Trip Report: West Texas Camping Trip, Fall 2017

The following campers participated in different segments of the outing:

Sandy S, Bev T, Jana W, Carrie L: Davis Mountains area (5 days)

Linda BW, Flo M, Davis Mts plus Big Bend (9 days)

Marilyn F and Judy L, Davis Mts., Big Bend, plus Big Bend Ranch State Park (12 days)

Susan W and Eola L joined us for 2 days at Cottonwood in BBSP.


This extensive camping outing had many activities, and photos are posted by each participant on Facebook as well as on the TOWN-Austin Facebook group and our MeetUp group. So this trip report will include a summary of each segment as well as suggestions for next time. It was all fun, we learned a whole lot, the weather was gorgeous.

Segment 1: Davis Mountains State Park was our campground, with excellent wildlife viewing, friendly volunteers, and long hikes through Fall’s yellow grasses. From there we had day trips to:

Alpine for a brief town tour and lunch at a famous restaurant, Reata Alpine.

Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute (CDRI), near Fort Davis, a nature center with several trails and a mining exhibit with interpretation.

Fort Davis, for the Veterans’ Day ceremony, the old drugstore, and an opportunity to order and buy handmade decorative brooms.

McDonald Observatory, a star party and entertaining talk, looking through telescopes and an indoor presentation.

Marfa, a brief town tour that included El Cosmico, a quirky trailer park (re: Amazon Prime TV series I Love Dick) and the no-show Marfa Lights in the windy cold.

Suggestions: Indian Lodge was closed for lodging at DMSP, call ahead if planning to stay there. The long hikes (Indian Lodge Trail or Scenic View Trail across the hilltops were both dicey—you’ll want two trekking poles. Reata Restaurant in Alpine was excellent, make reservations. Marfa Lights Viewing area does have a restroom. DMSP wildlife viewing areas are really neat, with indoor and outdoor seating; they are not fenced, so javelinas also come in and eat the goodies.

Segment 2: Big Bend National Park. From our campground at Cottonwood we ventured into Santa Elena Canyon, waited for the daily rounds of bobcat and javelina, watched a great-horned owl perch above us in the daytime and swoop off to hunt at night. We heard coyotes. We were camping without electricity, water, or campfires, so we mostly went to bed soon after dark and got up to toasted pink sunrises above the walls of stone nearby. Some took the 4WD River Road for a few hours, all hiked Santa Elena Canyon Trail (it goes about ½-mile into the canyon, we drove into Terlingua in the heat of the day (83º), showered in Study Butte, hiked to Cattail Falls (Judy can explain how it looks different from 2 years ago), hooked up with Susan and Eola for 2 days, stopped to walk at Tuff Canyon, Sotol Overlook, Chimneys Trail, and other pullouts along Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. On our last day at Cottonwood a group of about a dozen javelinas paraded through the campground (Judy heard them crunching, probably on seed pods), and the littlest ones were like guinea pigs with hooves. Javelinas are not pigs, but are related to hippos! Everywhere we walked the tracks of a multitude of different animals preceded us, but wisely hid from view.

Suggestions: November is the best time of year to camp at BBNP, even though the nights are very cool, because the daytime highs remain tolerable. However, November is also a very busy month for the Park, so do not expect solitude. Photographers who can afford to stay at the lodge come in August, when there are few tourists, lots of wildlife, and glorious thunderheads. Don’t try to see the whole Park in just 5 days. We stayed on the west side.

Segment 3: Big Bend Ranch State Park. Our first stop that morning was at the Barton Warnock Visitor Center in Lajitas where we got further instructions on how to reach “The State Park.” We then drove Tx 170 along the Rio Grande River west from Lajitas; it is a memorable drive and has several State Park sights along the way, such as Closed Canyon, but we did not stop and enjoy the scenery. We arrived at Fort Leaton State Park, near Presidio, TX. This Park was never a military fort, but was designed to look like one for its occupants, in full adobe dressage. They have a lock-up area for the vehicles of visitors to BBRanchSP, and we left both trailers and one vehicle. From that point we backtracked east on Hwy 170 5 miles to the ranch road to Sauceda. The road was rocky, washboard in places, generally wide and not too steep. It’s Accessible to 2WD vehicles with high-clearance, and it took about 2 hours to reach the Sauceda center. We stayed in the Bunkhouse for two nights.

Sauceda Bunkhouse has room for 12 women on one side and 12 men on the other. There are 2 or 3 single beds to a little room, and the rooms open onto a central hallway. A huge commercial kitchen has refrigerators, gas stoves, a big griddle, ovens, microwave, drip coffeepots, and plenty of counter space.

Sauceda Ranger Station has a gift shop and helpful staff.

The Big House will be rented within the next year after repairs and has several western-style bedrooms, a dining room, and kitchen.

Suggestions: Do not be frightened by the reservation clerk warning you to carry an extra spare tire and pick and shovel in case of rock falls. The road is bumpy and rocky, for sure; Just take your time. Taking water is a good idea in case you have to change a tire and get thirsty.

Don’t pack too much: There’s no room for it. You have no dresser or nightstand in your room, and all of your personal items are supposed to go under your beds. Windows are covered somewhat by vertical blinds. Beds are comfortable, and the bunkhouse has several window ACs and heaters.

The shower room has shelves for your toiletries. Bring an extra bathmat. Hooks keep your robe dry, but there are no hooks on the shower stall doors.

The Sauceda Ranger Station can provide information about road conditions and bunkhouse status. Call them at (432) 358-4444. To reserve space at the Sauceda Bunkhouse ($35 per person per night), call their special reservation line at (512) 389-8919.

The staff reports that the Bunkhouse renters are much more often men than women. Judy and I were the only 2 in the women’s quarters, and one young man was housed in the men’s quarters.