It was a beautiful sunny day, so I went out for a little bird-watching in nearby Liberty Hill and ultimately ended up at Doeskin Ranch, which is in the Balcones Canyonlands. There are several trails here, ranging from easy to moderate (although listed as Difficult on the map), and I figured I would take my time on the trails, stop a bunch and look for birds.
I started with the Rimrock Trail, then took the Shin Oak Trail, then hit the Creek Trail on the way back to the car. The Rimrock Trail was the most challenging because of the elevation gain and switchbacks, but it’s nothing to be overly worried about. Just take your time and soak in the views and you’ll be fine. I had some great weather with temperatures in the low 70s but it might be more challenging in the summer months. I didn’t bring water with me on the hike, but make sure to bring a bottle or Camelbak if you hike in the summer!
The trails at Doeskin Ranch are really nice, winding their way through large trees, over large stones in the small creek, up to a nice plateau with some great view of the Texas Hill Country all along the way. A nice touch is the self-guided walking tour of Creek Trail where you can learn a bit of history about Doeskin Ranch and the surrounding area. It’s very cool!
If you live in the Austin area, I definitely recommend coming out to Doeskin Ranch and checking it out. It’s free, kid-friendly, and very clean. Just make sure to bring water, because there’s none available at the ranch.
And I mentioned that I wanted to do some bird-watching. Well, I didn’t spot anything worth noting! Disappointing, but oh well. I just started birding so I can’t expect much. 😊
After last weekend’s Big Bend trip, I’ve been bitten by the camping gear bug, and have had my eye on some items for the solo camper. After doing a bit of research, I went with some budget items that have good reputations.
First up is Stanley Camp 24oz. Cook Set. It’s a skinny stainless steel pot, with foldable handle and lid. It includes two insulated green mugs that nest inside, but I probably wont be using those since I have another cup solution. But the pot and lid are great, especially because size/shape works well with a couple other camping items.
The standard canister fuel (small size), like the GSI 110 G canister in the photo, slides into the Stanley pot perfectly (even better if it’s upside-down).
Next up is an ultralight and ultracompact stove: the BRS-3000T Ultralight 25g Backpacking Camping Gas Stove. It’s basically a titanium alloy burner that attaches to the top of a fuel canister, and is a favorite of backpackers because of it’s simplicity, weight, and price. It comes with a small green bag, and since the arms of the stove are fold-able, the whole thing can fit in the palm of your hand. This sits easily in the Stanley pot as well.
Next, I purchased a Jetboil Fuel Can Stabilizer to keep the whole cooking unit stable. (You can find it at Academy for $5) It also has fold-able legs and fits easily in the cooking pot.
As I mentioned, it all fits perfectly in the pot, with enough room to also add a small lighter, small sponge, small microfiber towel, etc. But to do this, that meant not being able to use the green mugs. Of course I can just throw those in another bag, but there’s a much more elegant solution: the Ozark Trail 18-Ounce Stainless Steel Cup from Walmart. The beauty of this cup, other than being cheap and durable, is that the Stanley pot fits inside of it. And as an added bonus, the lid from the pot fits perfectly on the cup as well.
There are plenty of YouTube videos about this particular setup that I checked out before purchasing everything, so I’m confident it will work out nicely. It’s definitely a compact and inexpensive cooking system. I can’t wait to try it out on our next camping trip!
Day 3 of our our camping trip to Big Bend National Park would be our final day here, but it would end with one of the must-see sights of the park. But first, we were treated to a wonderful sunrise:
What made it spectacular was that we were able to view it from the remote back-country campsite. I highly recommend staying at one of these campsites at least once while in Big Bend! It’s such a different experience from waking up in the middle of a crowded campground. Our campsite, Robbers Roost, is accessible if you have a high-clearance vehicle, but there are other back-country campsites that are accessible by regular passenger cars. Just check with the visitors center rangers, and you can choose the campsite based on their recommendations (and you are required to pay for the back-country permit).
Speaking of high-clearance vehicles, my buddy drove us in his Jeep Rubicon, so we had no worries about traveling to the back-country campsites or trail-heads. It was lots of fun, and the Jeep was certainly in its element!
Next on the agenda was our final trail, and one of the must-see highlights of the park: Santa Elena Canyon. But before I write about that, I have to add a bit of important info about Big Bend. The park occupies a huge amount of land in Texas, so getting from one part of the park to the other takes a significant amount of time. For instance, getting from the Panther Junction Visitors Center, which is kind of in the middle of the park, to Santa Elena Canyon takes over an hour according to Google Maps. And of course, you’ll find yourself wanting to pull over several times on the way to take photos of the incredible landscape! So, make sure you build the travel time into your schedule, especially if you don’t want to set up your campsite in the dark.
Santa Elena Canyon is an amazing sight and very cool trail, but getting on the main trail can be a bit of a challenge, depending on the flow of Terlingua Creek. I’d say half of the people crossed the creek, which came up higher than knee-level this day, and half walked upstream a bit to find a dry crossing. We did the latter on the way in. This dry route involves a little bit of scrambling up the hill to get to the trail, but is not too difficult. If you want to do the creek crossing, wear some shorts or swimming trunks, and have shoes you don’t mind getting wet. A towel would be good to have as well.
But the extra effort of getting across the river will be rewarded by a hike inside the majestic canyon, and some wonderful photos. It’s actually kind of difficult to capture the scale of the canyon because the walls go up so high, but it was fun to try. On this trip, I brought along my Moman tripod and ND-1000 filter so I could blur the water a bit. In the photo at the beginning of this post, I used and exposure of 30 seconds to blur the water. The ND filter and the WCL-X100 wide adapter for my Fujifilm X100T camera made for a nice combination. Still, I had to take four photos and stitch them together to create the final image since I couldn’t capture what I wanted in just a single frame.
That image was taken at a little outcropping not quite at the end of the trail. I think it’s a better view that the one at the end, but I did take a photo at the end. I think the hiker in the photo makes the image work… if she wasn’t there, I probably wouldn’t have posted the photo. But you can get a sense of scale when there’s a person in the image, so I like the photo:
On the way back, my two buddies decided to cross the river. I didn’t want to risk dumping my camera in the water (and I didn’t want to get wet) so I took the dry route back. However, that worked out nicely because I was able to take a photo of them crossing:
After a little break and cleanup at the Jeep, it was time to head home. This trip to Big Bend National Park was pretty epic, with fun camping, lots of hiking, a visit to Mexico, and an endless supply of photo opportunities. And to spend time with friends is priceless. I’m looking forward to our next camping trip! 😊🏕️📷🌌🚙🌇
Day two of our Big Bend trip started with a short hike to the Boquillas Hot Springs. I didn’t go into the water, but my two friends did and enjoyed the relaxing waters. I did pop on the ND filter and made a few long exposures of the water. They turned out okay, but there weren’t too many cool bubbles in the river to make it interesting. Still, it was fun to give it a try, and as a warm up for later since I planned to take some long exposures at Santa Elena Canyon.
I had brought my swimming trunks, but I decided I didn’t want to get wet that morning, plus I had gone into the hot springs on our last trip, so it was kind of a “been there, done that” thing.
Boquillas del Carmen, Mexico
Next up was a highlight of the trip: a visit to the Mexican town of Boquillas del Carmen. To get there, you park at the Boquillas Crossing, then check in with the rangers at the border crossing office. They check to make sure you have your passports, then give you a few tips and a run-down of the rules and what to expect, what items are prohibited to bring back, etc.
After that, it’s a short walk to the ferryman who will shuttle you across the Rio Grande in a rowboat. The cost is US $5 for the round-trip boat ride.
Once on the Mexican shore, you have a choice of transportation options to the town: burros, horses, car, or walk. Of course we chose the burros! At US $5 (round-trip), it seemed like the most memorable and fun, and we weren’t disappointed. My burro was pretty feisty, but nothing scary, and I enjoyed the ride a lot. So fun!
The burro ride was maybe 15 minutes long, and then we walked into town proper. You’ll have a “guide” who takes you to the customs office where we paid a US $2 fee, and then he took us on a walking tour of the small town.
It was about lunchtime so we went to the main restaurant, José Falcon’s for some beer and food. The guac and salsa were delcious, and the tamales were yummy as well. I wouldn’t say the food was spectacular, but we were pretty hungry and it hit the spot.
After lunch, we said goodbye to our guide (and tipped him) before returning to the U.S. via burro and boat. Here are some more photos of Boquillas del Carmen:
Lost Mine Trail
Next up was the Chisos Basin and our long hike on the Lost Mine Trail. This trail is rated as one of the best in the park but we weren’t sure if we’d have enough time to finish it since it gained a lot of elevation from the trail-head to the summit. But after about a half-hour into the hike, we knew that we’d have to complete it. Everyone coming down said that the view from the top was amazing which definitely spurred us on. Actually, the trail up and the many switchbacks gave us some wonderful views of the park and we even saw some roadrunners along the trail.
Arriving at the top, we were rewarded by a spectacular view. I mean, it was truly awe-inspiring and made the tough uphill hike all worth it. We were fortunate to reach the summit when the light was particularly beautiful and the clouds were making the sky interesting and Casa Grande and Emory Peak in the distance made for a memorable view.
When I visited Big Bend last time, the Lost Mine Trail was closed because of bears, so I was very happy to have the chance to hike the trail this time. I knew that if the vacation ended right then, it would have still been a great trip!
Astrophotography at Robbers Roost
When we left the trail, the sun was going down and we had planned to camp in the back country (make sure you get a permit from the visitor’s center beforehand!), which involved several miles of mild off-road driving, so we were eager to make good time. Robbers Roost was the name of the campsite we chose, and when we arrived, we found that we were the only campers there!
After a satisfying dinner of sausage links, potato salad, and chips & salsa, it was time for some serious astrophotography before the moon made its appearance.
The sky was incredible, and we saw a few shooting stars which was really cool. I even managed to make a short time-lapse of the moonrise:
One new technique that I tried was star trails. I’m very pleased at how my first try turned out:
It was an amazing day at Big Bend National Park. A long one for sure, with lots of hiking and good food, but completely satisfying. 😌
Two friends and I began the weekend a day early to head on out to Big Bend National Park for a short camping trip. The drive started at 5 am because it takes several hours of driving to reach the park. We got there at about 2 pm and stopped by the Panther Junction Visitor Center to get a back-country permit for our next evening’s campsite, and then headed to our first trail: Grapevine Hills Trail.
The highlight of Grapevine Hills Trail is the balanced rock at the end. It’s very cool! This trail starts easy, but includes a little bit of scrambling up rocks and could be difficult for some people. I really enjoy these sections though, so I was loving it.
Next, we drove out to the eastern part of the park to the Boquillas Canyon Trail. This is another very short trail, but the canyon is gorgeous! The Rio Grande is amazing the way it cuts through the rock to form the canyon. Nature is awesome.
On the trail we came across this critter. I’ve never seen a millipede this big before! It was a little scary, I’m not ashamed to admit.
After the trail, we took a look at the Boquillas Overlook, where you can get a nice view of Mexico across the river.
After that we headed to camp to set up the tents and have dinner.
The rib-eyes and cold beer really hit the spot! After a little bit of astrophotography, we crawled into the tents to get some rest. It was a great day!