Big Bend's River Road
March, 2003

Elevation Profile

Click on the small pictures to see larger ones.


Oh, sure, it'll fit
After Nathan and Dad explained to the Security Agent at the MIdland airport that the overhead recorded message meant that they could change the running light in the Suburban, we wedged my big bag into the back and the adventure began!


Lots of u-turns!
I brought my GPS receiver and kept a breadcrumb trail of our entire drive down the River Road. It was 122 miles (counting the hiking and explorations) and we marked the graveyards that we found along the way.

Sites Visited:
Site NameEst. GravesWSG84 NorthWSG84 West
San Vicente Site3829 09' 20"103 00' 25"
San Vicente Crossing1229 07' 58"103 01' 21"
Solis129 03' 35"103 06' 40"
Mariscal1229 06' 14"103 11' 14"
Johnson Ranch1129 01' 32"103 22'15"
Sierra Chino429 02' 30"103 24' 56"

Next time I'll buy TWO bags
We stopped in Monahans to have a quick lunch at the Sonic Drive-In. The weather was great: sunny and warm with a slight breeze. After stocking up on some last-minute groceries (fresh fruit and beer), we headed for the park entrance. As the sun set, the temperature dropped and we discussed where we should camp the first night. Should we go into the Basin campground or stop at Nine-Mile Draw and stay at the primitive site there? The minutes ticked by and the miles slipped away so by the time we actually entered the park, we were pretty tired. We stopped at Nine-Mile and set up camp there as the last light of day vanished. We had a quick supper and set up for sleeping. Mom, Nathan and I debated whether we should put up a tent but decided against it, preferring to lay in our sleeping bags and look at the stars. There was no moon that night so the constellations were amazing and we tried to figure out which way Orion would move across the sky. We saw satellites and shooting stars and meteors. It was beautiful. Several times during the night we woke up to the sound of coyotes howling in the mountains around us but we weren't afraid.

Around 3:30am, some other people pulled into the campsite and fussed around unpacking and getting to sleep. Their diesel truck made sure that we all woke up and we marveled at the amount of noise they made. But eventually we wandered back to sleep. The temperature kept falling that night, and falling and falling. We thought we were pretty cold but didn't want to complain until we knew just cold it had been. At Panther Junction the next day, the reported low temperature at Persimmon Gap was 30 degrees Farenheit! Cold, indeed! We got up slowly, each trying to wait until the sun peeked over the mountains. All of us except Mom, that is, who was up as soon as it was light! The early bird gets the pictures, you know!

We registered at Panther Junction to spend two nights at primitive campsites along the River Road. After checking the condition of the road with the rangers, we filled our water bottles and took off. The wildflowers were blooming all over the desert.



Flowers carpet the desert floor

Cool rock formation

Using the 7-minute map that we bought at Panther Junction, my GPS receiver, and some directions that the rangers gave us, we found San Vicente Site's cemetary. That was neat because none of us had been to it before so we were excited to put another cross on Dad's cemetary map. It was only about a 1/2-mile off the road so we hiked back to it

36 graves, or was it 38?

clay cross with writing



Next, we drove to San Vicente Crossing. We were not able to drive right down to the River, though, due to road closures. So we set up the table and had lunch. Nathan and I hiked into the hills a little bit and found a graveyard with several graves. After a brief rest, we drove to Solis and located the single grave there. Then we continued our drive, picking our way through the rocks and sand on the River Road until we got to Mariscal Mine. Once there, we hiked up to the mine's furnace ruins and peered down the black mineshafts. After a thorough exploration (including an abandoned car), we set up camp at the Fresno campsite. We had taco salads and stir-fried vegetables for dinner and took a stroll down a creekbed as the sun set. We slept out again that night and entertained ourselves watching stars and listening for bats as they flew around us in the night.
San Vicente Crossing Ominous furnaces an office with a view a short commute I can get it running!

The weather was good that night and we fell asleep right away. Nathan was still the last one up, though! The next morning, we set out to find the cemetary at Mariscal. Dad had read on the internet that the graves were back behind some tarpaper shacks by the dump. Thanks to those good directions, Nathan found the graveyard almost right away. We counted 12 graves there.
Breakfast burritos Late for breakfast! Mom and Dad Beautiful sunset Lonely grave

We couldn't help but explore more of the Mariscal area on our way out of "town" the next day. We dropped rocks down the mine shaft vents and counted how long it took them to hit something. Then we debated on the formula for figuring out how deep the vent was, given the number of seconds before impact. Like I said, it was a relaxing trip, with very few demands on us! As we drove on, we spotted two lonely cactii blooming in the rocks. So of course we took lots of pictures.

Exploring the hills

Early bloomers

Neat cactus

Nice view for a flower to have

It was Saturday, which meant we had only one more night to spend on the River Road. The road was pretty rocky so we all helped Nathan drive. We also tried to find another cemetary (or single grave, we're not sure) but since we didn't have good enough coordinates to home in on it with the GPS, we'll have to wait to do that one another day. We travelled on, checking out the ruins at Woodson and Pettit. At Pettit, there was another abandoned car. Can you help us identify it?
We relaxed on the banks of the Rio Grande on some cool sandstone and threw rocks into the mud for a while. Eventually, we made our way to Johnson Ranch, where we camped the final night. Since the sky was obscured by clouds and seemed to threaten rain, we set up the tents. It didn't rain, though. The next morning we got up early and checked out the cemetary at Johnson Ranch after breakfast. We also stopped to see the graves at Sierra Chino, since Dad remembered where they were. Nathan scouted the hills and spotted the rock mounds a short distance from the road. We stood there for a while, looking down at the Rio Grande River before finishing our drive down the River Road and going to Castolon. We were sorry to see the pavement again!

Mom at peace

Looks like mud, but it's rock!

Quiet moment (rare)

Dad supervising the rock-throwing

Peaceful home

What a view out that window

watch your head there, Dad!

Getting the stove lit was Dad's job

Spaghetti, anyone?

Mom found some pretty flowers

Cemetary at Johnson Ranch

Sierra Chino cemetary

Then before you knew it, we had to leave the park and head for home. We stopped at Monahans Sandhills State Park to take showers and then they dropped me off at the Midland Airport. We were so sad that this trip was over and agreed that it had been a special one, indeed. Thank you,.Mom, for making sure we had enough to eat and that we didn't sleep too late. And thank you, Dad, for keeping track of the graveyards over the years and for having an amazing memory. And thank you, Nathan, for doing most of the driving and for having the eagle-eyes to spot the lonely crosses in the desert.

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