Before I had even bought my JL in July my best friend and co-worker had made plans to head out to Big Bend National Park. Upon my acquisition of the JL, we decided to try our hand at over-landing, with me wanting to specifically tackle Black Gap and get that badge of honor from Jeep. About a week later his dad up in Missouri texted him saying he had just bought a 2002 TJ for around 3 grand, one hell of a deal. So it was decided, his dad would drive down from Missouri to Fort Worth and we’d leave at 5 am on a Thursday morning. We sat down for a good hearty breakfast of biscuits & gravy the weekend before and mapped out our route. (getchu a Nat Geo Map, they’re incredibly helpful when you have no cell service).
It would turn out to be a 9 hour trip from Fort Worth to Big Bend. The same amount of time it took me to drive to Nashville. Really puts the size of Texas in perspective. Our final gas stop was the “town” of Marathon, Texas.
With all our gas tanks and Jerry Cans full, we made our destination run to Big Bend National Park
After securing our camping sites from the ranger station, we began our actual journey starting on Old Ore Road, a 29 mile unpaved road leading to Dagger Flat Road and Rio Grande Village Road.
Old Ore was/is a pretty easy trail, a few big rocks and a couple of moderate drop offs, but nothing that would make your butt cheeks clench. I figured I’d go ahead and air down my tires at the beginning, My Friend didn’t think it was necessary to do the same to the TJ, which we dubbed, “Maurice”. About 3 miles down the trail, they got on the radio that they too needed to air down. No biggie, as it gave me a good amount of time to get some pictures as the sun set:
With the TJ’s tires aired down, we continued onto our campsite, “McKinney Spring”
As I said before, Old Ore really wasn’t much of a challenge at all, it was more of a relaxed scenic drive which allowed us just to cruise until dark to our destination.
Reaching McKinney Spring, we made camp and settled in for the night. Broke out the Jet Broils and cooked a delicious gourmet asian fusion meal. Also known as Ramen Noodles.
My friend and his dad shared a tent while I slept in the Jeep. Perk of an Unlimited Wrangler is there’s enough room for a sleeping bag in the back. The temps read about 50 outside as we hit the sack. Around 3 am I heard the TJ fire up. In that same moment I realized I literally could not feel my toes. With the one measly bar of 3G cell service I had, I opened up my weather app to see 25 degrees. I too, fired up my JL let the heat thaw me out, until I could change into warmer clothing.
We woke up feeling like popsicles that morning and waited on the sun to rise as we made breakfast and packed the jeeps back up to finish Old Ore. My friend and his dad worked on disconnecting Maurice’s sway bar as I finished loading.
The funny thing about Old Ore is you get all kinds of topography. Desert, grassland, hills, flats. So, I’m just gonna dump my Old Ore pictures here so we can get onto Black Gap Road:
We figured we’d take a short break before we continued onto Dagger Flat Road by heading to the Hot Springs on the Rio Grande. The drive to the Hot Springs is a short but fun one. Take the narrow mini-cliffside roads and you’ll be transported somewhere that sure doesn’t feel like Texas anymore.
It’s a short walk from the designated parking to the hot springs but it was easy to tell this was a pretty touristy spot, so we didn’t stay long.
After doing a little sightseeing and exploring some old ruins we headed onto Dagger Flat road, another moderate trail, a little less scenic than Old Ore at the beginning but gives you some great views further down.
A little over an hour on Dagger Flat, Maurice the TJ had a problem. You see, the Tj had 37's on with stock fenders, and 10 gallons of gas weighing it down on its rear cargo carrier. This meant that some major scraping was happening with the rear fenders the more rugged the terrain got. So much that the tires began eating into the flares tearing up that OEM fender. material. I’m not exactly sure what they did to remedy it, I was too busy taking in the scenery.
Whatever they did to Maurice the TJ, It worked. So we were on our merry way to our next campsite,”Fresno”.
We made it to camp and set up as the stars came out and gave us this beautiful view of the Chisos Mountains.
The weather was much nicer that night, only this time we had multiple visitors: two Coyotes, an owl, and a whole bunch of Kangaroo Mice. We finished off the night sharing a bottle of George Clooney’s Reposado and called it a night.
That morning we were greeted with another surprise. My JL had a flat.
We’re still not sure what really happened. Maybe someone reading this can shed a little insight. Our tires were at 15 psi. We jacked the JL up and saw that the tire had begun to slip off the rim. I didn’t think that 15 psi was so low that it would cause the tires to slip off, but there we were. Guess I shoulda gotten some bead-locks. With My JL jacked up we broke out my portable compressor to see if we could get it back on, and just like that we were back in business.
The sun rose on what is called the Mariscal Mines, Abandoned since the 1940s, it’s the best preserved mercury mining site in the state of Texas. So we made a 5 minute drive over to do some exploring.
With our exploring finished, it was time to finish Dagger Flat and tackle Black Gap
Black Gap started as a narrow gravel road with an abundance of plants reaching out to scratch your paint. Get through the narrow straights and it opens up to some pretty awesome terrain.
There were some moderately challenging moments, but nothing a stock Rubicon couldn’t handle. I know what everyone wants to see is that iconic “drop off” on Black Gap and well, this is all I got.
Mainly because I was too focused on my butt cheeks clenching than to take pictures. But man, this part was so awesome. Surprisingly neither Jeeps scraped, well besides The TJ’s heavy cargo rack. Like that, we were through Black Gap’s most challenging part. Kinda wish we coulda savored it a little more than we did.
About an hour and a half later we were off Black Gap and onto Glenn Springs road. On Glenn Springs you can really pick your speed up a little and have some fun with the small hills placed periodically on that path.
Before we knew it, we were done with Glenn Springs and stopped to Air up our tires/put the sway bar back on Maurice.
We decided to take a scenic drive down to the Chisos Basin to get some food, and get me some chapstick because my lips were about as dry as the chihuahua desert, and starting to really hurt.
We spent our last night in the Rio Grande Village where once again we were visited by some brave coyotes who decided to make a bunch of commotion in the dead of night.
We packed up that next morning and decided to stop by the newly installed fossil exhibit at Big Bend, because if you know me I’m a sucker for some Dinos.
After this we concluded our Big Bend adventure, but Maurice the TJ’s woes were far from over. I took a different route than my friend and his dad so I could pass through Midland, Texas and visit some of my family. I now feel kinda bad for doing that as 3 hours after we parted ways, The hood latch on the TJ broke off
To remedy this, they ratchet strapped the hood down to keep it from flying up. But that decision turned out to cause even more issues for the little TJ.
On the highway, the strap loosened and got caught on a tire, pulling it through the passenger side fender.
With much delay, they were able to get little Maurice home but not without battle scars.
All in all this was one amazing trip, and crazy to think the scenery of Big Bend lies here in Texas. If you have even entertained the thought of going out there, let me be the one to tell you to do it. You won’t regret it.
And get yourself a good friend to do it with, it makes the journey a whole lot better.