Big Bend Backroads
Glenn Spring Road
Glenn Spring Road begins five miles down the highway from Panther Junction (heading toward Rio Grande Village) and winds southwest through the Chisos Mountains foothills. The desert here is higher than on the Old Ore Road; grasses are thicker, and plants like sotol thrive. After passing a primitive roadside campsite on the right in a mile, consider taking the Pine Canyon spur road at two miles; the road climbs some four miles to the Pine Canyon trailhead. This trail, moderately challenging and two miles long, is another of the park’s highlights. Beginning in desert grasslands, it then enters a shady, narrow canyon wooded with oaks, Arizona and pinyon pines, madrones, bigtooth maples, and other trees. At trail’s end, a high pouroff, or seasonal waterfall, flows dramatically after good rains.
Past the Pine Canyon turnoff, Glenn Spring Road descends gradually to the Juniper Canyon Road turnoff. This side road climbs five miles into the foothills to the trailhead for the challenging Juniper Canyon and Dodson trails. On the former trail, hardy hikers can trek all the way over the top and then down into the Chisos Basin, the base of the mountain trails.
The 11.5-mile Dodson Trail can be covered easily in a day by strong hikers who get an early start and bring a car shuttle. Some spend the night at Fresno Creek, a small spring-fed creek that crosses the trail about halfway. The trail passes ruins of rancher Harve Dodson’s spread, which was accessible only by foot or horse. (When someone asked Dodson how he moved his family to such a remote spot, he answered, “Me and the old woman walked in; the kids was born there.”)
A little south of the Juniper Canyon turnoff, after crossing a rough patch of bedrock, the road reaches Glenn Spring. Willows and cottonwoods mark the ribbon of water trickling down the canyon. A century ago, a small community prospered here, the site of a factory for extracting wax from the native candelilla plant. On the night of May 5, 1916, during the unrest of Mexico’s revolution, several dozen Mexican bandits crossed the river and raided Boquillas and Glenn Spring. The handful of 14th Cavalry troopers stationed at Glenn Spring couldn’t defend the village, and several people died in the ensuing firefight. After looting the towns, the bandits fled back across the river with captives. Before long, American troops crossed the border and took back the hostages. Today, little remains of Glenn Spring except wooden crosses in its hilltop cemetery.
From Glenn Spring, the main road descends southeast into harsher, lower desert, leaving the mountains behind and ending at the River Road.
THE OLD ORE ROAD AND THE GLENN SPRING ROAD are primitive dirt roads. A high-clearance vehicle and, when the roads are in poor condition, four-wheel-drive, are essential. Check on the roads’ status at a park visitor center before starting out. Each road can be traveled in a few hours, but an all-day outing, with plenty of stops, side trips, and hikes, is more fun. For safety, let friends or family know where you are going and when you will be back. The area is very hot in summer; the best time for the drives is between mid-Oct. and mid-Apr. Bring a map, good tires, a spare, tire-changing tools, at least one gallon of water per person (more if you plan extensive hiking), and food and extra clothing in case of a breakdown. If you have mechanical problems, do not try to hike out, especially cross-country or in hot weather. If you are on one of the spur roads, walk only as far as the main road and wait; sooner or later, someone will come along who can help. Generally, the Glenn Spring Road receives more use than the Ore Road. For true solitude, camp at one of the primitive sites by obtaining a free permit at one of the visitor centers. To protect the area, do not disturb any of the historic sites, and drive only on established roads.
The hiking trails covered in the article are the most remote and rugged in the park. If hiking, take plenty of water, topo maps, and a compass.
For fees, maps, and other information about BBNP, write to Park Supt., Big Bend National Park, TX 79834-0129; 432/477-2251; www.nps.gov/bibe/home.htm.
From the February 2006 issue.