Four and a half miles into the canyon, the road ended at the trailhead, with a fantastic view of the surrounding mountains. Pummel Peak, Lost Mine Peak, Casa Grande, and Crown Mountain dominate the southern vista. A mountain biker, who had spilled most of his water, asked us for a drink, and we filled up his water bottle from the large insulated jug we always carry.
For our last day in Big Bend, we decided to explore Old Ore Road, which begins five miles west of Rio Grande Village and winds 26 miles to Dagger Flat Road. Wagons once used this road to carry ore from Boquillas, Mexico, to the railroad at Marathon. A "4x4 Only" sign warned us when we left the pavement and drove north on the rocky road through washes and along stream beds to the former village of La Noria.
Layers of folded rock surrounded us as we hiked the dry creek bed up to Ernst Tinaja, a large circular hole the creek has carved into the limestone. Water is present year round, but animals sometimes drown, when they try to get a drink and cannot climb back up the steep sides of the tinaja.
The naked beauty of the desert enchanted my eastern eyes, but I understood the potential dangers for careless or unwary travelers. As we followed a setting sun to our campground in Study Butte, I promised myself that we'd return to travel more of the backcountry roads of Big Bend National Park.
The east entrance to Big Bend is 39 miles south of Marathon on Texas 385. The west entrance near Study Butte and Terlingua is 58 miles south of Alpine on Texas 118. For more information about the park and its facilities contact: Superintendent, P.O. Box 129, Big Bend National Park, TX 79834-0129; 915/477-2370; or www.nps.gov/bibe on the Internet.
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The information presented in this column is, to the best of our knowledge, correct and accurate at the time of publication. However, because of our lengthy lead time, we recommend calling the proper authorities or local experts for confirmation before visiting.