Trip Number: 13445A
Staff: James Moody
- Reclaim and improve various areas of the park for wildlife
- Restore grasslands, plant trees, and do other services as needed
- Enjoy views unmarred by fencing and utility poles removed on previous
- All instructions, tools, and inspiration
- Great meals and camaraderie
- Leader-led hikes
Photo: James Moody
Some 400 miles west of San Antonio, on its way from the Colorado Rockies to
the Gulf of Mexico, the Rio Grande makes a sweeping, U-shaped turn to carve
out a series of canyons and circumscribe an area as large as Massachusetts and
Connecticut combined. Long believed an impenetrable wasteland -- it wasn't mapped
until 1899 -- the area was avoided by explorers and lawmen alike, but revered
as a refuge by outlaws and thieves.
Today it is known as the Big Bend Country, and its southern portion now holds
Big Bend National Park. Established in 1944, the park encompasses more than
800,000 acres and is home to more than 1,000 species of plants and 400 species
of birds, as well as antelope, mule and white-tailed deer, banded gecko, rattlesnake,
javelina, coyote, black bear, elk, and mountain lion.
The former Harte Ranch, acquired by the park in 1989, is located in the northern
foothills of the Rosillos Mountains. Most of our efforts prior to 2010 were
concentrated in and around this mountain range. Projects now include various
other areas of the park as fencing, phone lines, and other Rosillos-targeted
projects -- with the exception of grasslands restoration -- have been completed.
Photo: James Moody
This will be our 20th year in the park and we have been involved in a variety
of projects, including helping with the extraction of dinosaur bones and working
on the proposed border crossing at Boquillas in 2011. Through our long association
with the park we have removed more than 75 miles of barbed-wire fencing and
28 miles of old telephone poles and wires, and performed extensive restoration
of grasslands in areas badly damaged by overgrazing. In 2010, we performed multiple
projects from one side of the park to the other. We cut lower branches from
cottonwood trees for re-planting along the Rio Grande ("Sticks to Trees"
we called it), removed a large area of tamarisk on the banks of the Rio Grande,
cut raw material for the re-roofing of a historic old house that was constructed
below ground level, and continued the re-vegetation project. Believe it or not,
the "sticks" we cut from the cottonwood trees are now well on their
way to becoming full-fledged trees in their own right. We’re expecting
the border crossing we worked on to be open for this project and for the first
time since 9/11 we’ll be able to cross over into Mexico. Details have
not all been worked out but will be provided by the leader prior to the trip.
Reclamation is a time-consuming process in a desert. "Reclaiming the Rosillos"
will remain an integral part of our work effort for several years to come with
the grasslands re-veg project. During our first years of this project we worked
in conjunction with a staff funded by a federal grant. That grant has now run
out, leaving the bulk of this work to us, increasing the importance of our efforts.
Basically that work consists of reseeding barren areas created by mismanagement
of the land prior to it becoming a national park. This man-made devastation
was caused by well-intentioned land policies now known to be unsound. Unintentional
as it may have been, the result is the same: land so barren not even creosote
For many years prior to 2010, we worked from a base camp at the foot of a limestone
escarpment in the Harte Ranch area of the park where we hiked or carpooled to
our work sites each day. Because of the shortage of housing for Homeland Security
personnel, we now work out of a smaller, but more conveniently located house
in a scenic spot near the K-Bar campsites, allowing us greater flexibility in
selecting work projects. The trip leader will provide all the necessary details
and directions prior to the trip to reach the campsite, which is off a maintained
dirt road a mile or less from a main park road. As always, we will receive instruction
and supervision on safe work practices from trip leaders and any rangers who
may assist us. We'll be flexible and accomplish as much as we can while having
good times, satisfying volunteer experiences, and creating great memories.
Photo: James Moody
Participants are welcome to arrive beginning Friday afternoon, Feb. 22. The
first official day of the trip, Saturday, Feb. 23, and the following day, Sunday,
Feb. 24, are free days for exploring the park -- group hikes will be offered
for those who wish to participate. Participants who did not arrive on Friday
may show up anytime on Saturday. Please notify the group leader of your approximate
arrival time so that all participants can be accounted for.
Each day will start with breakfast (approximately 7 a.m.). Lunch will be packed
at breakfast and carried to the worksite. Of the five weekdays during the trip,
we will be working four and taking one day off. That date is typically Wednesday.
Details will be worked out as the trip dates draw nearer.
Those who are confirmed on the trip will receive trip bulletins from the leader
with more specific information as it becomes available. Please write or call
the trip leader directly with all questions about the trip; please do not contact
the National Park Service as this will greatly delay any response.
There is no public transportation to or through the park. It is 325 miles
from El Paso, 550 miles from Fort Worth, 220 miles from Odessa, and 410 miles
from San Antonio. Your transportation to the road-head is not included in the
price of this service trip.
It will require a great deal of driving to reach the park from most locations.
Carpooling is not only cost-effective but also a great way to get to know some
of the other participants. Frequently, participants share rent car expenses
from airports in El Paso, Midland-Odessa or occasionally Dallas/Fort Worth or
even San Antonio. As we get closer to the trip, we'll compile a list of participants'
travel plans to facilitate carpooling and rental car sharing.
Accommodations and Food
Photo: James Moody
The first formal group meal will be dinner on day one (February 23), and the
last meal will be breakfast on the last day of the trip. For those arriving
on Friday, Feb. 22, we’ll make a group decision whether to eat at The
Basin Restaurant inside the park or go to a nearby ghost town for dinner. Food
will be set out on the table for a make-your-own breakfast and lunch on Saturday,
Feb. 23. Trip staff will prepare the menus for the week and will be in charge
of the selected cook crew for each day. Each participant will be on the cook
crew for one day. All efforts will be made to provide substantial, well-balanced
meals. Please indicate any food allergies on your medical form.
Participants are responsible for their own mess kits (a plate, bowl, and drinking
cup) and utensils. As a conservation matter, please bring a hard plastic lunch
container (such as Tupperware). We cannot provide plastic baggies.
Please note that while this trip is well within the capabilities of most men
and women of virtually any age, it is rated moderate to strenuous for three
reasons: (1) the possibility of daily hikes to the worksite and the work itself,
(2) the dry heat and sun in the desert, and (3) the possibility of high altitude
(which adds to the effect of the hiking and the heat). We'll pace ourselves
and drink plenty of water. Having the appropriate gear (hiking boots, hat, long
sleeves, and pants) will serve you well. At this time of year the weather is
unpredictable. Dressing in layers provides you the option of keeping warm if
the weather turns cold or keeping protected from the sun if it’s hot.
You can get a sunburn even on a cool, cloudy day. All participants must have
a current tetanus shot.
Equipment and Clothing
Photo: James Moody
The park has the necessary tools for our use on the project. Safety glasses
may also be required, depending on the project. You can borrow some from the
park, or you may wear your own sunglasses. A good pair (or two) of work gloves
is essential: Leather is best but canvas is also okay. Either is preferable
to cloth. More personal equipment information will be provided closer to the
date of the trip and is also included on the trip-specific website maintained
by the leader (See Websites, below).
On Sierra Club outings, participants furnish their own personal equipment,
including items such as boots, day packs, sleeping bags, tents, a basic first-aid
kit, toiletries, and eating utensils. The Sierra Club furnishes all shared group
gear, including stoves, cookware and cooking utensils, a group first-aid kit,
and food, unless otherwise noted in the trip brochure.
Trip staff is trained and certified in wilderness first aid and carry first-aid
kits. Please report any injury to the leader or an assistant leader.
Temperatures in West Texas at this time of year can -- and typically do --
vary from below 30 degrees at night to over 90 during the day. While we all
hope for mild, clear days, and cool, comfortable nights, rain can sweep in at
any time, as we learned in 2004 when our departure was delayed a day and a half
due to flash flooding. Gear should be appropriate for three-season conditions.
Clothing should be selected not for its fashion statement, but for comfort and
appropriateness. Dressing in layers is recommended for cool mornings. Weather
is unpredictable in desert mountains. Be prepared for the unusual.
- Trails Illustrated Topographical Map #225: "Big Bend National Park."
- Big Bend, The Official National Park Handbook.
- Langford, J.O., Big Bend: A Homesteader's Story.
- Maxwell, Ross A., The Big Bend of the Rio Grande, Guidebook #7.
- The Sierra Club Guide to the National Parks: Desert Southwest.
- Wauer, Roland, Big Bend: A History of the Last Texas Frontier.
- Reclaiming The Rosillos official trip web site: http://www.jmoody166.macmate.me/bigbendservice
- Big Bend National Park: http://www.nps.gov/bibe/
This is hardly a complete listing of available references; such a listing would
require an additional brochure. Countless books are available for purchase at
the park. The Big Bend Natural History Association can provide a comprehensive
P.O. Box 68
Big Bend National Park, TX
Photo: James Moody
Natural drainages were altered by early ranchers when constructing stock ponds
for their livestock. In some instances, berms were formed by the dirt excavated
for the ponds, which deflected the natural course of the water, depriving some
areas of needed moisture and funneling vast amounts of water across other areas.
This rapid runoff during desert flash floods created deep gullies and resulted
in extensive soil loss. One of our jobs will be to halt the damage being done
to this fragile environment and to work toward reclaiming it as vibrant grassland.
Removal of exotic vegetation and replanting of native trees along the river
will also be a plus for the environment there as will any other project the
NPS needs us to do.
See the How to Apply for an Outing section for more details on registering for this trip and details
about our Reservation and Cancellation Policy.
The payment of a deposit does not confirm you as a member on the trip. Participants must be approved by the trip leader. After signing up for this trip, you will be sent a confirmation packet containing approval materials (Participant Approval Questionnaire, Medical Form, Liability Release Form). Each applicant (including those on the waitlist) must fill out these forms and promptly mail them to the trip leader. The leader will review the approval materials and notify you of your acceptance in a timely manner.
James Moody has been on this trip 17 times: as participant, assistant leader, and for the past seven years, as leader. He's a retired journalist and edited the newsletter for the Greater Fort Worth Group of the Sierra Club for two decades, as well as having served six years on its executive board. He's hiked and backpacked approximately 3,000 miles in the Texas Trans-Pecos and has led the Top of Texas Service Project in Guadalupe Mountains NP since its inception in 1999. He was selected for the 2007 Environmental Reporting Award by the Lone Star Chapter and has twice been named on the Sierra Club's National Honor Roll of Trip Leaders. He is certified as a wilderness first responder.
Mike Garr is a recently retired firefighter from Michigan who now calls the Texas Hill Country home. He formerly served as cook and as assistant leader for both this trip and the Top of Texas service project in the Guadalupe Mountains. Mike is an EMT as well as a wilderness first responder and has led a number of service projects in other parts of the country before becoming certified as a Southwest Service Project outings leader. He now again leads service projects in other states.
Charlie Clapper is retired from a 39-year National Park Service career in planning and design. His Sierra Club service trip experience includes the Big Bend trip since 2003 and multiple times on the Guadalupe Mountain service trip, of which he is now also assistant leader. His personal interests include hiking, camping, and canoeing. While living in Santa Fe, he enjoyed hiking in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains/Pecos Wilderness. He has visited 275 National Parks -- almost as many as his wife Heather, also retired from a NPS career. Charlie lives in Williamsburg, VA.
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips