Friday February 8, 2019
One of the reasons we stayed a week at Maverick Ranch RV Park In Lajitas Texas was to drive the Jeep into Big Bend Ranch State Park (BBRSP) to see if we could or should drive into the park with our truck camper to boondock. We had been to two of the three easily accessible BBRSP visitor centers in previous years.
Barton Warnock Visitor Center is on the south eastern end of the park on FM-170 in Lajitas. Fort Leaton State Historic Site, also a BBRSP visitor center, is on FM-170 just outside Presidio on the south western side of the park. FM-170 is called the River Road or Camino del Rio. The River Road is considered one of the most scenic roads in Texas.
Our plan was to drive into BBRSP to the Bob Armstrong Visitor Center at the Sauceda Ranger Station (the third visitor center) and to talk to rangers about camping in the remote sites with a truck camper. Roads into the Big Bend Ranch State Park interior are all on the west and north sides of the park.
To get to BBRSP’s west side from Lajitas, we drove FM-170 west from Lajitas. FM-170 is a wonderfully winding, dipping and bobbing road that follows the Rio Grande River so closely that when the river floods, the road floods as well.
Between Lajitas and Presidio, BBRSP’s southern border is either the Rio Grande River or FM-170. Travelers driving along FM-170 will notice BBRSP campgrounds (Grassy Banks, Lower Madera Canyon, Upper Madera Canyon and Arenosa Campgrounds) on the river side of the road. The other side of the road will have parking for trails (West Contrabando, Rancherias East, Closed Canyon and Rancherias West Trailheads) leading into the parks interior.
Truck camper access to Grassy Banks and Lower Madera Canyon campgrounds along FM-170 was OK the day we passed through. Both would be subject to flooding. Always check with rangers at visitor centers or better yet, drive into them without an RV before committing an RV to camping in one of these campgrounds. Dirt roads change every time it rains.
We did see other types of RVs in these campgrounds including some that were too large for their sites. Not something we would recommend.
One paved campground area stuck out as a potential boondocking opportunity for RVs under 30 feet. It was shaped like a wide parking lot. Plenty of turn-around space. The entire left hand side was made up of 4 or 5 campsites. Each campsite had an open entrance but the rest of the site was surrounded by fencing made from heavy painted steel pipe. The campground is new and isn’t currently listed on any maps or on the Texas Parks and Wildlife website. The right hand side was clear of obstructions making turning around simple for rigs under 30 feet.
At some point, the BBRSP’s southern border drifts away from FM-170 and the Rio Grande River. The change is subtle as more and more signs of current private residences appear on both side of the road. The Rio Grande seems further away too.
Driving west on FM-170, the turn into Big Bend Ranch State Park is west of Redford, a small settlement between the highway and the Rio Grande River. Bofecillos Road is well marked and there are signs on FM-170 pointing north up Bofecillos Road for Big Bend Ranch State Park. Bofecillos is maintained by the county and is a dirt/gravel road. There is some wash-boarding and after rains, cars without high ground clearance will find this road difficult at best. The park road will be on the right.
For visitors starting from Presidio and driving east along FM-170, it is quicker to take Casa Piedra Road east. At Bofecillos Road, turn right or south. The park road will be on the left.
Look for signs to both Big Bend Ranch State Park and Botella Junction. Botella Junction is where “official” park entrance is.
We left Lajitas between 8:00 and 8:30. We had been travelling for two and a half hours. At some point, even pit toilets look inviting. This new Texas State Parks pit toilet is similar in form and function to the ones in Big Bend National Park and are a big improvement over traditional designs.
Only 17 more miles to go on the Main Park Road to get to the ranger station.
The scenery along the Main Park Road is good. The first few miles of Main Park Road had three campsites of which we could get our truck camper into two of them. After the third campsite, we looked at each other. There is no way we are bringing our truck camper in on this road. Too much chance of a rollover.
We passed more campsites and scenic overlooks on the way to the ranger station.
It took almost two hours to get from the park entrance to the Bob Armstrong Visitor Center at the Sauceda Ranger Station.
In addition to the visitor center, the Sauceda Ranger Station complex has a bunk house and the original Sauceda Ranch House.
The Sauceda Ranch House is currently closed for restoration. It is a classic ranch house representing large ranch owner lifestyles in the early 1900’s.
Visitors can sleep over in the Sauceda Bunkhouse. There is a communal kitchen for use. The visitor center has flush toilets, showers and ice.
Inside the visitor center, we found an exceedingly helpful ranger who knew how to camp off the grid. She told us about the bunkhouse and showers. She explained the road situation to us. Not as good as we had hoped. Could have been much worse. As we learned by driving the Main Park Road into the park, the roads don’t consistently support a hard sided truck camper. Too tippy.
Rats! I guess we will have to break out the tent.
Back we went. West on the Main Park Road to Botella Junction. Then south on Botella Road. The east on FM-170 to Lajitas. Of course, we made stops on the way back through the park.
Roads look completely different when driven in the other direction. Same road, different views.
We stopped at a scenic overlook with a viewing platform hanging out over the canyon rim.
The wind was blowing hard. Stepping onto the platform, I could feel the rusting steel platform swaying in the wind. Uneasily, I moved away from the free hanging part to stand over a concrete support.
The view, of course, was worth the sense of danger. Back in the Jeep. We made it to Botella Junction where the park entrance is around 3:00 PM. We didn’t stop again until we reached Lajitas around 4:30 PM.
Hope to see you on the road ahead!