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  • J.F. Rowan

Big Bend National Park - Part 3 of 3

Two days at Nugent Mountain campsite then it was time to move on to our final site, “Paint Gap One”. You might be wondering why we just didn’t stay in one spot for the entire duration? It wasn’t really up to us. We took what was available for the time given. “Paint Gap” was our final campsite which would last the longest, three days total.

On the morning of departure from Nugent mountain, sometime around dawn, three vehicles barreled into our campsite as if they were feds making a raid on our camp. The first vehicle woke me up before it was within 200 feet of the coach only because I happened I had to have my window open. As fast as they all came in, they turned around or backed their way out leaving us to believe they were lost and the blind was just followed the lost. Okay, now I’m up, time to make breakfast. For the next hour my new name would be Mr. Cranky Pants, but as soon as the sausage and scrambled eggs kicked in, all was right in the world.

Nothing gets my gyros centered better than a tasty camp breakfast cooked outside!

We cleaned up the morning dishes and we both took one last look at the gorgeous view that surrounded us and off we drove to the next site. We stopped by the visitors center one last time but as we learned the previous visits, there were more openings, but nothing we could reserve as they were more than 48 hours away. Had we been allowed to come back and revise our permit as we tried the second day, we could have easily stayed for about tens days uninterrupted. So, it looked like when our time was up at our last site, “Paint Gap One”, we could go back and try again, or we might as well not fight the fickle finger of fate and perhaps move on. Here’s an interesting side story though. If you remember, Yvette and I hiked up into the south basin of the Chisos Mountains the previous day. During our hike, in the middle of the trail, we spotted a small clump of fur with a long (retractable) nail embedded in the fur. We thought since it was in the middle of the trail, we would bag it, tag the area and bring it to a Ranger for observation. Were we ever wrong! During our visit to see if there were any other openings, Yvette shared this piece of field evidence with the Ranger during our inquire about open campsites. We were then lectured that the removal of anything from the park was illegal and could result in a fine of $5000 or more and she promptly confiscated the baggie. Even after she confiscated it she wouldn’t even tell us what she thought it was. I understood her position but for Pete’s sake, throw me a bone here!

Fur and nail sample gathered on Pine Canyon Trail. This practice is illegal as were soon to find out.

My navigator was having a bit of an off day after that little morning episode at the visitors center which would explain why I drove about 2 miles down a dirt road to our alleged final campsite when she exclaimed, “ I think we’re on the wrong road.” Okay, now the challange was to try and find a spot to turn around on a one lane dirt road surrounded by cactus. Fortunately, a campsite big enough to turn around was only another quarter of a mile ahead. No big deal. Back out, down the main road another 3 miles and we find the right road. If you’d like to see the dash cam footage of that whole ordeal, check out our VLOG segment on YouTube HERE.

Our final campsite, Paint Gap One. I think there were a total of four sites on this remote 5 mile road.

Finally on the correct dirt road now, about 2 miles in before we found our spot. We set up camp and decided to do some walking. There are no trails from any of the sites we were camped, so if you want a real-deal hiking type trail, you have to do some driving to get at the trailheads for most of the trails. The access roads provide a place to walk and bike (which I took full advantage), but instead of doing any more driving Yvette and I just walked off into the desert being mindful of all that was prickly. We like to observe all that’s around us, animal scat, nests, tracks, plants we’ve never seen before, just about anything. A relaxing meal, cocktail and a gorgeous sunset rounded out our day.

All of these backcountry sites have access roads. Each road can have any number of campsites on them, but as far as we could tell, you couldn’t really see anyone else from any of ours. That map confirms this, they are pretty far apart. But that doesn’t mean you don’t see cars coming and going on occasion. Like us, not everyone probably had a site for a long period of time. People would come and go the sites starting around 8 in the morning and though rarely, as late as 11:30 at night. We suspect a number of them were taking part in the same shell game we were trying to acquire a spot the following days. So even though you were off the grid, you always had an occasional reminder that someone was nearby. Still, it was a good test for us and our equipment as to whether our vehicle could be sustainable for a week or more off the grid. As it turns out, it could…to some extent.

Campsite and Turtleback kitchen view. We even were able ot have ahot shower!

As it turns out, the compost toilet worked great. No smell, easy to use, and no nasty chemicals and dumping. The peat moss just kept smelling like peat moss. Water was always available and we were even able to take a hot shower which feels great when you’ve been in the desert for a few days. Cooking was straightforward as was washing dishes and you already heard about the double filtered drinking water, which tastes great by the way. If anything gave trouble, it was our solar system. It just didn’t do a very good job at refreshing the coach batteries every day. To be honest, every 24-36 hours I was below 50% battery capacity and would have to run the truck for over an hour just to get it above 75%. I have learned since that part of the issue is the refrigerator. (At a house sit after we left Big Bend, we turned our refrigerator off and were able to maintain our batteries with just the solar) It draws more energy than I can reproduce every day. As I write this (delayed of course) we will be doing some more research and some tweaking to the system that should allow us to be more sustainable in the future. The trailer and the pilot wheel I designed shined brightly during our stay at the final campsite. The spot was a bit cramped and I didn’t like the way the trailer was oriented so I backed the trailer close to where I wanted it, unhitched and installed the pilot wheel, and then moved the trailer in the exact position I wanted. It was well balanced even with full water and propane. On our last day, I rolled it out to where the truck could easily back in and hook-up. Scores! And as far as water capacity, turns out we could probably take showers every two days for a week and still have plenty of water left over. Our not being able to procure fresh fruits and vegetables was our only dilemma in the food department, but we learned a valuable lesson in that regard.

Peace and quiet, gorgeous sunsets, and solitude are just some of the reasons why I think we will return.

My final thoughts before I close are this. My hope is that in the near future, we will return to see more of the park. We just have to remember that in order to do anything, driving isn’t an option, it’s a requirement. Armed with the experience that often comes with a bumpy road, we now know how to work this system that frankly, is antiquated when it comes to backcountry reservations. Also, privatizing any or all of any National Park is good for no one except the concessionaire. I have gone into run-down gas stations that had cleaner restrooms. There is just no excuse for it, not when mark-ups in the retail store are on the borderline of price gouging. That said, our actual stay for six days in the park would have only cost us $12. We did purchase a National Park Pass that will lessen the cost and will allow us into other parks and monuments in the future as we travel. We also did not have time to explore the state park side of Big Bend, but we will use that as our stepping off point next time allowing us to view the national park from a different perspective, the south-west section. For now, it’s pack up and head to Davis Mountain State Park in Fort Davis Texas. See you there.

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