Big Bend National Park

Due to the stupid way that Dwayne and I accrue our vacation time at work now under our employers new policies, we both ended up with a week of vacation left over in January that we needed to use or else we were going to lose at the end of the month. We decided to find somewhere warm to haul the bikes and we chose Big Bend National Park in Texas.

I booked us the cutest little casita in Terlingua at Agave Terlingua. It is a 15 hour drive from our house to Terlingua though, so we had to make an overnight stay along the way. It was a really long 2 days of driving, and there really isn’t anything at all worth seeing along the way until you get off the interstate and start heading south towards Terlingua. From there the mountains start coming into view and the scenery gets more and more interesting.

We actually stayed about an hour and a half outside of Terlingua the night before we were set to start riding because we wanted to use a rewards night at a Holiday Inn Express instead of paying for a 3rd night in the casita, so that morning we had to find somewhere to park the truck and trailer since we couldn’t get into our casita until later in the day. Once we had the rig parked, we unloaded the bikes and suited up. It was still pretty cool in the morning, so we started out with our layers on, but we knew it wouldn’t be too long before we would likely be shedding those.

The route I had planned for the first day would have us hitting a gravel road right inside the park entrance that would take us South down to the Santa Elena Canyon. It was a very novice road, perfect to get the day started, and the view as we approached the canyon was breathtaking. We stopped for pictures as we got closer, not knowing how much better the views would get.

Once we made it to the canyon, we took turns watching the bikes while the other walked the path to the entrance of the canyon to snap some pictures and stand in the Rio Grande. I went first and when I came back Dwayne was excited to tell me that he’d seen a real life Roadrunner. I was sad that I had missed it, until I ended up getting to see it while I waited for him. Unfortunately the little bugger was too quick for me to get my phone out to get a picture of him.

Once we were back on the bikes, we traversed some twisty pavement en route to our next section of gravel on River Road. This road was a bit more intermediate as it had a lot of sandy wash sections, as well as some slightly rockier sections. I was leading and I was feeling confident on the 1090, which meant that I was dusting Dwayne out behind me unintentionally, especially when I would hit a fast section and twist the throttle harder, eliciting my own giggles of pure joy, which has proven to be a common occurrence since purchasing the 1090.

Even with the dusty conditions, Dwayne was having a good time and was enjoying the scenery very much. When we got to the turn off for Black Gap Rd, I stopped and asked how he was feeling and if he was up for more gravel, and possibly a bit more of a challenge. He said that he was, so we made the turn that would take us North instead of further East.

Now, I’m just going to go ahead and admit, in my brief research, I had seen a few mentions from people that there were a few sections of Black Gap Rd that were harder than anything else found in the park, and a few people had mentioned that they wouldn’t personally attempt it on a big bike. I didn’t see anything too alarming though, and I know we’ve ridden things in the past that others have said they wouldn’t attempt on a big bike, so I don’t really hold a lot of stock in that. Especially when everything else in the park up until that point had been really tame, so I assumed Black Gap would just be a bit more of a challenge, and more like what we are used to.

We should have took it as a warning of what was to come when about a mile or two into that road, Dwayne inexplicably lowsided at about 25mph. He still doesn’t really know what happened, other than the fact that there was a large mound of loose gravel in the middle of the 2 track and he thinks he may have gotten his front wheel into it, which has a worn out TKC80 on it, and he thinks maybe it just washed and down he went. I was in front of him, so I didn’t see it, but I heard it through our bluetooth headsets. I came to a stop and ran back to him to make sure he was okay and to help him get his bike up. He was in some pain, but he insisted that he would be okay. He didn’t want to backtrack, he felt like he could continue on. The bike was a little banged up, but nothing major, so after a quick breather, we saddled back up and continued on.

A few miles later we came around a curve and I could see a ledge ahead of us so I stopped and got off the bike to go walk it and see what to expect. It was about a 2-3 foot step down, with some large rocks scattered about. We scouted our best line, and although I was pretty nervous, I decided to go first. After psyching myself up, I went for it, and realized that with the ground clearance and the suspension on that KTM, it was a really easy task. Honestly, I probably would have been better off to have hit it with more speed and just jumped right off of it. I was a little worried about the Tiger and it’s lack of ground clearance and suspension, but Dwayne cleared it just fine as well. At this point, we both agreed that this was a point of no return, because although the KTM would have made it back up that ledge okay, I’m not as sure about the Tiger. I was glad that we had chosen to ride this road South to North instead of the other way around.

Pictures never do the steepness justice

A short distance later we came upon a Toyota 4Runner stopped in the middle of the road. The wife was outside the truck trying to direct the husband which way to go because it was a pretty gnarly, rutted out section. They tried to flag us to go on around them, but there was no way for me to get around the truck where he was sitting because he was blocking the best path, so I told her he was going to have to go first and I left as much room as I could for him to get past me. Once he had moved far enough forward, I was able to continue around him, doing my best to stay out of the deep ruts and get over the large embedded rocks. I was pretty relieved to get through this section unscathed, and I was also really excited about it.

At this point, I assumed the worst was probably behind us, the things I had seen mentioned said it was only a small portion of this road that was more advanced, and we had already hit two sections. That’s when we came across the 3rd hard section. This one was a bit more nerve wrecking as it had a drop off down the mountainside on the right side of the road, and the road was riddled with ruts and large embedded rocks. It was also a hillclimb, so you’d need to keep up speed to make it to the top.

I got up on the pegs, twisted the throttle, and did my best to pick a good line. At one point the back tire slipped off a rock towards the edge of the road, so I ended up abandoning my intended line and rode right over the top of some big embedded rocks to get myself away from the edge. Thankfully the 1090 suspension just soaks that stuff right up, and I rode it out, then I had a short flat distance to reset before hitting a steeper incline that had more ruts, embedded rocks, and some smaller ledge step-ups. I held a steady throttle and chose my line again, and I made it up no problem. My heart was definitely racing though, and I was concerned about Dwayne making it up on the Tiger with less suspension.

I stopped and got off the bike just as he came up on the flat section before the 2nd incline and stopped. At this point, he was in quite a bit of pain from his crash and was getting exhausted from manhandling the Tiger through the terrain it had no business being in. I told him to take a breather while I hiked on up to the top to see if there was more gnarly stuff ahead or if we were almost through it. I was happy to find that everything looked much more tame at the top, so I hiked back down and took a few pictures. Dwayne decided it would be best if I walked back down and gave him a hand getting the Tiger up the ledges and I fully agreed, neither of us wanted to risk him or the bike ending up going off the cliff.

Once we got the Tiger past the obstacles, we saddled back up and continued on up to the top of the hill. From here things tamed back down a bit, which was good because we were both a bit worn out from getting through those tough sections. I was still leading and was calling out obstacles to Dwayne, which were mostly unexpected washed out sections. I could hit these with a bit of speed and the 1090 suspension would soak it up no problem, but if Dwayne were to hit it at that same speed, he would bottom out the Tiger’s road-based suspension pretty easily, so I did my best to warn him so he could slow down a bit before hitting them.

At one point I came around a corner and there was a short, but steep decline section that was off-camber, I told Dwayne it didn’t look bad at all and that I was just going to take the high side, because the low side had some ruts and rocks. I probably would have been okay if I had been running lower tire pressures, but I had forgotten about airing down before we took off that morning, and about a 3rd of the way down I felt my back wheel slip and slide down onto the low side as it tried its best to pass my front wheel and down I went. My engine guards got their first good ding (as did the exhaust), and I landed face first in a thorny bush. Dwayne had to help me get it upright because it kept wanting to slide down the hill, but we finally managed to get it stable and he held it steady while I climbed on and rode it the rest of the way down and across a sandy wash. We had to laugh a bit that we had both managed to crash on relatively easy sections, but had both made it unscathed through the more difficult stuff.

Towards the North end of Black Gap Rd right before it meets up with Glenn Springs Rd, the road narrowed down and the vegetation was overgrown. There was standing water and mud, which I am assuming was due to Glenn spring. At first I was unsure if the road even continued on, but we figured it must, so we continued on through it. After making it through this section, we came out of it and there was what looked like the remains of a road to our left, and then a steep hill to our right. After taking a minute to figure out for sure which way we were meant to go, we went right and up to the top of the hill, where we came to the intersection at Glenn Springs Rd.

As we went to turn out, there was a 2WD tundra with a bed camper turning down Black Gap Rd. I told Dwayne I’d better stop them and make sure they realized what they were doing because I wasn’t sure that 2WD Tundra would make it back out of there very easily if they attempted to drive down there. Unfortunately for me, when I stopped, I didn’t realize how off-camber the spot I stopped was, and when I went to put my right foot down, all I got was air and by the time my foot hit ground, I was leaned too far over to hold the bike up, and I had to drop it. The nice older couple hurriedly jumped out of their truck and helped me to pick the bike back up, and I embarrassingly explained to them why I had tried to stop them, and then asked them how the road was that they had just come off of, which was the direction we were heading. They said it was a smooth dirt road and we would have no issues, so we wished each other good luck and continued on our way.

Luckily, they were right, and the rest of the dirt back to the main road was really fast and fun. We were both ready to hit the pavement again at this point, so we kept the pace pretty quick. Once we got back to the pavement I asked Dwayne if he still felt up to riding up to the Chisos Basin area since it was all pavement and he agreed. We stopped for some pictures along the way, and when we got up to the visitors center, he attempted to lie down on one of the picnic tables and quickly sat back up, yelping in pain. Laying down was not a good idea. At this point we were pretty sure he had at least bruised some ribs in his crash. We took a quick break and ate a couple of crackers and a cliff bar since we hadn’t eaten at all since breakfast that morning and then we sat off back down to the main road to head back out of the park and into town to load the bikes back up in the truck.

Damage to Dwayne’s Tiger after his crash

Once we got everything loaded up we made the drive over to Terlingua to find our casita where we would be staying the next two nights. It was absolutely lovely, with a nice view of the mountains, and a perfect spot to park the truck and trailer, I really couldn’t have chosen a better place for us to stay, and if we got back in the future we will certainy try to stay there again.

Casa Blanco at Agave Terlingua
Huge King size bed
View from out the front door

After we got cleaned up, we unhooked the truck from the trailer and drove down the street into Terlingua Ghost Town to find dinner for the night. We ended up at a pub with live music, and while the service was decent, the food was just okay, and the volume of the music was pretty rough on the intense headache that I had developed. We did end up splurging on desert after the waitress recommended the triple layer chocolate cake that was made in house, and it ended up being the best part of the meal.

The guy in the yellow shirt was playing the spoons!

After dinner we went back to the casita to turn in for the night. Dwayne was really sore and we were both tired, and we weren’t sure how well he was going to be able to sleep since he could barely stand to lay down.

The sunrise the next morning

The next morning we both agreed that dirt riding was out of the question, he definitely did not feel up to it, so we decided to ride the paved road 170 from Terlingua to Presidio, which follows along the Rio Grande. It turned out to be a really great decision, as the views were constantly changing and always incredible. The road also had tons of elevation changes and endless curves, so it was a really fun and gorgeous ride.

The Rio Grande

Unfortunately high winds were in the forecast for the 2nd half of the day, and about 3/4 of the way to Presidio we were starting to feel the winds moving in quick so we decided to go ahead and turn back. Once we got back to Terlingua we continued on past it to Study Butte to have lunch at DB’s Rustic Iron BBQ food truck because I had heard it was well worth a try. When we ordered the owner instructed us to take one of the card tables he had sitting out for customers to eat at and move it behind his trailer so we could get out of the wind a bit while we enjoyed our food. Dwayne got a pulled pork sandwich and I got the brisket. Usually I don’t care for brisket, only when it is really well done, because a lot of places don’t cook it right and it becomes dry. DB knew was he was doing though, that was some of the best and juiciest brisket I’ve had, I loved it!

It was way better than it looks!

When we were finished eating, we rode back to Terlingua to the casita and loaded the bikes back up into the trailer. We knew we were done riding as the wind was gusting well over 40mph and it was becoming unbearable. We both showered and got cleaned up, and then we relaxed in the room until dinner time. This time we decided to go try the Starlight Theatre, which seemed to be the busiest place in town. We had a bit of a wait, but it turned out to be worth it. The live music was being played at a much more reasonable level, and I quite enjoyed listening to them. I ordered a beer to drink while we waited, knowing it would be a while before our food would be served with how busy the place was. We both ordered burgers and fries, and it was much more delicious than what we had eaten the night before.

Our plans had originally been to go over towards San Antonio the next day, but we had not booked accommodations and it turned out that there were no rewards nights available anywhere we wanted to stay, unless we stayed an hour and a half from the area we had intended to go riding. We discussed staying another night in Terlingua instead, but since Dwayne wasn’t up for riding more dirt, there really wasn’t much else to ride, so we made the decision to just cut our trip short and head back for home in the morning.

Although things didn’t go anywhere near as planned, I still really enjoyed the 2 days we spent in Terlingua and the riding that we did, other than the part where Dwayne got hurt. I would very much like to go back there again in the future to ride the roads we didn’t get to ride and spend some more time in that awesome little ghost town. It has some major charm, and I could totally see making that a little winter hideaway spot.