2018 Chihuahuan Desert Bike Fest

For the third year in a row, I drove across the Lone Star State with friends to participate in the Chihuahuan Desert Mountain Bike Endurance Fest. We loaded our mountain bikes and camping gear at four in the morning on Valentine’s Day and arrived at Big Bend Ranch State Park at four in the afternoon.
We wasted no time in getting our base camp set up at the Maverick Ranch RV Park in Lajitas. This park serves as ground zero for the Chihuahuan Desert Bike Fest that draws upwards of 500 mountain bikers from around the nation. For three days on Presidents Day weekend in February, the RV park becomes a small town with a population several times greater than that of Lajitas.
Big Bend Ranch State Park features some amazing trails, including a 50-plus mile Epic Loop rated as one of the best trails in the country by the International Mountain Biking Association. No worries, however, if you are hesitant to tackle a torturous trail like the Epic Loop. The bike fest is a non-competitive event that features a variety of guided rides for every skill level.
After setting up our campsite, we mounted our bikes and headed east toward the Buena Suerte Trail to get a ride in before sunset. The Buena Suerte trail is a wide jeep trail that leads to several single track trails that range in difficulty from easy to pretty hard stuff to ride.
Over the course of our two and a half days, we managed to rack up close to eighty-miles on the trails. While we all enjoyed riding our own mountain bikes, we couldn’t resist checking out the more expensive mountain bikes made available by the country’s biggest bike brands.
On our second day, I opted to try the Cannondale Monterra 2 electric mountain bike with full suspension and fat tires. This is one amazing mountain bike that features four electronic settings that make trail riding a whole new experience. This bike is nothing short of amazing. It was so much fun to ride and the fat tires just ate up the trails.The best part of an event like the Chihuahuan Desert Bike Fest is sharing the adventure with friends. We had a blast checking out new trails, stopping to take pics along the way, back-tracking to repeat fun sections of the trails, eating some delicious meals, and sitting around the campfire in the evenings.
I was especially glad to run into Karen Hoffman Blizzard and David Heinicke, two friends I met on my first ride two years ago. Karen is a contributing writer to Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine and David is the head naturalist at Brazos Bend State Park. They were great encouragers to me on my first ride and shepherded me down a trail that was a little above my riding skills at that time.
If you enjoy mountain biking then make it a point to do the Chihuahuan Desert Bike Fest. This ride is sponsored by Desert Sports of Terlingua, Big Bend Ranch State Park, and Lajitas Resort. If you are interested in riding, then be sure to register early. The event is capped at 500 riders and fills up well before the registration deadline. I think you’ll agree that this ride is unquestionably one of the best things going for mountain bikers in the Lone Star State.

A Texas Prescription

There is an emerging trend in healthcare that is shifting focus from the mere treatment of disease to the promotion of wellness.

A couple of years ago, doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital teamed up with the Appalachian Mountain Club to launch Outdoors Rx. This initiative is designed to combat disease which stems from inactive lifestyles — like childhood obesity, Type 1 diabetes, and asthma. Doctors are prescribing outdoor activities to patients. These prescriptions are then filled by the Appalachian Mountain Club.

Prescribing the outdoors — this is brilliant.
Hiking SFA SPOutdoors Rx is giving new meaning to “giving someone their walking papers.” The truth of the matter is that too many Americans live sedentary lifestyles and should get out and walk or bike or swim or whatever the doctor orders.

Honestly, watching Bear Grylls slide down a rocky hill from your easy chair or playing video games does not burn many calories. Many health issues are related to poor diet, lack of activity, and a lack of exposure to fresh air.

Dr. Christian Scirica, a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, said, “In addition to the widely known benefits of physical activity, research studies have found that exposure to natural environments also improves physical and emotional health. Exposure to the outdoors has been found to reduce the risk of high blood pressure, Vitamin D deficiency, depression and anxiety, and may even improve attention.”

In addition to the physical benefits, spending time outdoors has the added benefit of improving mental health. Imagine that!

I applaud the doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital and other doctors around the nation who are proactively doing something to fight the problems caused by nature deficit disorder — spending too much time indoors.

When it comes to your health, don’t wait for a doctor to give you a prescription. Take the initiative to get outdoors, get your heart rate up, and breathe fresh air. Do something hard and feel the burn. Doctors are reporting an improvement in the health of patients who are venturing out to neighborhood walking and biking trails, to state and national parks, and other outdoor settings.
Biking BBRSPThose of us who live in Texas have the benefit of 95 state parks and natural areas plus some amazing national parks to enjoy year round. Regardless of where you live in the Lone Star State, you are within easy driving distance of outdoor adventure at one of our many parks. You can bike, hike, run, climb, swim, camp, or just relax and enjoy the fresh air.

I recommend spending a few bucks on a Texas State Parks Pass. A park pass will make it more convenient to venture to any park, even at the last minute. In addition to enjoying free entry, a park pass will entitle you to some nice discounts on campsites and other park amenities. And, the modest cost of the card helps maintain our parks for all to enjoy.

So, don’t wait for a doctor to prescribe the outdoors. Write your own prescription to get outdoors and enjoy all that Texas has to offer.

The Devils River

The Devils River is one of the lesser known rivers in Texas — and that is just fine! Defiantly snaking its way through some of the most rugged terrain in the Lone Star State, this is a river that lives up to its name. Texas Monthly magazine reported, “If the Devils River were a woman, Willie would have married her twice and we would be crying into our beer as he lamented her wicked ways.”
Devils River Bank ReflectionAs a canoeist, the Devils River has been on my list of must-do paddling adventures in Texas. However, paddling on this river requires a bit of research and connecting with the right outfitter. The river flows through private ranches whose owners do not allow camping on the long riparian stretches of their big backyards. This also means that there are few public take-out sites along the way. So, careful planning is essential.
Devils River Team StartThe Texas Parks and Wildlife Department cautions that a trip on the Devils River is suitable only for experienced paddlers who are prepared to spend more than a day on the river. There are a number of Class I and Class II rapids, deep pools, strong headwinds, rocky shallows, and dense canebrakes along the route. Knowing how to pick your line and when to apply a good draw stroke are vital to successfully navigating the rocky rapids.
Dougal and Cathy CameronMy dream of paddling the Devils River became a reality through the generosity of some dear friends. The best part about it was the opportunity to share this adventure with my son Jonathan and a few of our paddling friends. Our team traveled to Rocker U Ranch where Dougal and Cathy Cameron welcomed us with the warmest of Texas hospitality. Their beautiful ranch sits along a three-mile stretch of the Devils River below Baker’s Crossing.
Dougal Paddling CanoeDougal, a real estate professional, is no stranger to the Devils River. Although not an outfitter by trade, he understands the pulse of this waterway, how to navigate through the confusing canebrakes, the best islands for camping (since you are not allowed to camp along the banks), the warning signs that indicate the potential for a flash flood, and the fascinating history of the river. He is an excellent paddler and proved to be the perfect guide.
Russell and James
James at Dolan FallsDougal led us from his ranch all the way to the magnificent Dolan Falls, a 10-foot Class IV waterfall about 16.4 miles downstream from Baker’s Crossing. Dolan Falls is the largest continuously flowing waterfall in Texas. At the bottom of the falls is a deep blue swimming hole — a perfect place for jumping in from the smooth overhead crag. Our guys could not resist the temptation to dive in.
Devil River and CloudsThe Devils River is regarded as the most pristine river in Texas. And indeed it is. We saw absolutely not one scrap of trash along the way. The spring-fed water was a consistent turquoise and blue, and clear all the way to the bottom. In fact, we filled our water bottles from the river and drank it unfiltered. Not many places left where you can do that!
Game Warden Rock
Doyle and JaredThe banks of the river are lined with elm, sycamore, live oak, pecan, mountain laurel, and a variety of other trees and shrubs. The hills on either side are pockmarked with natural caves that beg to be explored. Dougal has found numerous arrowheads along the river banks on his property, an indication that native Americans once lived along this river.
Devils River FishWe did have an opportunity to fish along the way and caught and released several large and smallmouth bass. We spent the night on Game Warden Rock in the middle of the river. That was a cool experience. We slept under the stars and enjoyed an amazing display of thunder and lightning off in the distance. Jonathan summed it up by saying that while we may not have slept like a rock it was really cool sleeping on a rock.
Omar and Jonathan on Devils RiverFrom Dolan Falls, we did something that I doubt few, if any, other paddlers have done. We paddled up river back to Dougal’s place. That meant, of course, portaging the many rapids and rocky shallows on the way back. No problem! This made for a great adventure and we actually made good time. We arrived back at Rocker U Ranch in time for a late lunch followed by a sumptuous evening meal. And we arrived with deep gratitude for having shared an adventure of a lifetime.
Devils River TeamThe Devils River is a Texas treasure because of the efforts of the Nature Conservancy and local ranchers to protect the surrounding watershed, including nearly 150,000 acres in the Devils River basin. Paddlers must also do their part to protect this river. To learn more about preparing for a Devils River trip, visit the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s webpage. If you have an opportunity to visit the Devils River, I think you’ll agree that it is indeed a paddlers paradise.