When a friend popped the question on Sunday, “Let’s go hike the Marufo Vega Trail tomorrow,” it did not take long to say yes. I never tire of the grand vistas that this hike provides, and with a warm and dry weather window, I knew we had an opportunity for a wonderful trip. After picking up our backcountry zone camping permit at the park headquarters at Panther Junction, we headed southeast toward Rio Grande Village and the trailhead along the road to Boquillas Canyon.
Blessed with a prediction of 70-80 degree weather, Ken and I pause at the trailhead sign in spring hiking attire before heading off down the trail:
Along the first mile of the trail we pass the remains of a tower, built to suspend a cable that moved buckets of cinnabar ore from Mexico to a terminal several miles upcanyon, where the ore was loaded onto wagons and hauled to the railhead at Marathon, TX:
At 1.5 miles the trail forks and heads up a couple hundred feet of switchbacks, up and over a ridge to another drainage:
At the top of the ridge, a look upcanyon reveals the vastness and remoteness of the Chihuahua desert:
Along the trail we pass the remains of a silted-up rock dam, remnants of the ranching days prior to the creation of Big Bend National Park:
After 4.5 miles of hiking up desert drainages, we round a point and before us lies an epic vista, the “Grand Canyon of the Rio Grande,” the beginning of the lower canyons of the park and beyond, cut by the Rio Grande River, seen here as a ribbon of life in a waterless environment, dividing the countries of Mexico (on the right), and the U.S.:
As we approach our site where we will make camp for the night, the formidable Sierra Madiera del Carmen Mountains rise on the Mexican side of the river to a height of nearly 8,000 feet:
After dinner the moon, in its first quarter, makes a grand appearance, as the drapery of clouds draws back to drop shadows all around our camp. Our tents are well-lighted as the stars of the Big Dipper appear to the north, and we settle in for a comfortable night’s sleep:
Sunrise over the Sierra del Carmen mountains is never disappointing, and this morning was no exception:
A look down to the river 1,100′ below as we prepare to drop down the trail toward the river:
The sun peaks over a precipice as we descend, burning down through a cloudless sky:
The trail follows the river for over a mile, holding some 100′ above river level, then drops down to the river just before we hit the trail junction that takes us back up to the rim, 1,100′ above:
A look back upriver at the Sierra Madiera del Carmen mountains as they disappear from view. These mountains rise to an altitude that supports a very large conifer forest on the south-facing slopes, a true island ecosystem in a hostile, arid, desert region:
Near-vertical limestone walls rise above the river on the Mexican side as we prepare to make our way up-canyon to the rim above:
A look up at the rim level 1,100′ above, and the trail winding through the steep drainage as we work our way up. Fortunately, shade is abundant here in this narrow canyon:
Once on top, the trail returns to more hospitable hiking down familiar drainages, and the 3.5 more miles back to the trailhead.
This trail covers a total of 13.36 miles, with a total climbing ascent of 2,684 feet. There is no water along the trail, even though you do eventually drop down to the river, because even with a good water filter, I would not trust the river water due to the level of chemical pesticides and herbicides that wash into the river from the unregulated Mexican side of the river upstream as it flows through farm country. A minimum of 4 litres of water is a must. This trail claims the lives of people regularly who are not prepared. Lack of water, lack of desert hiking experience, lack of fitness, panic, or a combination of these contribute to recsues and deaths each year on this trail, so if you come, come with a humble respect for its potential dangers. Properly prepared, you will have a hiking experience you will remember always.