My friend JT is an intrepid explorer, spending many hours studying Google Earth and various maps looking for new rides and journeys. Most recently JT has been examining satellite photos searching for a way to ride to the mouth of Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park from the Mexico side of the canyon.
This is Santa Elena Canyon on the west side of Big Bend National Park. The Rio Grande river forms the dividing line between Texas and Mexico and enters Big Bend National Park here at Santa Elena Canyon. Texas is on the right in the picture and Mexico is on the left.
After the Rio Grande exits the canyon it makes a 90 degree turn and flows south parallel to the imposing cliff line seen in the next two pictures.
After studying the photos closely JT was sure he had located a whisper of a track that would allow us to ride to the Mexican side of Santa Elena. Now all that remained was for us to actually go do it. On Friday, Dec 26th he and I headed into Mexico to see if it could actually be done.
Time to ride
Starting from my Uncle’s place in Terlingua, we trailered my XR650L and JT’s KLX400 to Presidio. After a quick breakfast we suited up in a few extra layers to deal with the 40 degree weather and then rode south to the international bridge into Ojinaga, Mexico. After verifying that our motorcycles actually belonged to us, the Mexican officials waived us into the country.
60 highway miles later we arrived in the town of Manuel Benavides and the start of the dirt. JT had the tentative route mapped out on his GPS so we followed that as best as we could. As we rode east the road steadily deteriorated – obviously there aren’t a lot of people going this way.
The views behind us got steadily better as we climbed.
The road eventually dead-ended deep in the mountains at a small, rugged house. My Spanish is not good but I managed to ask the man who lived there about getting to Santa Elena. As best as I could tell he said the road ended here and we would have to try another route. Hmmm, now what do we do?
As we backtracked, JT spotted another road veering off to the north and was certain this was the goat track he had seen on Google Earth. So off we went.
The only thing this land appears to be used for is raising cattle and as we made our way northeast we had to go through a couple of wire gates. A short time later we encountered a Vaquero making his rounds on his horse, checking on his cattle. As before, I tried to ask him about getting to Santa Elena and he indicated it wasn’t possible on this road. But he did indicate there were some great views ahead and gave us permission to ride on. I wished I had taken his picture.
We lost the trail a few miles later at a dry creek bed. We could see the trail crossing a hill in the distance but couldn’t find where it entered and then exited the creek bed. Eventually we rode down the gravel creek bed until we spotted where the trail climbed up and out.
Once out of the creek the road deteriorated into a moderate class 2, two-track. It was fun riding and then, suddenly, we reached the peak. The transition from no view to incredible view took place in the space of about 30 meters. Wow, what a view!
We were a bit more than 1.5 miles south of the entrance to Santa Elena Canyon. You can see the river exiting the canyon and turning south in this photo.
The weather was great, the sun was out, so we parked the bikes and enjoyed the views for about an hour.
The Chisos Mountains in Big Bend National Park. The highest point is Emory Peak at about 7800 feet above sea level.
JT enjoying the view.
This has to be the best view of Big Bend National Park I’ve ever seen. It was simply spectacular.
Eventually it was time to start the trek back to Presidio. Backtracking was easy and things were going well until JT’s rear tire went flat. We couldn’t see anything sticking out of the tire so our guess was that a small thorn was the problem. JT had Slime in the tire and elected to just air it up and see if it would hold until we made it back to the truck. Sure enough, it did.
Once back in Manuel Benavides we hunted down a gas station for a bit of petrol.
5 liters of gasoline each did the trick and was enough for us to make the ride back to Presidio.
A few local kids playing on their new bicycles were very interested in the two gringo motorcyclists.
JT needed lunch. I asked the gas man and he directed us to the La Casona restaurant.
After a good hamburguesa and fries, we had an uneventful pavement ride back to Presidio.
As many of you know, JT has been known to lead fellow riders into the most God-forsaken of places. This wasn’t one of those times. In fact, this has to be the finest discover of 2014. Well played, JT, well played!