Being a full-time adventurer, Jeff sometimes has difficulty carving out time for his trail review posts! What follows is a Throwback Thursday post: his review of the mountain biking trails near Terlingua Texas, from our stay in the Big Bend area last February!
Terlingua Mountain Biking, Big Bend Ranch State Park, Texas
After posting the more intense downhill mountain biking of Whistler, it seemed prudent to post about most of my mountain biking adventures which entail cross-country excursions. Downhill mountain biking is predominantly for adrenalin junkies, although you can spend the day on more mellow downhill pathways provided you stick with the green beginner runs. Terlingua, located directly between Big Bend National and State Parks in south Texas, boasts a thriving population of 58. Every year in February they host the Chihuahuan Desert Mountain Bike Fest where mountain bikers from all over the country explore their many trails at Terlingua and Big Bend State Park. Although we happened to be there about the same time, they capped the event at 500 riders, and unfortunately I was not able to participate. However, the trails prior to the event were very well groomed so it was a fabulous time to explore the trails and a great time to be there given the weather.
Big Bend State Park also happens to be the one of the select places in the US to achieve an Epic Trail designation by the International Mountain Bike Association. Less than 50 places in the US and Canada have that trail designation, so my applause to the Chihuahuan Desert riders who made this happen. IMBA’s Epic, better known as the Fresno-Sauceda Loop, totals 59 miles, although there are many, many more miles of rugged desert single track throughout the area. Although a portion of my exploration entailed the Epic Trail, my focus was mainly on the Dome, East Contraband, and Fresno Divide Loops. The Dome Loop was 19.8 miles and the Fresno Divide Loop was another 9.4 miles. My longest single day was about 23 miles. I also spent time the first day on the Terlingua trails which produced another 16 miles of riding. Overall, after multiple days of riding, I managed to complete 70 miles of trails doing various loops around the two areas. Except for a trail maintenance day in preparation for the event, which yielded a handful of people, I never saw anyone on the trails. This was not due to lack of riders because cars were present at the trailheads, but rather the vast desert environment.
These rides were about solitude and self-reliance. If you venture out, you better be prepared to fix a flat or other mechanical mishaps that may come up. Otherwise, you may have a very long walk back to the car. The scenery was visually stimulating, yielding barren mountains in the background, set among a prickly arid environment. Occasionally I would see a rabbit hopping about, but generally did not see any wildlife during the day. Most wildlife in the desert travels at night, which is fine by me. I managed to see a Bobcat in the distance scurrying across the trail one day and a coyote on another. If you ride out here you better bring plenty of water because the desert literally sucks the moisture out of your body with every pedal stroke. The sun was relentless, but during February the temperatures were not too hot even under direct sun (running about 75 during the day). The riding was mainly intermediate level, but there were occasional technical sections to keep it interesting.
Signs were found occasionally on the trail system which provided history of the area. For instance, one of the signs spoke about the red cinnabar ore (mercury sulfide), which was mined from the 1900s to about 1947. The cinnabar ore was extracted from the ground and cooked in small furnaces until the mercury was distilled out. Little was known about the detrimental health effects of mercury at the time. Harris Smith, owner of the (now defunct) Chisos Mining Company in Terlingua, enjoyed great success with the mine, but it came with a price. Smith was plagued by mercury poisoning, a common ailment among mercury mine workers. In the 1970s he recalled that “every tooth in my head became loose, and I could no longer eat solid food.” He went on to say, “My diet consisted of bean soup, crackers, coffee, and mouthwash.”
One day I rode deep enough (about 10 miles in) into Big Bend State Park to see one of the abandoned mine processing facilities. There were little support buildings which skirted the mine area, and it was here that I noticed a fairly recent pile of scat on the ground. The scat pile was a little larger than what a large dog would produce, but the shape was similar. What made this scat unique was that it contained a considerable amount of hair. It was definitely something I had not seen before being from Florida, so I snapped a picture for further investigation since my curiosity was peaked. After completing my loop and returning to the car, I dropped by the Ranger Station to ask them what it was. The Ranger asked where I saw this, and I provided the location. He stated, “Yeah, there are some big cats up in that area.” From that point forward I was a little more diligent in constantly surveying my surroundings. I also decided to carry an easily-accessible whistle and knife. Don’t know if either one would ward off a mountain lion, but I felt better having those items ready.
The riding in Terlingua and Big Bend State Park yielded some excellent scenery, some great desert riding, and some interesting wildlife. This one will be on my list again and I highly recommend it!