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Saturday morning view of the canyon rim and setting moon from our equestrian campsite.

 

pdcsp-signWebsite: 

http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/state-parks/palo-duro-canyon

Contacts: 806/488-2227 or park information at 1-800/792-1112

Reservations: Made by phone 512/389-8900 or on line

at: http://texas.reserveworld.com/Home.aspx

Location: 11450 Park Road 5, Canyon, TX 79015

Latitude (degrees, minutes, seconds) N: 34° 59′ 04.84″

Longitude (degrees, minutes, seconds) W: 101° 42′ 06.51″

Directions to Park Headquarters:

South of Amarillo and 12 miles east of Canyon on State Highway 217

Link to location on Google Maps

 



Directions to Equestrian Trailhead: The Equestrian trailhead/campsite is located on the southwest side of the park, south of the circular turnaround. From the park entrance/headquarters, follow Park Road 5 down into the Canyon. Be cautious as there is a 10% grade for two miles as you descend to the canyon floor. At the split we kept left due to park road construction. It is about an eight mile drive from the park entrance to the equestrian site. There are a few low water crossings that will have water over the road after a heavy rain. The equestrian campsite is located behind the equestrian day use area. If hauling a larger rig you will need to be cautious when turning into the trailhead, by taking it wide or circling around in the day use area to come from the opposite direction and get a better angle for your turn from the day use area to the campsite area. Our visit in June of 2014 coincided with park road construction and bridge repairs which made for some very narrow bridge crossings when hauling a three horse living quarter trailer.

Entrance to the equestrian campsite is located behind the equestrian day use area on the south end of the park

The equestrian campsite entrance at Palo Duro Canyon State Park is located on the south end of the park and behind the equestrian day use area.

Camping: Overnight equestrian camping is allowed!

Fees (fees are subject to change, please call the park for most accurate and current fee rates):

Seniors, Texas resident age 65 and up – $3.00 a day

Adults or children ages 13 and up – $5.oo a day

Children under age 13 – free

Equestrian Campsite – $12.00 Nightly (up to eight persons per campsite)

Non Equestrian Campsites with water/electric – $24.00 Nightly

** parking fees are added on for sites with more than two vehicles, your trailer is counted as a vehicle

Horse Unloading Areas: Horses can be unloaded at the Equestrian campsite and day use area located at

the south end of the park south of the circular turn around and at the Light House Trail parking area; you

cannot park on the road.

Equestrian campsite at Palo Duro State Park.

Equestrian campsite at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Equestrian campsite at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Equestrian campsite at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Equestrian Campsite at Palo Duro Canyon State Park on a Monday after everyone left to go home.

Equestrian Campsite at Palo Duro Canyon State Park on a Monday after everyone left to go home.

The equestrian campsite does have some washouts and uneven ground as you can see in this picture.

The equestrian campsite does have some washouts and uneven ground as you can see in this picture.

 

Equestrian Trailhead – Campsite Facilities: There are 12 primitive and reserveable equestrian

campsites. These sites are not marked. The area is open and you just pick a spot to park your trailer.

It is not an overly large campsite so maneuvering larger rigs is mildly difficult depending on how many

other trailers are there. The ground is red dirt; there are no gravel or concrete pads. Some areas along

the outside brush/mesquite tree line are not level and there are some washouts in spots. There is

almost no shade.

Pens

Equestrian pens at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Pens3

Metal pipe horse pens at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Horse pens at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Pens: There are four large connected pipe pens about 24 by 24 feet in the shape of a square. These

are nice sturdy pens. There are no chains or latches to secure the pen gate with, so be sure to bring

something to tie or chain the gate closed. No more than two horses are allowed in each pen. The pens

seem to be on a first come first serve basis. The pens are not covered and there is no shade. You may

also bring portable panels or tie your horses to the trailer or tie to the outside of the pipe pens. The park

asks that you do not tie your horse to trees and that you do not leave your horse unattended. You may spread

manure.

The water pump and trough is in the middle of the horse camping area at Palo Duro State Park and there is also a water pump/facet by the horse pens as well.

The water pump and trough is in the middle of the horse camping area at Palo Duro State Park and there is also a water pump/facet by the horse pens as well.

Water: A water pump/facet is located directly in front of the horse pens and a second water pump is

located in the center of the equestrian campsite area along with a water trough. A second water trough

is also located in the day use equestrian parking area. I’d recommend you bring a water hose.

Picnic areas: Two picnic areas with tables and rustic wood awnings for shade are located at opposite

sides of the equestrian campsite. Each area has a fire ring.

This Picnic area with two picnic tables, a wooden awning, and a fire ring is at the horse camping area near the pens at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

This Picnic area with two picnic tables, a wooden awning, and a fire ring is at the horse camping area near the pens at Palo Duro Canyon.

This picnic area is close to the entrance of the horse camping area. It has one table and a fire ring.

This picnic area is close to the entrance of the horse camping area. It has one table and a fire ring.

 

Bathrooms/Showers: The equestrian campsite is primitive so there is no bathroom or shower at the

campsite. However a 1/3 mile walk or drive on a slight uphill to the Mesquite Camp Area will take you

to the closest bathroom/shower location. You are not allowed to ride your horse to this area.

Park Store: This state park has a store which provides some supplies , ice, souvenirs, and it has a small

restaurant which serves hamburgers and sandwiches.

eva-cave3

Eva, our Shepard mix at False Cave along the Juniper Cliffside Trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Pets: Pets are allowed if kept on a leash no more than six feet in length. Pets are not allowed in the state park buildings. You are required to pick up your pet’s waste.

Pests: When the weather is warm be prepared for large biting flies. My fly spray seemed two work for about ten to fifteen minutes against these terrible critters. Some horses had less of a reaction to the bites than others. I could actually see the fly dig its awful head deep into my horse’s flesh. Angel was one of the horses that had a reaction to the bites. She had swollen welts which you can see in some of the pictures of her. I really regretted not having a fly sheet for her and I will not return to this location again during warm weather without one.

Cell Phone Coverage: There is no cell phone coverage on the canyon floor.  We had to drive back up out of the canyon to the park entrance for cell phone service.

Mileage: The park offers approximately 16-18 miles of designated equestrian trails. Trail riders are allowed only on the following trails – Equestrian Trail, Juniper Cliffside Trail, and the Lighthouse Trail.

Trail Users: The trails are shared by hikers, bikers, and equestrians. Equestrians are restricted to the Juniper Cliffside, Lighthouse, and Equestrian trails only.

Recommended Reading:
Trails & Tales of Palo Duro Canyon State Park
by Richard Lamaster


MAPS:

 

Please note that North is not at the top of this map but is at the bottom right corner.  The Equestrian Campsite/Area is at the south east end of the park.

Please note that North is not at the top of this map but is at the bottom right corner. The Equestrian Campsite/Area is at the south east end of the park. – Click map to enlarge  –

 

PDC trail map

Click this image to see the full size map.

Trail Markers: The Juniper Cliffside and Lighthouse trail (north trails) are decently marked but

the Equestrian Trail and its branches (south trails) are not marked.Finding the trailheads leading out of the

campsite was a challenge as there were no signs in the equestrian campsite to direct us to where the trails begin.

JC trail marker

Juniper Cliffside Trail Marker

Terrain: The ground consists of red gritty caliche, clay, and sandstone dirt that glitters in the sun. It is

rough and rocky in many areas of the park. Shoes/boots are recommended. There is little to no shade

along the trails.  The wind can kick up a lot of red dirt which manages to get everywhere. I was cleaning red dust

out of my LQ trailer for a while after returning home from our trip.

NETASA riding north on Juniper Cliffside trail.

NETASA riding north on Juniper Cliffside trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

The Trails:

       North  Trails

The north trails (Juniper Cliffside and Lighthouse Trails) are a little less challenging and

decently marked with milder ups and downs.

Juniper Cliffside Trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Juniper Cliffside Trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

From the equestrian campsite the Juniper Cliffside Trail runs north approximately three miles and then

connects to Lighthouse Trail and is decently marked once you find it from the campsite. To get on this

trail leaving from the equestrian campsite go north to the equestrian day use area so that you are facing

the main park road, head left (northwest) from where the water trough is in the day use area and follow

the unmarked trail. From there you will come to the creek and make a slight right following the creek.

The creek will be on your left. From there you turn left before hitting the main road and cross the creek

near the main road, or if the bridge is completed on the main road you might be able to ride over the

bridge. During our visit in June of 2014 the bridge and main road was under construction here. After

crossing the creek stay to the left of the road and you will see the Juniper Cliffside trail sign which when

coming from the equestrian campsite goes northwest and is parallel to the main park road. This route

will eventually connect to Lighthouse Trail.

(See pictures below for an idea of how to get to the Juniper Cliffside trailhead from the equestrian campground and

day use area).

Heading to the Juniper Cliffside trail, the creek is on our left.

Heading to the Juniper Cliffside trail, the creek is on our left.

 

Crossing the creek near the bridge/road construction to get to Juniper Cliffside trail.  The best crossing seemed to be on the other side of the tree then through the creek near the new bridge construction.

Crossing the creek near the bridge/road construction to get to Juniper Cliffside trail. The best crossing seemed to be on the other side of the tree then through the creek near the new bridge construction.

 

Crossing the creek to get to Juniper Cliffside trail.

Crossing the creek to get to Juniper Cliffside trail.

 

After crossing the creek, on the left is the first trail sign for Juniper Cliffside trail when coming from the equestrian campsite.

After crossing the creek, on the left is the first trail sign for Juniper Cliffside trail when coming from the equestrian campsite.

Once you cross the creek (which has gentle sloping banks but can also be pretty boggy after a heavy rain) there

will be no more watering opportunities unless a heavy rain recently poured down on the park. This trail is marked

with wooden signs and blue metal steaks with “JC” and the mileage written on them.

curtis-horseback3

Curtis riding his American Indian Horse, Dragonfly, on Juniper Cliffside trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Juniper Cliffside Trail starts out grassy with lots of cedar and mesquite trees. However, the grass soon

disappears and there is very little to no shade for the remainder of the trail. Juniper Cliffside trail

consists of red clay, sand, and rocky patches. This one track trail weaves through hills along normally

dry creek beds and gullies. On Juniper Cliffside there are two wooden bridges which appear to be made

for hikers and not horses. I would not recommend riding over these bridges. The first bridge has a very easy

detour, just ride beside it and through the shallow dry creek. The second bridge is over a deep gully and requires

a short detour to the main park road to skirt around it.

This foot bridge can't be skirted around as the gully is too deep.  Ride to the main park road and along the park road for a short distance to get around this bridge.

This foot bridge can’t be skirted around as the gully is too deep. Ride to the main park road and along the park road for a short distance to get around this bridge.

Paul and Doreen are riding on the main park road to get around the foot bridge on Juniper Cliffside trail.

Paul and Doreen are riding on the main park road to get around the foot bridge on Juniper Cliffside trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

 

Curtis, Patricia, Paul, and Doreen in front of False Cave on Juniper Cliffside trail at Palo Duro Canyon.

Curtis, Patricia, Paul, and Doreen in front of False Cave on Juniper Cliffside trail at Palo Duro Canyon.

Once you get around this bridge you will ride by False Cave which is on the left. This is a high traffic area with

lots of little trails from the road to the cave. To stay on the main trail and follow the wooden posts. You will

pass the “Red’s Rock” sign, and you will pass other trails to your left that says no horses allowed and you will

pass the Capitol Peak Mountain Bike Trail sign on your left. In this area Juniper Cliffside runs very close to the

road. Juniper Cliffside trail ends or runs into an open area. This is the parking area for Lighthouse

Trail. Ride to your left on the edge of this parking area and you will see the sign for Lighthouse

trail, which also has a white mailbox with red writing that says “Take One.”

Riding north from the equestrian campground on Juniper Cliffside will take you to Lighthouse trail.  JC trail is almost three miles and dead ends into the Lighthouse trail parking area.  Go left at this junction through the parking area to get to the LH trail head.

Riding north from the equestrian campground on Juniper Cliffside will take you to Lighthouse trail. JC trail is almost three miles and dead ends into the Lighthouse trail parking area. Go left at this junction through the parking area to get to the LH trail head.

 

This is a picture of the Lighthouse trailhead when coming from the Lighthouse parking area.

This is a picture of the Lighthouse trailhead when coming from the Lighthouse parking area.

 

Lighthouse Trail is wider and provides no shade. This is a one way trail that is almost three miles,

making about a six mile round trip. Along this trail there are some wooden benches with wood awnings

for shade to rest if needed. Lighthouse trail is also more popular with hikers and bikers, most likely

because of the amazing views. Because I rode this trail on a very early Monday morning I was fortunate

not run into many other trail users.

LH Capitol Peak

View of Capitol Peak from Lighthouse Trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

LH trail road

Lighthouse Trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

My recommendation is not to miss this trail; it is too gorgeous not to see. To get to Lighthouse Trail you will

either have to ride from the equestrian campsite up Juniper Cliffside Trail which is about three miles or you can

trailer to the day use Lighthouse Trail parking area. You will see several trail junctions but stay on the main

trail. Trail markers are wooden signs and bright green metal stakes marked with an “L” and the mileage.

Wooden trail sign along Lighthouse Trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Wooden trail sign along Lighthouse Trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

LH trail sign angel

Lighthouse trail marker with mileage.

 

Lighthouse Rock formation viewed from Lighthouse Trail.

Lighthouse Rock formation viewed from Lighthouse Trail.

Watch out for large holes on Lighthouse Trail due to washouts.

Watch out for large holes on Lighthouse Trail due to washouts.

 

Along this trail you will have amazing views of Capital Peak , Lighthouse, other rock formations, and the canyon.

You can even ride right up to the base of Capital Peak and see your shadow on this monumental mass of exposed

sedimentary rock.  The trail dead ends into a shady area which has a picnic table and bike rack. From here a narrow

hiking only trail that has several rocks across where it starts winds up to the Lighthouse formation. Regulars

informed me they have left their horses tied here so they could hike up to Lighthouse.

LH end of trail

I’d recommend if you want to do this to have one volunteer with you to stay behind with the horses. I did not get

to hike up this trail as I did not want to leave my horse tied up unattended. Park regulations also request that

you do not leave your horse unattended. So plan ahead and bring someone to look after the horses if you want to

explore this hiking trail and see Lighthouse up close.

Link to state park handout about the Light House Trail

 

Heading out on the southeastern Equestrian Trail.

Heading out on the southeastern Equestrian Trail with Palo Duro Canyon regulars, Chris and Christie Shippy.

South Trails

The terrain is fairly challenging along the Equestrian Trail south of the campsite. This trail opens

up to lots of additional unmarked branches and loops. You will have a few creek crossing to gain access

to additional trails. The creek in this part of the park is narrow and has steep banks for several of the

crossings, so it can be a challenge. During our visit it had just rained so it was also boggy. Be prepared

for some steep grades and rocky areas here. However, once you cross the creek and go through the hills

it opens up into a lovely flat meadow quite different from the rest of the park terrain.

Chris Shippy is navigating one of the Equestrian Trail creek crossings at Palo Duro Canyon.

Chris Shippy is navigating one of the Equestrian Trail creek crossings at Palo Duro Canyon.

Open grass meadow along the southeastern Equestrian Trail at Palo Duro Canyon.

Open grass meadow along the southeastern Equestrian Trail at Palo Duro Canyon.

 

To get to these trails from the equestrian use area once you come to the creek go left/southeast with

the creek on your right. This will take you behind the horse pens and into a large area of unmarked

trails to explore, labeled as the Equestrian Trail on the maps, but there are no trail signs. You can also

get to these south trails by riding out of the campsite between the picnic area and the horse pens. This

area starts out very hilly. There are no trail markers in this area either. You will eventually also have

to find a safe place to cross the creek. If you get squeezed between the beautiful red canyon wall and

the creek on a trail which continues to become narrower and washed out then back track to find your

creek crossing. This area is gorgeous but I could not find a safe creek crossing and had to back track.

Fortunately riders who frequent these trails showed me where to cross.

pdc29a

Do not ride in this area if there is a chance of stormy weather, as the meadow and creeks can quickly flood during

a storm. There are indian pictographs in the hills and large rock formations you can use as landmarks. This

southeast side of the park is also where the Battle of Palo Duro occurred.

Unusual rock formations and boulders along the Equestrian Trail are not only gorgeous to look at but make good landmarks to mark the trail as well.

Unusual rock formations and boulders along the Equestrian Trail at Palo Duro Canyon State Park are not only gorgeous to look at but make good landmarks to mark the trail as well.

Chris and Christy Shippy take me to see Indian drawings which are located on the other side of this large rock off of the Equestrian Trail.  We also noticed there appeared to have been a small fire in this area.

Chris and Christie Shippy take me to see Indian drawings which are located on the other side of this large rock off of the Equestrian Trail. We also noticed there appeared to have been a small fire in this area.

 

You can see the red pictographs hiding in the shade of this huge rock.

You can see the red pictographs hiding in the shade of this huge rock.

 

Indian Pictographs off of the Equestrian Trail at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Indian Pictographs off of the Equestrian Trail at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Cactus Rock is another boulder type landmark that can be used to help you find your way along the Equestrian Trail.

Cactus Rock is another boulder type landmark that can be used to help you find your way along the Equestrian Trail.

 

Palo Duro Canyon State Park visitor's center view.

Palo Duro Canyon State Park visitor’s center view.

Trail Tale:

Riding at the Grand Canyon is a dream of mine and on my bucket list of places to see from between

my American Indian Horse’s black tipped ears. This past June, we hauled to the next best location, the

“Grand Canyon of Texas,” Palo Duro Canyon State Park. Palo Duro is the second largest state park in

Texas and the second largest canyon in the United States. Encompassing over eighteen thousand acres,

the park is 120 miles long and 800 feet deep. It is an eyeful of brilliant shimmering colors and geologic

wonders to behold; a stark contrast to the surrounding Llano Estacado. Entering Palo Duro Canyon for

the first time is a shocking experience of converging landscapes. As you easily cruise through the flat

treeless high Texas plains, also known as the Llano Estacado, then suddenly you find yourself descending

down a 10% grade from the canyon rim trying hard to watch the precarious road while your eyes tempt

you to sneak glances of the colorful canyon walls. Imagine the sheer force of water, Praire Dog Town

Fork of the Red River to be exact; creating such artistry out of what once was a little gully.

behind the pens

The name “Palo Duro” is Spanish for hard wood, which Native Americans used to make arrows from

Juniper tree branches in the canyon. The park’s history was a big draw for our little riding club (NETASA)

of Spanish Mustang/American Indian Horse enthusiasts. Arriving on a full moon was carefully planned

in hopes of witnessing the legend of Indian Horse spirits running free through their canyon home on

moonlit nights. These mustangs were massacred in the Red River War. Over one thousand Southern

Plains Indian mounts were shot dead by order of Colonel Ranald Mackenzie of the Fourth U. S. Cavalry

after the battle of Palo Duro Canyon in September of 1874. Our full moon arrival also happened to land

on Friday the 13th.

Red Sky

On this evening the skies turned a vicious red and ominous clouds hid all celestial

bodies after we settled in at the Canyon’s floor. We saw no full moon that night. Unfortunately, our

friends were riddled with bad luck; flat tires, a fender bender, and a distraught U joint on their journey

from east Texas. To top it off, as they descended into the stormy canyon their trailer awning was

partially ripped off by strong winds. The night was full of lightening, thunder, and rain. My thoughts of

being on the canyon floor during a storm were a little unnerving. In the early morning hours the weather

cleared and a full moon beamed proudly just above the canyon’s rim. The moon’s glow was true and full

for all to see the remainder of our stay. During the nights at Palo Duro, I heard a frightening rush of wind

pouring down from the rim and crashing into the canyon walls creating an eerie sound, unlike I’ve ever

heard. Could it be the Indian Horse spirits or was it just the wind?

JC heading out

NETASA riding club heading north to Juniper Cliffside Trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Saturday morning after being treated to a hearty breakfast of pancakes and sausage we were ready

to hit the trails despite the slippery red mud from the previous night’s rain. Temperatures were

uncharacteristically low for the month of June due to the blessed rain. Finding the trails leading out

of camp was a bit tricky as there are no markers or signage from the equestrian area. Our horses

were fresh and ready to get moving due to the abnormal crisp air and were frustrated with our lack of

direction. We soon learned that in order to get anywhere, a creek crossing was inevitable. The hard rains

made this normally simple task a challenge as the creek banks consisted of thick mud. I dismounted

and trudged through the mud to find a safe crossing. During our stay conditions improved and our sure

footed American Indian Horses prevailed. That first day we explored Juniper Cliffside trail which runs

north from camp along Red Mesa.

group-trail3a

Sunset ride on Juniper Cliffside Trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

 

On Sunday morning I had the pleasure of tagging along with Palo Duro regulars, Chris and Christie

Shippy, who showed me the rugged unmarked southwest trails of “The Equestrian Trail”. We rode

through the hills and up to Cactus Rock, which is one huge specimen of a rock with a head of cactus.

Palo Duro Canyon regulars, Chris and Christie Shippy, show us the trails.

Palo Duro Canyon regulars, Chris and Christie Shippy, show us the trails.

They took me near Tub Springs to see faded Native American Pictographs which were almost hidden

in the shadows along the bottom of a large boulder. Near the end of our ride we rode to a grass filled

meadow which the horses truly enjoyed. Christie is also one of the talented wranglers in “TEXAS”, an

outdoor musical production in Pioneer Theater. I’d recommend making time to see this show while

visiting. The outdoor theater with its natural 600 foot canyon wall is what makes all the visual effects

a great success. That night we watched Christie in the spot light gallop her horse down the canyon

wall with ease while carrying the Texas Flag. Be prepared for heart pumping canon fire and brilliant

fireworks.

The stage of Texas, a musical drama which runs during the summers in the Pioneer Amphitheater at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

The stage of Texas, a musical drama which runs during the summers in the Pioneer Amphitheater at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Christie’s family also helped improve one of the creek crossings and helped out one of our NETASA

members who had a trailer problem. Also camping in the park was Doug and Claudia Sloan. Doug is

an animal wrangler and stuntman who has worked on over 40 films. A better group of fellow campers

would have been hard to come by.

An early morning view from Lighthouse Trail at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Gorgeous early morning view from Lighthouse Trail, notice the moon is still out (upper right corner of the photo).

 

Admiring Capital Peak from Lighthouse Trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.   To the left is a hoodoo, a a tall, thin spire of rock which typically consist of soft rock topped by harder stone. They generally form within sedimentary rock formations.

Admiring Capital Peak from Lighthouse Trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park. To the left is a hoodoo, a a tall, thin spire of rock which typically consist of soft rock topped by harder stone. Hoodoos generally form within sedimentary rock formations.

My favorite ride was on Monday morning. Everyone was packing up to head home. Fortunately, I was

able to get a few extra vacation days which meant we had one more full day at the park! At dawn, Angel

and I headed out solo up Juniper Cliff to Lighthouse Trail. The sun bathed, Capital Peak and Lighthouse

rock formations as the moon still hung translucent in the blue sky. Angel and I shared the trail with

the park’s natural inhabitants; only until our ride back to camp did we bump into a few park visitors. I

believe Angel enjoyed the peaceful ride and scenery as much as I did. I felt a strong connection with her

as we enjoyed our freedom on the trail. Riding during the magic hours of dawn brilliantly highlighted the

canyon as sun rays projected onto colorful million year old layers of geological history.

Angel reads about the the sedimentary layers of Capitol Peak off Lighthouse Trail in Palo Duro Canyon.

Angel reads about the the sedimentary layers of Capitol Peak off Lighthouse Trail in Palo Duro Canyon.

 

Lighthouse trail in Palo Duro Canyon.

Lighthouse Trail in Palo Duro Canyon.

 

Lighthouse Trail in Palo Duro Canyon.

Lighthouse Trail in Palo Duro Canyon.

 

Angel and I returned in time to say good bye to our friends before they began their journey home. That

hot afternoon I took our dog Eva to explore False Cave and play in the creek. Chris relocated the trailer

to the best spot in camp and we had the entire place to ourselves. I took Angel out for one last ride

to explore the nearby south Equestrian Trail. Chris and our dog LB tagged along for a while but then

turned back at the creek crossing.

Equestrian Trail creek crossing, located behind the equestrian campsite pens.

Equestrian Trail creek crossing, located behind the equestrian campsite pens.

 

Equestrian Trail creek at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Equestrian Trail creek at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Angel hopped over the narrow steep banked creek and we followed it down to a dead end. This side of the stream came

to a red canyon wall and we either had to cross once more or head back. It was peacefully quiet here and a thick

grove of mesquite and oak trees lined the canyon wall. A strange feeling came over me as Angel grassed by the

creek. The sun was setting and it was time to head back. Angel became full of energy and at every break in the

trail she opted to try and take the route which lead back to the canyon wall instead of our campsite. I wanted to

explore more as well but we could not be out alone on unknown trails in the dark. It seemed something was really pulling

Angel back down the trail. At every turn I had to give a little extra push with my aids to keep Angel back on track

to camp. I could not help but wonder if she was feeling the spirits of her ancestors and was that why I also had

such as strange stirred up feeling inside. Later I learned we were very near the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon

which took place on the southeast end of the park.

JC Angel's ears

View between Angel’s black tipped ears as we ride north up Juniper Cliffside Trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Palo Duro Canyon offers approximately 16-18 miles of designated equestrian trails. Trail riders are

allowed only on the following trails – Equestrian Trail, Juniper Cliffside Trail, and the Lighthouse Trail.

All of the trails are spectacular in regards to scenery. Although the campsite is primitive and the biting

summer flies are persistent, don’t miss an opportunity to visit Palo Duro Canyon, as the scenery far

outweighs any small annoyances.

Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River is the main tributary of the Red River and one of the main water forces that slowly carved Palo Duro Canyon into what it is today.  This Photo was taken from The   Equestrian Trail.

Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River is the main tributary of the Red River and one of the main water forces that slowly carved Palo Duro Canyon into what it is today. This Photo was taken from The Equestrian Trail.

 

 

Day3LongHaley

Website:

www.lajitasgolfresort.com

Contacts:

Lajitas Equestrian Center #432/424-5000 (x5170)

Maverick Ranch RV Park #432/424-5180

Email:

Lajitas Golf Resort – contact@lajitasgolfresort.com

Lajitas Equestrian Center – mdial@lajitasgolfresort.com

Maverick Ranch RV Park – rvpark2@lajitasgolfresort.com

Location:

Lajitas, TX –off of Main Street / FM 170 – this is a small town so you can’t miss it.  The Equestrian center is on the south side of the road and the RV park is on the north side of the road.

Entrance Sign

Directions:

Lajitas is approximately 100 miles south of Alpine, TX. From Alpine follow TX 118 South about 80 miles into the Study Butte / Terlingua junction.  Turn right on FM 170 and continue 14 miles into Lajitas.  You will first see the Equestrian Center on your left (look for the large sign and white fences) and the RV park will be next on the right (before the cemetery), and then the resort is on your left.

MavRanchEntrance

Camping:

You can board your horses at the Lajitas Equestrian Center and camp overnight at the Maverick RV Park or stay at the Lajitas Resort – all facilities are a part of the Lajitas Golf Resort.

Facilities:

Barn

For the Horses:

Lajitas Equestrian Center offers boarding to visitors who wish to bring their own horses to ride the trails of Lajitas or ride in Big Bend Ranch State Park.  You can board your horse in the barn which offers 12×12 pipe stalls or if space allows you can board your horse in one of their paddocks.  The barn is covered, has ceiling fans, and is open on all four sides.  The stalls have rubber mats and metal hay racks hanging on the pipe panels.  The barn also has wash racks, a tack room, a bathroom, and an office. Boarders can also make use of the large covered arena (the arena is not lighted) and covered round pen.  There is a staff residence at the Equestrian Center which means a staff member is present at the center almost 24 hours a day and they will contact you if there are any concerns about your horse.  One of the horses in our group was sun bathing in his stall but staff were concerned that he was possibly colicy – they could not reach us by phone due to the poor cell phone service so the manager, Mark Dial, drove over to our campsite and tracked down the owner.  She explained that her horse normally likes to nap during that time of day but to be safe we checked on him and all was fine.  It is a good feeling to board your horse at a facility that truly watches out for the horse’s welfare!  I was thoroughly impressed. There are extra fees for shavings.  You can clean your own stall or pay extra to have staff clean the stall.  Next time I visit I’ll pay extra to have my stall cleaned as there was not enough wheel barrows or manure containers which made the job difficult. That is my only complaint about the facility –hopefully they will purchase more wheel barrows.  Also be prepared to fill out several forms and releases at arrival when planning to keep your horse here, you might ask ahead of time to have these forms e-mailed over.  After a long haul, the last thing you want to deal with is paperwork.

Parking

For the People:

You and yours can either camp in your LQ trailer, RV, or tent at the Maverick Ranch RV Park or you can live it up and stay at the Lajitas Resort.  Please see the website for details about the resort rooms, as I did not stay there, but I did explore the resort grounds and found them to be beautiful. We stayed at the RV park.  The RV park has 30 & 50 AMP / water / septic hookups.  You can bring your dogs with you to the RV Park but they must remain on leash.  The park has a nice view, especially if you are in the sites furthest to the back towards the east.  There is no shade in this RV park. Some sites allow campfires. The community center offers guests a spacious air conditioned / heated area to eat, watch movies, use the restroom, take a long hot shower, or wash your clothes. Behind the club house is a patio and swimming pool. The RV park advertises internet access, Wi-Fi, and cable.  At the camp site we occupied, #27, we were unable to obtain these amenities, however, Wi-Fi and internet access was slow but accessible at the community center. Most of the RV sites are pull throughs and spacious, making it easy to park a large rig.

Resort

Officer’s Quarters – resort rooms, at Lajitas.

Pets:

Pets are allowed at the RV park but must be kept on leash. Unknown if pets are allowed at the resort.

Cell Phone Coverage:

Very poor to none depending on where you are in the RV park or at the Equestrian Center.  On the trail cell phone coverage is either non-existent or extremely poor.

Fees (subject to change, please call for the most up to date rates):

Equestrian Center – $15 a night per stall or $20 a night per paddock – extra charges for using the center’s shavings and having staff clean out your stall.  $150 a day for a guide/wrangler to show you the trails.

Maverick Ranch RV Park – $39 a night for hookups ($35 a night if you are a state employee, AAA, AARP, or Sam’s Club member).

Big Bend Ranch State Park  / Barton Warnock Visitor Center – $5 entrance fee & $2 equestrian use fee.  If you plan on riding from the Equestrian Center into Big Bend State Park, first check in at the Barton Warnock Visitor Center to show proof of Coggins and pay your state park use fees. We drove over the day before riding into the park to take care of our fees and obtain an entrance permit.  You can also get maps, trail advise, hats, t-shirts, etc… at the visitor center.

Big Bend National Park – I was told by the Lajitas Equestrian Center staff that you can ride into the national park from the equestrian center, however, riding is not allowed there and they said you can be ticketed for this.   I called BBNP – 432/477-2251 – wait for your extension options and then press #3 to hear a long recorded message about pets and livestock.  If you can get through the pet section of this recording you will hear them say horses are allowed in certain areas of the National Park.  I am sure you will have to check in first and pay fees before riding into the park.  The check in center is most likely not very close to the Lajitas Equestrian Center. Please call the National Park for details.   I imagine what the staff is referring to is if you ride into the park without a permit you could be ticketed – also horses are not allowed in all areas of the National Park.  I have not taken horses into the National Park myself so I have no firsthand information on Big Bend National Park.  www. nps.gov/bibe

Mileage:

There is no need to trailer out from the Equestrian Center when you can just ride out the front gate.  From the Equestrian Center you can easily ride your horse just half a mile to get into Big Bend Ranch State Park accessing miles and miles of trails or you can ride the trails in Lajitas (Lajitas Golf Resort Trail System) which offers approximately 20 miles of trails.

Maps:

Lajitas Trails –

LajitasTrailMapBig

BBRSP Trails –

There are several different maps available at the Barton Warnock 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

Trail Markers:

Lajitas Golf Resort Trail System is mainly marked by numbers.  The trail markers are infrequent.

Big Bend Ranch State Park (BBRSP) is mostly marked infrequently with wooden or metal signs.

Day2TrailSign2

 

Terrain:

In this region of Texas the ground surface is mostly rocky with some sandy areas mostly found in dry creek beds.  Shoes or boots for your horse is highly recommended.  The trail difficulty level can vary from easy flat jeep roads to extremely rugged single track trails.  Water sources can be scarce as well, so keep this in mind when planning out your route.

Day2Opening

Day2restAngelWhat to bring on trail:

Pack plenty of water for yourself and if possible some for your horse as well.  You can carry a great deal of water in a hydration backpack such as a Camelback or Geigerrig. You may also want to bring area maps, and a collapsible bucket to water your horse with. Due to the remoteness of the land I’d also recommend a dual human/horse first aid kit, rain jacket, hat and/or helmet, flash light, matches, knife, hoof pick, sunblock, and extra food/snacks. I also brought an external charged battery for my i-phone.  Cell phone service is poor to non-existent but in a few high areas you can get spotty service plus I had maps down loaded on my iHikeGPS  i-phone application that I could access through satellite without cell phone service.  Due to the rugged terrain it would also be a good idea to bring an extra horse boot to use if a shoe comes off or if you are using boots on your horse, one could easily become damaged.

Trail Users:

The trails in this area are shared by hikers, off road bicyclists, and equestrians. Motorized vehicles are also allowed in some areas such as the two track jeep trails.

Day2View2

Description / Trail Tale:

Captivating rugged landscapes called me back to ring in a second New Year in Big Bend country. I brought in 2013 by exploring the Big Bend Trails in Big Bend Ranch State Park (BBRSP) at the centrally located Sauceda Headquarters and Bunkhouse.  New Year’s 2014 trail riding adventure brought me back to this desolate South Texas land eager to explore remote and rugged territories aboard my sure footed Spanish Mustang/American Indian Horse, Angel.  Ringing in the New Year in Big Bend is becoming a tradition for me.

GroupGoodDay1

 

This year we went to Lajitas, boarding our horses at the Lajitas Equestrian Center and camping at the Maverick Ranch RV Park.  Lajitas provides access to their Golf Resort Trail System and to the south entrance of Big Bend Ranch State Park.  Our small group consisted of myself, my husband, and three of my riding buddies; Carol with her Appaloosa Bug, Beth with her Tennessee Walker Patience, and Haley with her paint Jake. Haley and Beth arrived a day ahead of us and were able to explore the local Lajitas Golf Resort Trail System.  The following day they took us out on these trails and I was surprised how many trails branch out of town. This trail system has approximately 20 miles worth of trails, some of which are dirt roads while others are rugged and offer spectacular views.  There is no charge for riding this trail system on your own horse. The trail markers are infrequent and if unfamiliar with the area it would not be hard to get turned around.  Two days of our stay consisted of exploring this trail system.  I did not get to ride each one of the trails, but out of what I did ride my favorite was #5 which climbs up a mesa and follows along the top ridge line providing an amazing view.  As far as wildlife goes we did spot what appeared to be big cat tracks, saw a tarantula crossing a gravel road, spotted hawks, mountain goats, and saw signs of Javalinas.  The oddest sight was stumbling onto the green of the Lajitas golf course while riding amongst cacti in desert terrain.  I could not help but wonder what an amazing amount of water it must take to maintain the turf… an out of place sight no doubt.  The Lajitas Equestrian Center has a string of trail horses so if you don’t have your own horse you can still go on a trail ride in this area. They also put on Stargazer Mesa Dinners and overnight rides. Their horses were in good condition and looked to be well cared for.  The manager of the center and all “cowboy” activities, Mark Dial, is a knowledgeable equestrian with a strong  back ground in AERC, USEF, and also worked as an equine therapist and chiropractor.

Day2MarkTikki2

On New Year’s Eve we celebrated with dinner at La Kiva in Terlingua and enjoyed live music by The Fabulous Vortexans.  The food and music was great and the place packed. The drive from Lajitas to Terlingua is not bad.  Beth and Haley opted to try the Lajitas Resort New Year’s Eve dinner, steak and shrimp, a bit pricy for us but my friends reported it was well worth it as the food and service was great.  On our way home Chris and I were sure we had spotted several unidentified flying objects.  Bright orange glowing orbs were slowly ascending into space.  I thought maybe they were the Marfa lights.  However, when driving into the RV park we got a good laugh after discovering the beautiful floating objects were sky lanterns launched to bring in the New Year by another group of RV visitors.  What a sight they were, I’d never seen them before. We did not stay out too late as our big ride into the state park was planned for New Year’s Day.

On New Year’s day we planned a trip into Big Bend Ranch State Park and booked a wrangler from the Equestrian Center to guide us.  We got lucky to have the manager, Mark Dial, as our wrangler for the day. Mark led us from the Equestrian center into the state park which was an easy half mile ride.  From there he took us on a twenty mile round trip journey from the East Contrabando Trailhead to the Whit-Roy Mine Ruins.  The day was beautifully clear and started out in the chilly mid-30s but quickly climbed up to a warm mid-70s in the afternoon.  We peeled the layers off and the horses were sweaty beneath their furry thick winter hair. There is little to no shade in this land full of cacti, creosote, ocotillo, and sotol. Trees are few and far between in this section of the state park.  Mark shared some of the park’s history as we rode along, to include the Wax Factory Laccolith which used Candelilla plants to make wax and old quicksilver (also known as mercury or cinnabar) mines such as the Whit-Roy Mine.

Day2MiningTown

The Whit-Roy mine ruins served as a perfect resting spot.  Most of this area consisted of old mine ruins and housing for the miners and their families.  A water trough in the corner of the corral had clean water which the horses were eager to gulp down; this was the first and only water for the horses on our trip in the state park. The creek beds were all dry.  The Whit Roy dining hall has been restored along with the outhouse and corral.  The quicksilver boom basically dried up in the 1960s and most of the mines were closed.  Be sure to stay clear of the actual mine sites, we observed these from a distance, as they are great habitats for rattlers and the ground near the mine is unstable and dangerous.

Day2Corral

While we finished our packed lunches under the shade of the old dinning hall’s front porch ramada, our horses rehydrated and had a nice rest.

Day2WaterAngel

 

Before leaving, Haley hopped off Jake to check out one of the old living quarter mine ruins but Jake wanted to see too, so he poked his head into the doorway.

Day2JakeCurious

 

 

We concluded our Whit-Roy exploring; it was time to head back.  After mounting up I took another long look at the old mining town and just a bit further out I saw the huge Wax Factory Laccolith rising out of the land like some crazy foreign object.  The most impressive site for me is the Big Bend country itself, God’s unique South Texas creation, nothing is comparable.  It is a harsh rugged land for miles and miles, beautifully vast and wild.

Day2DownHill

We set aside a day to drive along the famously beautiful FM 170, also known as El Camino Del Rio. Be prepared to make several stops and have your camera ready to capture roadside photo worthy vistas, such as La Cuesta (The Hill).   Don’t expect to travel fast, as the FM 170 fifty mile stretch of curves between Lajitas and Presidio has some of the steepest paved grades in Texas, La Cuesta is a 15% grade – I do not recommend this route for hauling horses.   La Cuesta is approximately 12 miles west of Lajitas.

MovieSetChurch

For fans of the Lonesome Dove saga, don’t miss seeing the Contrabando movie set off El Camino Del Rio where scenes from Streets of Larado and Dead Man’s Walk where shot.  The eye catching sets sit just off the Rio Grande.  Right off FM 170 about half way between Presidio and Lajitas is also Closed Canyon, the hike entrance is just a few minutes’ walk from the road and leads into a 15 foot wide slot Canyon with 150 foot high walls.  The Canyon eventually leads into the Rio Grande, but most people turn around before that due to steep drop offs and dangerous terrain.  We did not do this hike but I heard the hike to get into the Canyon is easy and the view is worth the effort… next time.

view

Other Activities in Lajitas outside of horseback riding include, golfing, stargazing, hiking, biking, exploring, fishing, rafting the Rio Grande, being pampered at the resort, etc…..  There is plenty to do in this area of Texas, above is just a small list of possibilities.  I’m looking forward to 2015 New Year’s adventures and expect to be back in Big Bend Country to ring in 2015.

More Pictures!

Horse Facilities:

overview

Paddocks

Lajitas Equestrian Center barn stalls.

 

arena

Lajitas Equestrian Center covered arena.

CoveredArena

Inside the arena.

Paddock

Lajitas Equestrian Center paddocks.

String

Lajitas Equestrian Center trail horse string – ready to head out.

BarnView

View from inside of the barn.

Additional pictures can be seen on WTTA’s Lajitas Facebook album:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.635138416547738.1073741832.158007560927495&type=3

 

 

 

ParkSign

Location: Dripping Springs (near Austin, TX)

Address: 23610 Hamilton Road, Dripping Springs, TX 78620

Contact:512/264-1923

Website: https://parks.traviscountytx.gov/find-a-park/reimers-ranch

Directions: From the intersection of Ranch Road 12 and Hamilton Pool Road, going (left) northwest on Hamilton Pool Road it is about five miles to the park entrance road which will be on your right if you are going northwest on Hamilton Pool Road. Do not miss the park entrance. If you pass up the park entrance the road changes, narrows, and there are sharp switchbacks. This section of the road is not recommended for trailers and you will see warning signs stating this.

Equestrian Camping: None at the park.

Nearby Horse Motel:

A look inside the boarding barn at Cedar Grove Stables near Dripping Springs, TX.

A look inside the boarding barn at Cedar Grove Stables near Dripping Springs, TX.

Cedar Grove Stables is a small private facility owned by Carol and David Grosvenor, about four miles from downtown Dripping Springs, 25 miles southwest of Austin, seven miles from Dripping Springs Ranch Park, and 25 miles from Johnson City. See their website regarding driving directions. Google Maps will suggest roads that are not trailer accessible.

Facilities: For equestrian guests, Cedar Grove Stables offers four 12′ x 12′ stalls in the barn with attached lighted paddocks. Paddocks and stalls can be used separately to accommodate more horses. Water is available in the pasture and barn. There are two hookups for 50 / 30 / 20 amps. Each one can handle two rigs and a separate 30 amp hookup. Trailer parking is in the pasture. Lighted arena / pasture, small lounge & tack room, and bathroom (no shower) is available. Driveway can accommodate rigs up to 34′ long. Trees are cleared to 13′ height in driveway. Cedar Grove Stables is in close proximity to Reimers Ranch, Pedernales State Park, Wimberley Rodeo Arena, and Dripping Springs Ranch Park (show arena). See their website for details & pictures.

Equestrian Trailhead: After going through the park entrance gate house stay on the paved park road, the road is curvy so go slow. You will see a metal barn structure on your right and an equestrian parking sign.  The trailer parking area at the equestrian trailhead is mostly dirt/caliche covered with peat moss and gravel entrances.  The parking is also not large but you can park a big rig there so long as there are not too many rigs parked.

The Equestrian Parking area has been updated. Now there is a sign, gravel, soft footing, wood railings, and an additional picnic area.

The Equestrian Parking area has been updated. Now there is a sign, gravel entrance, soft peat moss footing, wood railings, and an additional picnic area.

Barn

Horse trailer parking is on the other side of this metal barn.

BarnParking

At the end of our ride, we are heading to the water trough on the other side of the barn.

Parking New

Fees: $10 per vehicle and $2 per trailer

Facilities:At the equestrian trail head and trailer parking area there is a water facet and water trough under the barn awning. There is one picnic table close to the barn under the trees and a second picnic area and table under another large tree. There is a mounting block. On the other side of the barn is a porta potty. There are no other facilities in this area. However, if you continue just a short distance west on the main park road there is a pavilion and restroom facilities on the left.

Water

The water trough is located under the shade of the barn awning.

WaterAngel

The water in the horse trough was clear and clean! Angel enjoyed a long cool drink of what appeared to be fresh clean water. I’d recommend dismounting for your horse to drink here, as the awning is low.

Mileage: 4-5 miles of equestrian trails. I used my MotionX iPhone application to clock our miles.  Riding clockwise and taking Turkey Loop,  MotionX  reported the mileage as 5.11 miles.  On our second ride out we rode counter clockwise and skipped Turkey Loop, MotionX documented this ride as 4.35 miles.

Map:

MiltonReimersParkMap

Trail Users: The majority of trails at this park are for hikers and off road bikers only. However, equestrians may share the multi use 4-5 mile trail with hikers and mountain bikers. No motorized vehicles are allowed on the trails with the exception of the park rangers.

Trail Signs: Overall the Multi-use equestrian trail is easy to follow and fairly well marked by wooden signs with horseshoe symbols.

Caroline&Carol

Trailhead trail marker sign just behind the trailer parking area near the metal barn. Carol on Bug and Caroline on Jack returning from our second ride out.

GroupSign

The trails are well marked and easy to follow. If it says multi-use and/or has a horseshoe symbol then you are on the right trail.

TurkeyLoop

Taking Turkey Loop will add approximately one mile to your overall distance covered.

Terrain: The terrain on the multi-use equestrian trail is mostly a flat level sandy clay like surface with very few rocky areas. The terrain is not challenging but does provide wide open views of the hill country.  I only saw one water source, a creek, along the trail but the trail did not directly lead to the creek and it would have been steep and full of brush to try and get down into the creek. The Equestrian multi-use trail does not provide access to the Pedernales River. According to the map, from Turkey loop (northeast side of the park) a trail breaks off and does go to an overlook near the river.  This part of the trail is marked as a primitive hiking trail and is unfortunately not part of the equestrian multi-use trail.

Cell Phone Service: Good

SignTrail

Description: 

Milton Reimers Ranch in Dripping Springs, TX is part of the Travis County Park System and is the largest parkland acquisition in the history of Travis County, totaling 2,427 acres according to the Travis County Parks’ website.  This park is well known to mountain bikers and rock climbers providing 18 miles of bike and hike only trails with extremely challenging terrain. The park is fairly new to equestrians and contains a 4-5 mile multi-use trail which allows horses!   That is not a lot of trail when compared to the park’s size, but it is progress considering how many parks do not allow equestrian use at all.

Although the trail is marked for multi-use, it is primarily used by equestrians.  Don’t let the concerns of extremely challenging terrain and the thought of frequent encounters with off road bikers deter you from visiting this park with your horse.  During my visit I saw two or three bikers at most.  On my second visit I did see several bikers but only near the equestrian parking area on the southwest side, I think the bike only trails intersect with part of the multi-use trail in this area. Riders who frequent the park state that bikers rarely use the equestrian multi-use trail due to the lack of challenging terrain. When I did a Google search on the park, all sorts of bike videos and comments were found on how fun, challenging, and difficult the rocky terrain is at this park. This may be the case for the 18 miles of bike trails but it is not so with regard to the multi-use trail.

The equestrian multi-use trail is wide (two track) with no tight spots and would mostly likely work well for horse drawn carriages and carts.  The terrain is mostly flat and non-challenging.  Furthermore the surface of this trail is mostly sandy clay dirt with some rocky areas; my horse did not need to wear her boots. The land is wide open with lots of space on both sides of the trail and very few shady areas. The wide open trails also give  you room to do some technical work with your horse such as circles, circling other riders, serpentines, working on getting passed and being passed, and other maneuvers not easily done on a tight single track trail.  My mare is very forward and would prefer to be in front all of the time, so taking advantage of the open space to do these exercises and changing positions from being last, being in the middle, and being in front is a great way to improve our trail etiquette.  For these reasons the wide open space is a plus for me and having equestrian friends to ride with who put up with me doing all this is an added bonus as well.  A negative for me in regards to this park is the distance from my home versus the limited trail mileage, but if you live nearby or prefer to ride a shorter distance, then you just might love this park. I have heard that this park maybe adding more multi-use trails!

 

cows

WaterStopGWebsite: http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/texas/about-forest/districts/?cid=fswdev3_008440

Contact: (940) 627-5475

Location: North of the Dallas / Fort Worth Metroplex near Decatur, TX

LBJ National Grasslands mailing/ business address: 

1400 US HWY 81/287

P.O. Box 507
Decatur, Texas 76234

streetSigns

TadraSignDirections 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.

HighTie

TADRA Point horse ties.

TADRA Point Windmill.

TADRA Point Windmill.

LizTrailCamping: Overnight camping and equestrian camping is allowed.

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.


Map from Decatur to LBJ Grasslands

LBJ Grasslands Map West

LBJ Grasslands Map East

Download large PDF: Map from Decatur to LBJ Grasslands

Download large PDF: Grasslands Trails Map West

Download large PDF: Grasslands Trails Map East

Be sure to check http://www.grasslandsgazette.com/lbj-grasslands-trail-map/ for the latest trail maps.


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.

Trail

Forest TrailDescription:

If you want to get lots of miles under your horse, then visit 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.

 

GateThe 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.

DrinkUpPoniesWater 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.

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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.

Kelly & Angel.  Photo provided by Jim Edmondson with Optical Harmonics.

Kelly & Angel. Photo provided by Jim Edmondson with Optical Harmonics.

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.

 

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CincoAngelWebsite:
http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/state-parks/big-bend-ranch

Contact:

Park Office (432) 358-4444

Reservations (512) 389-8919

Mailing Address:

HCR 67, Box 33
Marfa, TX 79843

Location:

Near Presidio TX

Latitude: 29.418054

Longitude: -103.989751

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.

From Alpine to Marfa to Presidio

From Alpine take 90 west to Marfa. Once in Marfa take 67 south 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.

From  Alpine to Lajitas to Redford

(I don’t advise going this way when hauling a horse trailer)

Traveling south on 118 from Alpine going towards Lajitas turn right/west on FM 170. Travel through Lajitas and continue on 170.  From Lajitas the park entrance is another 43 miles south on FM 170. This route includes a 15% grade, which is very steep. Climbing and descending the hills on this road with a loaded horse trailer will challenge all but the most powerful trucks and requires sharp driving skills.  Once in Reford there will be approximately eight more miles to go before getting to FM 170. From FM 170 turn right onto Casa Piedra Road. This route is one of the most scenic roads in Texas. Again, I don’t advise hauling a horse this way, but you may want to try and make this drive without your trailer just to take in the scenery.

Entrance

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Cuevas Amarillas rock overhang shelter.

From Casa Piedra Road

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.

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Maize grinding holes hidden under the shade of Cuevas Amarillas rock.

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:

Big Bend Equine Center in Alpine, TX.

Big Bend Equine Center in Alpine, TX.

Angel's stall at Big Bend Equine Center.

Angel’s stall at Big Bend Equine Center.

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.

Carol is out of control!

Carol is out of control!

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

Sauceda Headquarters covered in snow.

Sauceda Headquarters covered in snow.

Facilities:

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.

Sauceda Corrals

Sauceda Corrals

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.

Agua Adentro Pens Campsite

Agua Adentro Pens Campsite

Agua Adentro restroom facilities.

Agua Adentro restroom facilities.

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 Bunkhouse.

The Bunkhouse.

Sauceda Bunkhouse sleeping quarters.

Sauceda Bunkhouse sleeping quarters.

Comfortable Housing:

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 Big House viewed in normal weather conditions.

The Big House viewed in normal weather conditions.

 

The Big House viewed in abnormal weather conditions.

The Big House viewed in abnormal weather conditions.

 

BigHgateThe 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.

The Big House kitchen.

The Big House kitchen.

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.

Big Bend Ranch State Park provides miles and miles of trail.

Big Bend Ranch State Park provides miles and miles of trail.

Kelly Brough and Whiskey near Puerta Chilicote trailhead off the Llano Loop.

Kelly Brough and Whiskey near Puerta Chilicote trailhead off the Llano Loop.

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.

Maps:
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.

Water:
The land is very dry as well so be sure to bring plenty of water along. Ask the park rangers if they know where or if there will be water on the trails you plan to ride for the horses.

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 Marker

Trail Marker

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.

Carol and Bug in front of an old water tank.

Carol and Bug in front of an old water tank.

Purple Cactus at Big Bend.

Purple Cactus at Big Bend.

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!

CincoSignThe 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.

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Braving the elements.

Braving the elements.

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.

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SnowRidingMikeThe 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.

 

Raul, long time experienced state park hand and guide, shows off his horse's ability by stepping him up on a large rock.

Raul, long time experienced state park hand and guide, shows off his horse’s ability by stepping him up on a large rock.

Link to additional BBRSP photos on WTTA’s Facebook album: 

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.459810160747232.103709.158007560927495&type=3

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