Hiking Big Bend Ranch State Park will take you to one of the few truly wild places in West Texas. The park gets few visitors, trails are faint, and access involves a long drive on back roads. The rewards are amazing scenery and solitude rarely found in West Texas. I hiked the Rancherias Loop Trail, one of the best hikes through the State Park. The hike leads over mountains, mesas, and through canyons. It is supposed to take at least three days, and the ranger said I might need four. I took that as a challenge and completed the loop in two days!
- This route has the most solitude of any trip I’ve done in Texas. Rangers told me only one other party was hiking the loop that weekend and they were a day ahead of me, but I never saw them. I did see two-day hikers at the very end, but they were the only people I saw.
- Navigation was tricky because the trail often followed dried up creek beds. This was made worse by the fact that my map and GPS didn’t always match the reality on the ground.
- Unlike most West Texas hikes this route has relatively reliable springs along it, so you don’t have to haul lots of water with you.
Rancherias Loop Trail Photo Essay
In the desert, I typically carry a minimal gear kit but with a heavy duty pack to haul water. That system has worked well in other areas, and it worked well on this trip.
My pack was lighter on this trip because I carried less water; each day I was able to grab water at springs. My base weight was probably around 11 pounds (4.99 kg) so with food and water I probably started with around 24 lbs (10.89 kg) total. I could have carried a lighter pack, but I was perfectly happy with my MYOG version of the Seek Outside Unaweep. This particular version was around 2.7 lbs (1.22 kg) and very comfortable.
I carried a 20 degree down quilt rather than my lighter 40-degree (4.44°C) synthetic quilt. It was a good call. Up in the mountains the temperature was around 40°F (4.44°C) and maybe a bit less. My synthetic quilt was okay at 40 (4.44 C) on short nights but when it’s dark for close to 12 hours you want a bit more insulation.
I go stoveless in the desert. For one thing, I’m only out on short trips, so it’s not a huge hardship to eat one or two cold dinners. It also saves weight and bulk when I have to carry more water. Despite the cool weather, I sweated a lot in the sun. So I enjoyed salty snacks.
I typically bring a GoPro and a regular camera. Under the right conditions, GoPro cameras can take decent still shots, so I had been thinking for a while about attempting a trek with just the GoPro to see how it worked. As it turned out, my regular camera died right before the trip so I didn’t have much choice in the matter. The GoPro shots were okay, but it was clearly not as sharp or as flexible as a regular camera. I saw a herd of Javelinas in one canyon, but my pictures just turned out as fuzzy blurs. That and similar experiences motivated me to buy a camera with a 30X zoom.
Most of my problems had more to do with human error (mine and the GPS) than with the trail being tricky to follow. It appears whoever made the Trimble Outdoors GPS track took a rather different route than I did in several key places
I learned that it was better to trust the map that I bought at the State Park Visitor Center. As far as I could tell the map was all right with the possible exception of the area around Rancherias Springs. The map seemed to show the trail on one side, but the trail I followed was on the other side of the creek. It’s not a big deal because the trail was pretty beaten down and there were cairns along it. The Rangers at the visitor center were very knowledgeable by the way. One gentleman had worked for the park since the state of Texas purchased the land for a state park years ago. He showed me off-trail routes for next time when he heard that I finished the loop in 2 days.
Just like you watch for hypothermia in the mountains I’ve learned to watch for overheating or dehydration in the desert. Even though it was not that warm, the sun exposure was high most of the time. Even in light clothes, I could tell I was losing a lot of water to sweating. A few times when I thought I was a bit too warm, I stopped in the shade to cool off. I felt like I did fine until the very end when I pushed myself a bit too hard and fast to get to my car. I finished a bit dehydrated and downed two Gatorades at the first gas station on the way home.