It has been awhile since I threw on the backpack and headed out the Marufo Vega Trail, one of my most favorite hikes in Big Bend National Park, and one of the best kept secrets in the entire park. With two consecutive days of 80+ degree sunny weather, the timing was perfect, as were the night skies, free of a bright moon, so off I went.
The Marufo Vega Trail is a 12-mile loop trail on the extreme east end of Big Bend National Park, and covers some of the most beautiful terrain you can imagine. However, it is one of the least populated hikes in the park, and one that receives perhaps more search & rescue episodes than any other, due to extreme desert conditions, lack of shade and water, and visitors who underestimate the physical demands of this trail. My favorite hike is an 11-mile out-and-back with an overnight on a bench a thousand feet above the Rio Grande River, and 5000 feet below the peak of the Sierra Madiera del Carmen mountains, which rise to nearly 8000′ altitude on the Mexican side of the river.
The hike starts at the Marufo Vega Trailhead and follows a dry creekbed that drains Telephone Canyon, near the Mexican town of Boquillas:At 1.5 miles a trail junction splits and the Telephone Canyon trail continues on, while Marufo Vega turns and climbs sharply up 400′ over a ridge into another drainage:A look back up Telephone Canyon from the saddle:From the high bench, you get your first look at the top of the del Carmen mountains, still nearly 4 miles away:The trail wind across the desert into secondary drainages with interesting dikes and rock formations:At 3.5 miles the trail splits, forming a 5-mile loop that eventually drops 1000 feet down to the Rio Grande River, then follows the river for 1.5 miles before climbing back up the 1000 feet and re-joining at this point:Following the drainage marked “South Fork,” the trail winds through the hills and out onto a wide, flat park before disappearing over another low saddle to begin the traverse around an escarpment and the final push to the bench above the Rio Grande River:The first look eastward at the “Lower Canyons” of the Rio Grande, dropping over 1000 feet below the trail down to the Rio Grande River, carving its way southeast, the border between Mexico and Texas:This photo taken on another trip showing the river from a closer proximity to its channel:Around one more corner, the first look at the Sierra Madiera del Carmen mountains, looming to a height of nearly 8000 feet just across the river in Mexico, the highest point being the small, thin spire called “El Pico” just to the right of the pointed direction of the trail:Another half mile and the panorama of the Del Carmens rises along the southern skyline, beginning their stunning color change as the sun begins its long, slow journey into sunset:The Milky Way is generally not visible at this time of the year, because we are not looking at the most dense spiral that is so familiar during the spring, summer and fall months, but out here the skies are so dark that the less dense spirals of the Milky Way are visible, occasionally streaked with a passing meteor:Next morning, the sun breaks upon the mountain peaks lowering over the lower canyons of the Rio Grande:And so begins the 5.2 mile journey back to the trailhead, with an overview of the last 1.5 miles of trail, following the old path of the Ore Trams, cabled buckets much like ski lifts, that hauled fluorspar ore, used in steelmaking, from Mexico to the railhead in Marathon for processing:And so ends the tour of the southern loop of the Marufo Vega Trail. This is not a hike for the summer, so if you plan to go, the cooler days of late fall, winter, or very early spring should be your goal. Hope you enjoyed this rather lengthy visit to my backyard.