Tail by LIN SUTHERLAND:Jewel and I are crossing the Trans-Pecos desert with a dozen other riders in Big Bend National Park. It is love at first sight for me. The desert, the river, the mountains – it’s not vast emptiness, it’s a life zone full of animals and plants adapted to this rough and tumble region.
Seventy five riders are camped at Hallie Stillwell’s Outpost, being led by Peggie “Redhorse” Kimberlin – two tough, legendary Texas women. Hallie is here with us in spirit only, having passed away in her 90′s after living in these badlands her whole life. Peggie, a larger than life encyclopedia of information on Big Bend, is leading her 23rd Annual Stillwell Ranch Trail ride.
When you cross this country you wonder how anyone could live here. It is desolate, dry and out to get you. Everything pricks, sticks, stings or strikes you. A tender young bride came here at 19 years old to make a home a few miles from the Rio Grande and the Mexican border – a few years and children later, she lost her husband and was left to do it on her own. She established a store and stopping over place for a lifetime of visitors, taught school and wrote two books, “I’ll Gather My Geese, ” and her posthumously published one, “My Goose is Cooked.” She became the stuff of legends, and her most famous quote is “Trust everyone but brand your cattle.”
Peggie Kimberlin grew up in the shadow of that great tradition. Just like Hallie, she can ride, shoot and tell an exceptionally good story, and does all of those with regularity. She got the nickname Redhorse from the sorrel she rode for years until it recently retired. No doubt it’s odometer had turned over. Now she rides a good looking red and white paint and sits it quite well as she leads us into the Black Gap Wilderness area of Big Bend.
First thing she does is take us “off-roading” up a hill thick with lechugilla, a nasty spiny agave plant with poisonous spikes like daggers, a plant invented by the Devil, no doubt. My sweet magnolia blossom walking mare starts to dance and when I look down I see little ruby droplets on her white legs. Of the many that struck her, one has penetrated her heel bulb and she stops and holds it up to show me. The poison tip stings her flesh, but, there is nothing to do but go on. Like our ancestors who came through here.We rode about 12 miles that day, flusing out red tailed hawk and mule deer and admiring the great open view of the desert. The next day we rode a total of 18 miles down a dry river bed into a canyon with 300′ high walls. It was breath taking. If you looked hard you could find a few red petroglyphs from the Indians who beat us to the place. We passed a lady sitting quietly in the canyon quilting.
About a third of the way down, we stopped for lunch in a swirl of sand. Others continued on to the Rio Grande river and Mexico. After a ride like that my riding buddy, and I chose to drive up to the Hot Springs and soak our bones. What a fortuitous lagniappe that is! A big contained area with water bubbling out at a perfect 107 degrees. It sat right on the river, which was running heartily after the rains of the winter. After a good hot soak, I climbed down the rocks to wash my hair in the cold Rio Grande. That’ll wake you up!
The Big Bend ride is something I’ve heard about for years, so it was high time I went on it. But you don’t have to come on an organized one to ride here…there are 12 or 13 horse campsites you can stay in to ride the beautiful green Basin or surrounds. However, the Stillwell Ranch ride which Redhorse organizes is a plus for various reasons:
* The National Park campsites are dry. Stillwell ranch sites have water and electric. And that was a major help since the nights dipped to 26 degrees. Days were perfect though – 60 and bright blue skies.
* Everything is done for you! Peggie thinks of all the best trails, gets the best band for the dance, and gets the best caterer for the food. And she’s the only one who can lead people into Maravilla canyon.
*The cast of characters. I’ve never met so many odd, interesting, mule ridin’, guitar pickin’, story tellin’ folks. They came from Houston, Lubbock and all inbetween – and Arizona, New Mexico, Missouri, Maine and even Canada!
*It’s go great cooking because Wally Roberts and family cater the week. Wally is an expert on dutch oven cooking, and there wasn’t a dish that wasn’t delicious, hot, plentiful and mightily appreciated after a day in the saddle. Wally also does the Billy the Kid ride in New Mexico — I hear that’s something for the not-faint-of-heart. Guess I’ll have to go! Wally Roberts (Dutch Oven Cook) – Billy the Kid Trail Ride …
We camped underneath the uncomparable West Texas black sky with two zillion diamontine stars that led the McDonald Observatory to be here. We listened to the coyotes howl and yip. We laughed and told tall tales and sang and fed the camp poodle. We rode in a wagonette pulled by two elegant, silver-dappled Clydesdales and driven by a Border Patrol agent named Cande, who shared the drover’s seat with two adorable dappled weinie dogs. We made new friends and we saw a unique part of the world from the back of a horse. What better could we wish for in our travels?
The week was so good it even sparked a few romances – after all it was Valentine’s Weekend. Who wouldn’t fall in love with – or in -Big Bend?