I am a road-trip junkie. Because I have spent so many years traveling around the planet on I-have-lost-track-of-how-many-hundreds-of-flights, there is nothing I enjoy more when I am home than windshield time in my pick-up.
Since establishing our base camp on our little off-grid place in Big Bend, I am taking advantage of every opportunity to explore this amazing part of the Lone Star State. For reasons I can’t explain, I am drawn to the vast Chihuahuan Desert that spans the Trans-Pecos.
The small town of Lajitas is not far from our cabin. The name Lajitas is Spanish for “little flat rocks” and refers to the Boquillas limestone of the area. Located along FM 170 on the western edge of Big Bend National Park, Lajitas has a goat for a mayor and a world-class golf resort and spa that attracts visitors from around the world.
The stretch of highway along FM 170 between Lajitas and Presidio is known as El Camino del Rio, or the River Road. National Geographic Traveler rates this spectacular road as one of the top ten scenic routes in the Unites States. This drive should be a bucket list item for any road-trip junkie.
El Camino del Rio follows the curves and turns of the Rio Grande River through Big Bend Ranch State Park from Lajitas all the way to Presidio, a name that originates from the Spanish word for fortress. The highway plunges over mountains into steep canyons and then up again like a desert roller coaster. Drive slowly and savor the views.
There are several scenic overlooks with views that will take your breath away. The magnificent vistas will allow even an amateur photographer to take amazing shots and look like a pro. The geography is about as iconically cowboy as it gets in Texas and the place names hail back to the days when Spanish explorers came through the region.
Whether you start your journey in Lajitas or Presidio, don’t be in a hurry. Take the time to stop to take in the views and to snap a few pics. Be sure to take water and snacks. And remember that there is no cell-signal on this 51-mile stretch of road.
I hope that you will add El Camino del Rio to your adventure list. You will be glad you did. Enjoy your drive and be safe.
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.
Last year’s Chihuahuan Desert Mountain Bike Endurance Fest was one of my favorite Lone Star State adventures. The venue for this bike fest that draws hundreds of mountain bikers from across the state and beyond is the expansive Chihuahuan Desert at Big Bend Ranch State Park — without question one of the most beautiful and mesmerizing places in Texas.
The Chihuahuan Desert Bike Fest is an annual event offered on Presidents’ Day Weekend in February and 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.
One of the best things about this event is that it is a ride and not a race. Whether you have a multi-thousand dollar full-suspension mountain bike or an entry-level hard tail, you will feel right at home. There are guided rides for every skill level. You can ride at your own pace and not feel embarrassed if you have to dismount and walk your bike up a scree-covered incline.
Base camp for the big event is the Lajitas Maverick Ranch RV Park in Lajitas, located adjacent to the old town cemetery that looks like something out of an old western. The surrounding desert hills and mesas only add to the old west mystique. The ride turns the RV Park into a boomtown crammed with RV’s and tents, brand name bike vendors, and evening campfires and music and conversation.
This year I returned to the Bike Fest with several friends. We had reserved a couple of sites after last year’s ride to make sure that we would have a place to pitch our tents. And, because we enjoy this event so much, we have already reserved our spaces for the next two years and hope to encourage a few more of our dirt-loving buddies to join us.
As soon as the sun came up we enjoyed a delicious breakfast and then mounted our mechanical steeds and headed off into the desert. We enjoyed two and a half days of riding and logged a little more than sixty trail miles. To say we had a blast would be an understatement. Sharing this adventure with good friends made it all the more enjoyable.
I love events that bring people together — and the Chihuahuan Desert Bike Fest does just that. We enjoyed sharing our dutch oven desert with our neighbors at the campsite, talking with other riders, sharing tales of our daily rides, laughing a whole lot, and warming our feet at our evening campfire under the watchful glimmer of billions of stars in our deep in the heart of Texas sky.
If you are a mountain biker, then I encourage you to add the Chihuahuan Desert Bike Fest to your list of adventures. Get it on your calendar now. Register early. And then join the fun in one of the most amazing places in the Lone Star State. Hope to see you in the Chihuahuan Desert in 2018.