Biking in Big Bend – Old Ore Road

Yesterday I took the mountain bike down Old Ore Road in Big Bend National Park. The park’s website calls this route the premier ride in the park so I just had to try it.

Old Ore Road is a primitive dirt road just over 26 miles in length. It starts off fairly gentle and just like any other gravel and rock road, but around mile 7 things begin to get a little more interesting and a bit more difficult. Taking the road from the north to the south is primarily downhill, but there are at least 5 or 6 challenging climbs even when ridden in that direction. All of these climbs are very rocky and take a fair amount of bike handling skill to complete unscathed.

hrdata-2008-12-20

The southern terminus of Old Ore Road is just a few miles west of Rio Grande Village near the Rio Grande Overlook. This is almost all downhill so it makes for a nice, fast way to finish up the ride.

It took me 3 hours 39 minutes to complete the Old Ore Road section of the route, just under the 4 hours suggested by the park’s website, and another 9 minutes to get to Rio Grande Village. I didn’t stop to smell the roses, so anyone wishing to explore some of the sites along the way should plan on the 4 to 6 hour timeframe given.

I’d also not recommend trying to ride this during the summer months. It was in the 70s when I rode, but the sun was rather intense that day (like most of them). I went through nearly 4 liters of water for this ride, so plan accordingly.

A nice surprise about the road was that it wasn’t completely devoid of other visitors. While I was the only biker I saw that day, I did come across 5 vehicles going either direction on the road. All were friendly and gave me the right of way when I needed it. That’s a good sign for a road you’d really rather not break down on.

This picture gives you a characteristic view of the start of the road. It is typical Chihuahuan desert scenery at first. The rather flat and easy looking road seen here is only that way to lure you into a false sense of security about your life over the next few hours.
PC200074

These cliffs are called the Alto Relex. The pour-off pictured here would be awesome to see when it was actually raining.
PC200080

I’m about 3/4 done with the road and still alive, despite a few high-speed tumbles and utter exhaustion. Who forgot to tell me mountain biking was harder than roadie stuff?
PC200084

Taking my last break at Camp de Leon. Jose de Leon was murdered in 1933. His gravemaker is just a few hundred yards before the campsite marker.
PC200085

If you like mountain biking you’ll like this road. It isn’t a single-track by any means, but it’s still a blast and takes you through a section of the park you wouldn’t otherwise get to see. If you aren’t a mountain biker, then head down there with your favorite 4×4 and drive it.

Biking in Big Bend – Chisos Basin to Rio Grande Village

Today I took my road bike on a trip from the Chisos Basin down to the Rio Grande Village in Big Bend National Park. This is a 30 mile one-way route that is almost entirely downhill.

The Chisos Basin visitor center is at 5,400 feet elevation and the Rio Grande Village visitor center is at 1,850 feet elevation: 3,550 feet of total descent = fun! There was around 700 feet total ascent, most of which occurred right at the beginning to get out of the Chisos Basin itself. Unfortunately this means you aren’t quite warmed up before tackling the hardest hills of the route and at the highest altitude. The good news is that if you can handle those hills, you can probably handle the return trip up to the Chisos Basin, either all the way from Rio Grande Village or just from Panther Junction.

hrdata-2008-12-18

There was a surprise around mile marker 14 west of Panther Junction: a coyote decided I’d make a fun chase. I was cruising around 25 MPH when I heard the pitter-patter of paws on the asphalt as the coyote ran from the desert onto the road in full chase. Two things were immediately clear: I had activated his chase instinct so it was either outrun or fight, and coyotes are a lot faster than domestic dogs. I had to bring the speed up to over 30 MPH for almost a half mile before he gave up the chase.

I spoke to an older ranger a couple of days later about this and he said yes, this does happen and there’s little you can do about it other than not ride. He said all 3 of the big predators in the park (coyotes, bears and mountain lions) have a strong chase instinct and if they actually start after you it’s too late; coyotes just happen to be the only ones you can actually outrun. He mentioned that they are used to seeing people walk and vehicles drive by, but bicyclists and trail runners are slow enough and interesting enough it really excites their instinct.

This was my first time biking in the park and it was fantastic. The park is of course very isolated and the low speed limits (45 MPH) gives the little bit of vehicular traffic ample time to avoid you. At bicycle speeds you can often sneak up on wildlife (or be snuck up upon…). The road quality, while older asphalt, is rather decent and makes for a nice, smooth and fast ride.