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Old 12-02-2013   #1
lmyers's Avatar
Buena Vista, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2005
Join Date: Jun 2008
Posts: 4,207
Big Bend advice please

Looking for input from those of you who have been down to Big Bend National Park for a river trip before. I have done quite a bit of research, but it's always nice to get information from those who have been there before....

Planning to head south on Tuesday, January 7th spend 5 days on the water and then drive back on Monday, January 13th. Going to use Far Flung for shuttle.

Thinking about either floating through Mariscal, San Vicente and Hot Springs Canyons or San Vicente, Hot Springs and Boquillas Canyons.

What is an appropriate minimum flow for a kayak self support trip to be able to float the entire stretch without getting beached? I was thinking 200 cfs? Does anyone know of a good guidebook for the region? I'm thinking something that has topographic maps, rivermiles, potential camps and hikes as well as some brief history? I'm thinking 10-15 miles a day should be achievable, assuming we have enough water to be able to make vertical paddle strokes.?...

Also wondering about particularly special attractions. Great camps, scenic hikes, other ideas for places to explore....

How about weather? I'm expecting high temps in the 60's with potential for freezing temps overnight, and the possibility of strong winds and fast moving storms..... is this accurate?

Any other advice buzzards would be willing to share is appreciated. Thanks all.

GARNA’s mission is to foster stewardship of the resources of the greater Arkansas River region through education, volunteerism and experiences.
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Old 12-02-2013   #2
lmyers's Avatar
Buena Vista, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2005
Join Date: Jun 2008
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A couple other things,

Someone told me you have to go through border patrol when entering BBNP..... I don't really believe that, but it's worth asking....

Also, Southwest Paddler says that since 9-11 camping and hiking on the Mexican side is illegal and can result in fines or jail time, anyone have information on this? What is the likely hood of actually seeing law enforcement down there? I would assume pretty small... are there on water rangers? thanks.

GARNA’s mission is to foster stewardship of the resources of the greater Arkansas River region through education, volunteerism and experiences.
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Old 12-02-2013   #3
Golden, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1975
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Originally Posted by lmyers View Post
are there on water rangers? thanks.
i was checked by a NP ranger in a canoe on new year's day in santa elena canyon.
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Old 12-02-2013   #4
k2andcannoli's Avatar
Denver, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2002
Join Date: Feb 2012
Posts: 657
I know you do have to travel through check point/road blocks enroute to Big Bend and many other locations like hueco tanks bouldering area. Id also expect a lot of cops/cameras along the river.
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Old 12-02-2013   #5
Jenks, Oklahoma
Join Date: Oct 2004
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Louis Aulbach has three books that cover upper,middle and lower canyons in mile by mile detail. A must have. Might have copies in the rangers book store worth a call or speed shipping from amazon. His books are a must have on or off the river in my opinion.

It is true that you cannot legally camp on Mexican side of the river. But, I bet it does happen.

Rio Grande in Big Bend is more of a side creek rarely that wide or deep. Unless it rains. I have been there in December when we went to bed in shirt sleeves, woke up to a flash flood then hours later snow and sleet and a day of below freezing weather where we were tent bound. On the other hand days on the river are nice and warm with cool to cold nights. So take a tent and good cold weather gear just in case.

The park is a lot bigger than you think. So keep gas tank full even tho prices are high. We carry a 5 gallon jerry can of gas per vehicle and same for water. Great camping at Rio Grande Camp ground and several others. spend a day up on the mountain for spectacular views, well worth taking the time to do this. Visit study butte etc as well as the Starlight Theater for dinner. Would like to camp up on the mountain some day, but hard to get a site. Don't miss the little western towns just outside the park. Far Flung has been good for us on shuttle as well. The water in the river is max polluted and while on the river we do not use it for anything. So carry extra for dish washing. In a park full of magical places, Santa Elena Canyon is even more so. Do it if you can. We got to spend a night inside that canyon - great to do that if you can.

Big Bend is either a bunch of rocks or just full of wonder. Day break and sun set is usually beautiful for photos. The light in the park is unique. I love CO, Idaho, Northern NM, Utah etc rivers and forest but in the dead of winter Big Bend is where I like to be hanging out. Lots of unique places to visit by car, bike or hike - check with Far Flung or the rangers. Gas, showers and basic food at Rio Grande Camp area but not much any where else. Be aware and stock up outside the park with basic food stuff and gear.

Lots of wildlife. Wild pigs along the river, we have seen mountain lions in several places so keep your eyes open and a clean cook area in camp as you never know.

I have never seen a Ranger on the river, but have been inspected in detail leaving the park by the border patrol federales at the main inspection station on the west side of the park. Never been checked entering or leaving on the east side of the park. But you never know.

A little known place but has a ton of awesome places. Check out the Texas State Park on the west edge of the river as well.

The Black rock texas state hunting area on the east side of the park is just awesome 4 wheeling if you can get a permit.

Bottom line, glad you are going, give us a trip report on your return.

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Old 12-02-2013   #6
lmyers's Avatar
Buena Vista, Colorado
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Join Date: Jun 2008
Posts: 4,207
Great information Dave, thanks... will definitely check into the books by Aulbach. I appreciate all the replies so far. Knowing there are roadblocks and I'm likely to be searched makes me a little concerned about bringing "safety equipment"....

I have read it's not too smart to leave unattended vehicles at any of the access points so I was thinking of paying Far Flung for shuttle both ways (if they do that) and just leaving our vehicles at their office.
GARNA’s mission is to foster stewardship of the resources of the greater Arkansas River region through education, volunteerism and experiences.
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Old 12-02-2013   #7
Jenks, Oklahoma
Join Date: Oct 2004
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Forgot, tips as far as the floating goes. Unless it flashes, making miles is difficult. I would not try for 15 miles a day unless it flashes big time. I would float in canoes over kayaks unless just a day trip. rafts need plenty of water. One year in the upper canyons we had a 14 cat for a big cooler and two tandem canoes. Spent a lot of time towing that cat on the mostly flat waters (yup, it can be done we ended up trying all sorts of hook ups. Best one was with a canoe stern line to the center of the cat then that canoe bow lined to the stern of the lead canoe with every one keying of the lead canoe bow person paddle stroke to stay in sync. We got really good and it was surprising what speed we got out of this) looking at the Big Bend Daily report the Rio Grand Village Gage is reporting decent flows but it can change as most of the water comes from a Dam in Mexico that never publishes any information. You can do a day trip up into santa elena even at low water. Easy to paddle up river there and a great park camp site just down river a short distance from the exit of Santa Elena and well worth it for a day trip. Ask Far Flung for adequate flows for where ever you want to go. One year we got down there over New Years and the bottom fell out water wise. We just camped along the river and did day trips all over the park. Turned out to be one of our better trips down there.
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Old 12-02-2013   #8
Jenks, Oklahoma
Join Date: Oct 2004
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Yup, best to leave vehicles at a shuttle company lot while on the river multi day trips. At the viewing areas on the river, there will be Mexican Nationals setting on their bank with curios for sale on the US side with a can for money. You can get deals on this but beware if the authorities happen to see you do the deal they can confiscate the goodies. Good idea to cover up valuables in the car here as well as you never know who might be looking for a camera etc.

I doubt if the DEA does many searches down there unless it was the cartel based on a tip. But you never know. I recommend taking the safe route. That border patrol station on the west side can search every one. One year, I was driving by myself with a raft on trailer and for some reason got detail searched for about thirty minutes at that check point. Couple hours later my buds came by in a similar setup and just got waved through. Go figure, I am a white haired grand father type and the other truck was driven by a nice looking little cajun lady who was just waved at and that was it. Go figure.

Cell phones usually do not work reliably in the park except in a few places - . On the other hand we have had them work in out of the way places all over, Ask the rangers or far flung for tips on this. It varies and we have had them work on the river a few times where least expected but I would not count on it.

We usually enter the park from Ft Stockton and that town has good shopping for food and ice. Inside the park, it is hit and miss and prices depend on location.
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Old 12-02-2013   #9
Old Guy in a PFD
Tucson, Arizona
Paddling Since: 1967
Join Date: Feb 2013
Posts: 1,022
Look on the Mexican side for a hot spring; in 1977 it couldn't be seen from the river, but you'll see trails, and if you are watching for it, steam from the spring itself.

The Federales did want to talk to us but as we were just launching from camp when we saw them coming over the hill we just..........launched. They did not shoot at us, but made clear they wanted us to come back and talk. If we had stopped to talk I'm certain we would have ended up in a Mexican jail, as some of our ammo cans were actually disguised Whamo! cans. I wouldn't bet on their reluctance to escalate the situation post 9/11. If I went today we'd be sure to stay on the US side at all times, and remain alert.

In December/January you can make good miles if you are willing to paddle; you need to expect extremes in weather though; we went from shirt sleeves to blizzard in 4 hours and were forced to camp over at the hot springs for a day. The combination of extreme weather, alcohol and contents of the Whammo! cans makes details fuzzy, but I do recall that the hot spring was home to the cutest little fingerling catfish.
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Old 12-02-2013   #10
Jenks, Oklahoma
Join Date: Oct 2004
Posts: 1,408

Back in 1977 my bet is the Mexican Federales would not have went to the trouble transporting you to the local jail (sounds like the Mexican side big hot springs in lower canyons was the site).

My bet is they would have relieved you of what ever camping gear they needed plus any adult beverages or whammo box stuff not to mention any cash and left you to get out however you could.

Looking back, you guys were lucky on timing and getting on the river.

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