Big Bend Ranch State Park

We ate a big breakfast in Marfa before we started the drive to the Ranch State Park, knowing it would be a while before we would have a real meal again. We read the park was extremely primitive and had no services, so we limited ourselves to packing food which could be preserved without ice and stuff we could cook on my tiny fuel stove…this meant a lot of cans of soup and protein bars.

Google had said it would be a couple hours from Marfa to our campground in the center of the park. However, it assumes you are doing the 25mph speed limit the whole time and the graded, rutted surface of the road, twisting around and climbing up and down hills with a trailer loaded with bikes, meant we never even approached those speeds. It felt like an eternity between mile marker signs and my inner four year old started chanting “Are we there yet?”

While the drive in was long, it was very pretty and I amused myself by hanging out of the truck window and taking photos.

By the time we were checking in we realized we only had a few hours to ride, so we asked the guy at the front desk what he would recommend and he sent us to Madrid Falls.

Apparently Madrid Falls is the 2nd tallest waterfall in Texas. I’m not sure exactly how much of an honor that is, given how much everyone makes fun of Texas for being flat. Also, a bit like how we call dry washes “rivers” in Southern Arizona, the man also said there wasn’t any running water in the park. Unfortunately we didn’t even get to see it, as there was a long hike from the road and we lacked time, but the ride was fun and that’s what we were there for anyway.

A little bit of google-fu found this picture.

Still pretty cool looking without water!

The signage in the State Park was even more confusing than the National Park and we had to repeatedly reference the map. You start out following signs for Epic Trail, then switch to Madrid Falls, but occasionally the signs at the cross roads will reference the name of a campsite or other way point instead of the destination.

The ride started out with a lot of fine sand which was thankfully not super deep, and then climbed up a couple steep rocky climbs. Since this wasn’t a loop, we had to go back down them.

They were so steep that even with my bike geared down I had to ride both brakes and feather the clutch not to stall or go barrelling down out of control.

I think James nearly fried his brakes keeping the 990 at a reasonable speed. The ride wasn’t too bad for the 450, but all the sand and loose rock was tiring out the 990, so she laid down for a nap.

We got back just as the sun was going down, so we opted to sleep under the stars on the trailer and set about making some soup on my camp stove. The South Leyva campground is just a mile from the bunkhouse, but has great vistas and cool rocks.

Suddenly we heard dirt bikes and my buddy Darren showed up with a friend to talk about riding the next day. We had both discovered via facebook that we were planning to be in the park on the same day, so we decided to do some riding. Social networking sites catch a lot of flack, but it’s pretty cool that you can reconnect with someone you met over two years prior and go for a ride.

We told them we were planning to ride Mcguirks Tanks to the Road to Nowhere and hoped we’d bump into them on the trail.

We got up at dawn after a beautiful sunset and headed out on the main road. It is nicely graded with just a bit of sand and rock and a few small wash crossings.

The park is very wild still, so you have to be cautious of wildlife. James almost ran over a massive jack rabbit running accross the road and we found a rattlesnake that had been squished by a 4×4. At one point a lizard ran out and was racing beside my bike, keeping speed. His little legs were a blur, it was pretty amazing he could run that fast!

We went past the Mcguirks Tanks road on the first pass because it was so overgrown you could barely see it.

After dodging through the stickery shrubs you dip down into a wash. Then it becomes a crazy off-camber rutted mess.

Once you get across that the wash dissapears, so you have to jump back out of the ravine, up the steep side.

You can kind of tell how big the jump out of the wash is here. This was the first of many…and one of the easiest. We had to dig some to make them even possible.

I was thankful that around this time Darren and his friends showed up, because I was concerned the 990 wouldn’t make it up one of the ravines and James and I alone wouldn’t be strong enough to get it out…which happened shortly thereafter.

In general though, James did really well. I would not recommend anyone take a bike so big on that sort of stuff and he hadn’t even had much experience on the dirt with it prior. He did say he saw her in a new light after this day of riding, the 990 can be extremely capable with the right rider, but you will definitely have more fun on something in the 400 class or smaller!

I was loving the 450 I borrowed from James. It seems to leap right in and out of the ravines flawlessly. The KTM450 is much lighter and more powerful than the DRZ400 I’m used to, plus the suspension -rocks-. However, I’ll still stick to my DRZ for big trips since they take abuse better. The KTM demands primo fuel and very frequent oil changes.

The ravines in Mcguirks Tanks were getting more and more challenging and then they suddenly ended at the foot of a steep rocky climb. I took a little break at the base to let the other riders finish their ascent (a break in the momentum could really ruin you on this) when all the riders started signaling not to follow, saying it was a dead end and we had to go back.

James looked exhausted and I really didn’t want to backtrack all that stuff either, plus the map had shown two roads that should have branched left and taken us back to the main road. We were all pretty annoyed til we realized the last road was in fact the most recent wash and rode back and down into it and back to the main road with relative ease.

We took a break at the Tres Papalotes campground, where there were suprisingly (and thankfully) bathrooms and running water. One of the guys had a flat, so we all supervised his tire repair. He pulled out a large thorn and patched the hole. I was honestly surprised with nine of us riding all over with so much rock and spikey things about, that his was the only flat of the day.

After the break we took off for the Road to Nowhere.

This is a pretty good picture of the unmaintained status of Road to Nowhere. Since it has been too washed out for 4×4 travel, the brush has gotten very overgrown. There is a lot of small loose rock present, but by far the easiest unmaintained trail we encountered in the park…it’s still a bit of a handful on a bigger bike.

Road to Nowhere is a must ride. The road winds around the edge of the mountain with steep drops hundreds of feet down. Pictures don’t really do it justice.

When you get to the top you are rewarded with a cool sign. I was told it’s the only red and black sign in all of the National Parks. Unfortunately there is no shade, so we all immediately headed back down to Tres Papalotes for lunch.

By the time we got back we were beat and starving for a real meal. Luckily, we were able to get in on the big dinner the guys had ordered up from the bunkhouse and we all pigged out on delicious Mexican food, drank beer and talked about riding.

We realized we didn’t have enough fuel for another day of riding in the park, so we decided to leave the next morning and ride Pinto Canyon Road from Marfa. We awoke to discover the 990 had a flat from a thorn of its own causing a slow leak and set about changing the tube. Once we’d finished we made the slow and arduous drive with the trailer back out of the park and into Marfa. Again we found ourselves in a time crunch, so we took the trailer all the way down the 2810 until it turns to dirt and unloaded there.

We almost thought we wouldn’t have the time to make it worth it, but I’m so glad we went as the ride was incredibly beautiful.

The riding was a breeze, especially compared to what we’d ridden the day before.

The road surface was well maintained, you could blaze through if you wanted to, but you’d be a fool to speed past this scenery.

Rainfall would make Pinto Canyon exponentially more challenging. Not just for these wash crossings, but for the claylike mud that would form and send you sliding towards the steep drop offs.

There could also be some pretty epic water crossings.

It was a perfect end to a perfect trip!

And a great way to prep for the Roll the Bones Rally!

3 thoughts on “Big Bend Ranch State Park

  1. Thanks for the Photos! So few realize how rugged the terrain is within these spaces totaling 3 million acres! If you add “Terlingua Ranch” we have another 1500+/- miles of dirt roads of all kinds where land owners [such as us!] can navigate on. I can see where the Gear-up even two wheel drive on would not make it! [steep ravines]. Talk soon and stay well. Ara and Spirit

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *